When it comes to the holidays, everyone in my family seems to have an unofficial job. My mom does a lot of the cooking. My dad does the dishes and selects the magnums (yes, magnums) of wine that we’ll be consuming. My brother-in-law, David, handles cocktails. My sister, Meera, does the table settings. Me? I’ve never settled into a job—unless you count taste-testing my mom’s matar paneer. And whenever I’ve tried to insert myself into someone else’s task, I’ve been rebuffed. My dish-stacking skills weren’t good enough to help my dad, my chopping too subpar to assist my mom.
So one year, when I was home from college, I decided to take matters into my own hands, in the form of cookies. My family isn’t super well-versed in baking—but we love dessert, and I figured that cookies were doable for me. And who would say no to a platter of cookies innocently perched on the kitchen island?
The very first kitchen blog I read frequently was Post Punk Kitchen, which focused on vegan recipes. I was a vegetarian, and I loved reading about food; but a lot of the cooking blogs I found centered on big, meaty main courses. PPK was one of the first I encountered that leaned into lentil tacos, and wheatberry paella with chickpeas and leeks. There was a really straightforward recipe on the blog for chai snickerdoodles. A simple cookie seasoned exclusively with spices my family already knew and loved? An easy win.
The recipe was pretty basic—flour, oil, maple syrup, baking soda, vanilla, and a bunch of warming spices. I was skeptical of the lack of butter, and I used milk rather than soy milk because that’s what we had in the house. The steps were easy to follow and the dough came together quickly. I wanted to sprinkle that cardamom sugar topping on everything. Instead of using pre-ground spices, as the recipe called for, my mom taught me how to crush cardamom pods in the mortar and pestle, and grate cinnamon straight off the bark. I also upped the amount of each spice, because I do enjoy being smacked in the face with flavor. Soon, the smell of heady spices filled the kitchen, and my dad perked up as I opened the oven to take out the sheet tray (the guy cannot resist a cookie).
The cookies were gone in a day. I didn’t miss the butter. Actually, because there was no super prominent butter flavor, the spice taste was front and center. And the cookies managed to stay soft, chewy, and crumbly even after sitting out on the counter.
To be honest, I don’t make the cookies all that often anymore. We have since added new members to our family holiday gatherings who can make show-stopping pies and beautifully frosted cakes. There’s no need for me to make yet another dessert. Instead, I have settled into my role as a floater—running out to grab cups that my dad forgets, answering the door when the guests start to arrive, pinch-hitting for my mom when she needs someone to roast the vegetables for the aloo gobhi. But it’s nice to know that, should I need it, I have one foolproof, crowd-pleasing cookie recipe up my sleeve. One I have made over a dozen times, tweaked to make my own, and—most importantly—always ends with an empty platter. —Priya Krishna
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the topping ingredients together on a dinner plate. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together oil, sugar, syrup, and milk. Mix for at least a minute, until it resembles applesauce. Then mix in vanilla.
Sift in remaining ingredients, stirring as you add them. Once all ingredients are added mix until you’ve got a pliable dough. Get in there with your hands to mix, it’s the easiest way to get the dough to come together.
With clean, moist hands, roll dough into walnut sized balls. Pat into the sugar topping to flatten into roughly 2-inch (5cm) discs.
Transfer to baking sheet, sugar side up, at least 2 inches (5cm) apart (they do spread a little). This should be easy as the bottom of the cookies should just stick to your fingers so you can just flip them over onto the baking sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, they should be a bit browned on the bottoms.
Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.