The gospel of snickerdoodles: Rose Levy Beranbaum bakes a bible of cookies

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Rose Levy Beranbaum originally tasted this version of a snickerdoodle at Gramercy Tavern in New York and adapted the recipe for the home kitchen. Photo by Matthew Septimus.

When baker and author Rose Levy Beranbaum came out with the first edition of “The Cake Bible” in 1988, it clocked in at nearly 600 pages — a true, well, bible for home bakers. It's the sort of cookbook one refers to again and again as both a trusted reference on technique and an encyclopedia of recipes. Nearly 35 years and numerous baking tomes later, Beranbaum is back with another epic book just in time for the holidays: “The Cookie Bible.”

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

KCRW: When you started talking to people about this book, are chocolate chip cookies always the starting place? Is that the first cookie people want to talk about?

Rose Levy Beranbaum: I thought, “Why do a chocolate chip cookie? Everybody has one. It’s already out there.” And somebody said to me, “We would want your chocolate chip cookies, how you feel about it.” And I thought, “Yeah, they're right,” because it's never actually been my favorite cookie. I found it too sweet and even too salty in some parts, and how can I make it the best it can possibly be? 

That's when I decided that I would try using brown butter. And not just clarifying the butter till it's brown, but including the milk solids for extra flavor, and then adding some corn syrup to give it more of a sticky, chewy quality. So I went from there to coming up with a chocolate chip cookie that really was mine.

The way you write always puts in a flavor context and texture context by explaining what your ideal is, because your ideal may not be everybody's ideal. And then you link the techniques to create that idea in the head note, which allows us to understand what we're going to do in the recipe.

The head notes are my favorite part. I love telling people what to expect, and also how they can make the recipe their own, if they want to change it.

People are often told that baking, as opposed to savory cooking, has less leeway to make changes. What’s your view on substitutions or adjustments? 

That's true. And one of my least favorite words [is] when they start off with, “Can you…,” I always know the third word is going to be “substitute.” Everybody seems to want to substitute and put their stamp on it. So I thought, let me tell you right off the bat what you can do to make it your own, in my opinion. 

Thumbprint, snickerdoodles, and pepparkakors, recipes for hundreds of cookies can be found in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cookie Bible.” Photo courtesy of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The way cookies are named is so different from any other kind of food. There's something playful yet descriptive, and sometimes very traditional about them. Tell us about the pepparkakors.

It has lots of spices in it, which makes it so special — even cayenne pepper. … I used to think that the word “kakor” was kind of a Yiddish word, which isn't a very favorable term, but in Dutch and in Swedish, it means “cookie.” And they also have clove and cinnamon.Ginger is a preservative, and ginger is in the papperkakor. People are so addicted to them, and they ride the cusp of sweet and savory. They're great with cheese and so great just by themselves.

Talk about shortbread as an example of taking a basic and very widely known cookie and making it your own.

I've tried every single possible flour and flour mixture, including rice flour, to make it crisper. And different types of sugar. And I always go back to my basic, standard one. But recently, I think in this book [as muscovado shortbread cookies], it's using brown sugar, because it gives it a wonderful flavor. I always mentioned muscovado because it really has so much more flavor, but brown sugar is still wonderful.

Now, what I hate is how it clumps — not when you make your own, but when you buy it. If you don't keep something soft and moist in the jar or container, and if you don't think of it ahead, it takes at least eight hours to soften the brown sugar.

Beranbaum says that when she hears the words “can you?” that she always knows the third word will be “substitute.” She understands that people want to put their own stamp on her recipes. Photo by Matthew Septimus.

Tell us about the caramel surprise snickerdoodles.

Originally I tasted these cookies at Gramercy Tavern. Miro Uskokovic is the pastry chef and a really good friend. And when I bit into the cookie, this caramel oozed out in a wonderful texture. So I begged him for the recipe. And he gave me a recipe for 400, and I worked it down. The thing is that I made it and partway through the baking, it opened up and the caramel started coming out prematurely. So I finally got it to work. But it was so difficult. 

I asked him, “What happens when you do it? Why doesn’t that happen?” And he said, “Oh, many of them do, I just have them,” — he has a whole bunch of people working for him — “I just have to make more. Because it's such a nice thing to have that surprise.” So I decided, down with the surprise. Let's let people see what's in there and make the caramel and apply it afterwards. The texture of the caramel is so perfect. I can roll it out when it's set and stamp it out. But I didn't give that technique, because I don't think most people would want to do that. And it's easy enough when it's still slightly warm to just spread it on.

Are you one of those bakers who enjoys sending care packages? Do you ever send cookies in the mail?

I used to, when relatives had moved far away, such as my brother, who's in the San Francisco area. One of the traditions that I've written about [and] the nicest gift is to give cookies with a recipe [and] a cookie cutter, if it's used for that cookie, or in a cookie tin that's decorative. I think that's one of the most personal and desirable gifts that you can give.


