In 1972, my baby brother was born. That’s right, I said my baby brother, as in “he’s younger than me by quite a few years.” Fine.
Do you know what else was born in 1972, and weighed nearly as much as that gurgling infant? James Beard’s American Cookery. This glorious doorstop of a cookbook includes more than 1500 recipes, exploring American home cooking in nearly encyclopedic fashion. Many of the recipes are a scant paragraph long—back then, you could just tell someone to “cream” the butter and sugar, without a dozen words explaining what size bowl to use, and what speed to set the mixer. For example, the recipe I’m writing about today takes Beard fewer than 50 words to get from sifting to eating.
The Snickerdoodle (aka Snipdoodle) Cake is almost ridiculously simple. With one bowl, a liquid measuring cup, and about five minutes, you can fill your kitchen with the cozy, homey scent of cinnamon. Breathe deeply while it bakes—that’s autumn in a baking dish, right there. I tossed in two cut-up seckel pears, which upped the cozy factor even more. The result is tender, moist, quite sweet, and satisfying, in the way that only the simplest, most humble treats are.
This is a cake for non-bakers. For moms (and dads) who think they’re too busy to bake, but would love to surprise the family with a square of warm, fluffy goodness. And the best part just might be the little chef’s snack, a pre-cake nibble to stave off hunger while it bakes:
Yup, cinnamon toast. If you play your cards right, you’ll have enough cinnamon sugar left over to make a slice or two.
A friend at Little, Brown was kind enough to send me a copy of James Beard’s American Cookery—they’re reissuing the book, a new edition in hardcover, with a foreword by Tom Colicchio. In it he credits James Beard with laying the groundwork for many of the current crazes in food: TV cooking shows (Beard was on air in 1946), regional cooking, locavorism (though that word didn’t exist yet). Just thumbing through this book is an education in how America eats, and has eaten for the last fifty years.
Pear Snickerdoodle Cake
Adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery
Cooking Time: 35 minutes (10 minutes active)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter
2 very ripe seckel pears, cored and cut into chunks
Additional sugar and cinnamon for topping
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease an 8 x 8* baking dish and set aside.
- Sift together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.
- Combine the milk and the egg, then stir into the dry ingredients. Stir in the melted butter.
- Pour into the prepared dish and scatter the pear chunks on top. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and sprinkle all over the cake—go ahead, be generous.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
* There was a misprint in the cookbook: Beard’s instructions called for a 9 x 13 dish, which would yield a cake that resembles a burnt, rectangular pancake.