Makes: Thirty 3 inch round sandwich cookies
Oven Temperature: 350°F / 175°c
Baking Time:  12 to 15 minutes (for each of four batches)
Plan Ahead: For ease in shaping the cookies, it is best to make the dough at least 1 day, up to 3 days ahead.
Special Equipment: Two 17 by 14 inch cookie sheets, lined with parchment


When my pastry chef friend Miro Uskokovic served these at Gramercy Tavern, I was charmed by the unexpected flow of extraordinary bourbon caramel inside the cookies. But I found re-creating them at home very challenging. Finally, after countless tries, with the caramel escaping through cracks in the dough and losing its consistency within, I tried one more thing—rolling his dough very thin so that the cookies baked up crisp, and sandwiching them with a thin layer of chewy caramel. It’s a labor of love to shape the dough and make the caramel, but oh so worth it.


  • Unsalted butter 227 grams ,16 tablespoons (2 sticks)
  • 2 large eggs 100 grams 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (94 ml)
  • Pure vanilla extract 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
  • Unbleached all-purpose flour 371 grams 3 cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 1 tablespoon
  • baking powder, preferably 8 grams 1 ¾ teaspoons
  • an aluminum-free variety
  • fine sea salt 3 grams ½ teaspoon
  • ground cinnamon 4 grams 1 ½ teaspoons
  • sugar, preferably superfine 267 grams 1 1/3 cups
  • Sugar 125 grams ½ cup plus 2 tablespoon
  • Ground cinnamon 6 grams 2 ½ teaspoons


  1. Thirty minutes to 1 hour ahead, cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces. Set on the counter to soften.
  2. Thirty minutes ahead, into a 1 cup / 237 ml glass measure with a spout, weigh or measure the eggs. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set on the counter.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until lighter in color and fluffy.
  5. Gradually add the egg mixture, beating until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Refrigerate the dough in the bowl, tightly covered, until firm, preferably 1 day ahead. Or scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
  8. Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the middle level. Set the oven at 350°F / 175°C.
  9. In a wide shallow bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon.
  10. Divide the dough into fourths (about 247 grams each). Wrap each one in plastic wrap.
  11. Work with one fourth of dough at a time. Measure out 15 pieces (about 1 tablespoon / 16 grams each). Knead each piece to soften and smooth the dough and then roll it between the palms of your hands to form a 1¼ inch ball. Cover the dough and the balls as you work to keep them moist and soft, which makes it easier to press into the sugar.
  12. Flatten each dough ball and press it into the cinnamon sugar, flipping it over and pressing several times to coat well with sugar, until it is about 2 inches in diameter. Then lift it out and press it between your thumbs and index fingers, avoiding the edges, to enlarge it to 2½ inches. Then press it again into the cinnamon sugar, on both sides. Set it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing the cookies 1 inch apart.
  13. Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 6 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned and set.
  14. Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and use a thin pancake turner to transfer the cookies to another wire rack. Cool completely
  15. Repeat shaping, baking, and cooling with the remaining batches.


Makes: about 600 grams / 2 cups / 473 ml


  • unsalted butter 57 grams 4 tablespoons (½ stick)
  • heavy cream 174 grams ¾ cup (177 ml)
  • sugar 400 grams 2 cups
  • bourbon 120 grams ½ cup (118 ml)
  • corn syrup 82 grams ¼ cup (59 ml)
  • cream of tartar ¾ teaspoon
  • pure vanilla extract 16 grams 4 teaspoons (20 ml)


  1. Thirty minutes to 1 hour ahead, cut the butter into tablespoon-size pieces. Set on the counter to soften.
  2. Have ready a 4 cup / 1 liter canning jar or heatproof container, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Into a 1 cup / 237 ml microwavable measure with a spout (or in a small saucepan over medium heat) weigh or measure the cream. Heat until hot, then cover.
  4. In a medium heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick (coat the sides lightly with nonstick cooking spray if the pan is not nonstick), with a silicone spatula, stir together the sugar, bourbon, corn syrup, and cream of tartar until all the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is bubbling.
  5. Continue boiling, without stirring, until the syrup caramelizes to deep amber. (An instant-read thermometer should read about 370°F / 188°C, or a few degrees lower, because its temperature will continue to rise.) Just as soon as it reaches the correct temperature, pour in the hot cream. The mixture will bubble up furiously.
  6. Use a clean silicone spatula to stir the mixture gently, scraping up the thicker part that has settled on the bottom.
  7. Remove the caramel from the heat and gently stir in the butter until incorporated. The mixture will be a little streaky, but it will become uniform once cooled and stirred. When the bubbling slows down, return the pan to the heat and bring the caramel to 250°F / 121°C.
  8. Immediately pour and scrape the caramel into the prepared glass jar, then let it cool for 3 minutes. Gently stir in the vanilla extract and let it cool until no longer hot—about 120°F / 49°C—stirring gently once or twice. This can take as long as an hour.
  9. Use a small spoon to spread about 2 teaspoons / 16 grams of the caramel onto the bottom side of a cookie. It is best to make one sandwich at a time so that the caramel stays fluid; if necessary, reheat the caramel as described above.
  10. Set second cookie, bottom side down, on top of the caramel to create a sandwich. Press gently so that the caramel comes just to the edges. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

*NoteIf you are not using the caramel immediately, cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. If it starts to become too firm, reheat it with 3-second bursts in the microwave or set it in a pot of very hot water.

The caramel can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days or refrigerated for up to 6 months (reheat as stated above before using).


Makes: Sixty to sixty-eight 2 inch round cookies
Oven Temperature: 350°F / 175°c
Baking Time: 8 to 11 minutes (for each of three batches)
Plan Ahead: Freeze the dough for at least 8 hours before baking the cookies.
Special Equipment: Two 17 by 14 inch cookie sheets, lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray and then wiped to leave just a thin coating; Optional: a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll (1⅝ inches inside diameter), cut into thirds; A sharp heavy knife with a 1½ to 2 inch wide blade

Woody’s T’ai Chi Sifu (master), Paul Abdella, gave Woody his treasured family recipe for this unusual, flavorful, wafer-thin Norwegian cookie. The black pepper gives the cookie a subtle underlying sensation of heat on the palate, bringing the spicy flavors into harmony. These are absolutely addictive and have become a top favorite of ours. They are perfect as they are, but they also make a delicious and unusual hors d’oeuvre when spread with a soft goat cheese.


  • unsalted butter 113 grams
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick)
  • bleached all- purpose flour 167 grams
  • 1⅓ cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) bleached all-purpose flour plus 2 teaspoons baking soda 2.7 grams.
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt 1.5 grams
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger 2.7 grams
  • ½ tablespoon ground cloves 2.5 grams
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2.2 grams
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 2 grams
  • ¾ teaspoon sugar 100 grams
  • ½ cup light molasses, preferably Grandma’s brand 80 grams
  • ¼ cup (59 ml) pearl or demerara sugar, for topping 50 grams


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    Scrape in the molasses and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    Detach the beater and use it to stir in the dry ingredients until moistened. Reattach the beater and beat on the lowest speed until the dry ingredients are evenly incorporated, about 15 seconds. The dough will resemble a thick, fluffy buttercream.

  3. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use it to knead the dough a few times until it becomes one smooth piece. Wrap the dough loosely with the plastic wrap and flatten it into a 5 by 4 inch rectangle.

  4. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, until firm enough to shape. (An instant-read
    thermometer inserted into the center should read below 63°F / 17°C.)

  5. Divide the dough into thirds (about 153 grams each). Wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Work with one piece at a time and keep the rest refrigerated.

  6. Begin by rolling the dough between the palms of your hands, then use plastic wrap to shape the dough into a log just under 1⅝ inches in diameter and about 4 inches long. Lightly tamp each end on the countertop to flatten it.

  7. Wrap the dough log in plastic wrap and slide it into one of the cardboard tubes, if using. Stand the tube on end on the countertop. With your fingers, press the dough log down until it reaches the bottom and fits snugly into the tube. Wrap the tube with plastic wrap to keep the dough from slipping out and stand it on end in the freezer. (Alternatively, if not using the cardboard tube, roll the dough
    logs to 1⅝ inches in diameter. Wrap and freeze the dough logs for 1 hour, remove them from the freezer, and quickly roll them again to minimize flattening. Then stand them on end in the freezer.)

  8. Repeat with the other two pieces of dough.

  9. Freeze the dough logs for at least 8 hours to firm them for even cutting. The dough cuts most easily when frozen solid.

  10. Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the middle level. Set the oven at 350°F / 175°C.

  11. In a small bowl, place the pearl sugar. Remove one of the frozen dough logs from the freezer and let it sit for 10 minutes on the counter. Cut it into twenty to twenty-three ⅛ inch thick slices. While you are cutting the dough, the log will start to flatten. Simply roll it lightly to maintain the round shape.
    Place the dough rounds ½ inch apart on a prepared cookie sheet. Smooth any rough edges with a small metal spatula. Sprinkle each cookie with some of the pearl sugar and bake at once.

  12. Bake for 4 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway around. Continue baking for 4 to 7 minutes, or until the cookies are set to the touch. Pressing on a cookie should only leave a slight impression. While each batch of cookies is baking, remove the next dough log to soften slightly and then slice it for the next batch.

  13. Set the cookie sheet on a wire rack and let the cookies cool for about 1 minute, or just until they can be lifted with a thin pancake turner without distorting their shapes. (Do not leave them on the cookie sheet, as they will continue to bake and become too brittle.) Continue with the remaining two batches.