You had me at snickerdoodle. It’s one of my favorite cookies.
Actually, you had me at the cover of this new cookbook from food writer Shauna Sever, Midwest Made: Big Bold Baking from the Heartland, before I even knew something snickerdoodle was included. The book is inviting and filled with gorgeous baked goods you want to make right now. Procrastibaking, here we come!
What’s It Mean to Be Midwest Made?
I love regional cookbooks—heck I just wrote one!—because they give you a glimpse of how people live and eat elsewhere. They also illuminate recipes, techniques, or customs that might not otherwise be shared or remembered. It’s like a little bit of folklore that way. But edible.
Sever’s book is thoroughly modern and midwestern. The best compliment I could give it would be to say it’s like a contemporary version of an old-fashioned community cookbook. Except that community includes a broad swath of a dozen states with diverse landscapes, immigrant groups, and urban culinary scenes.
And instead of a grab-bag of community recipes, these recipes are from a professional who has written three other cookbooks, one who returned to her Midwest roots after living with her husband and family in California. She had a brainstorm for what would become this book while on the airplane to Illinois. It’s a homecoming of sorts, a love letter, an awakening—all of those things!
What Kinds of Recipes Are in the Book?
They don’t call the Midwest “America’s Bread Basket” for nothing. As Sever says in her intro, “We believe in No Carb Left Behind.’”
These carbs are named things like Swedish flop, a combination of buttercream and a “fluffy, yeasted cake,” as Sever describes it, or Houska, a challah-like braided bread with Czech origins. Or the Nebraskan Runza, a pocket sandwich loaded with savory ingredients.
Other desserts you may be familiar with, such as the Ohio Shaker Pie and the Poke Cake make an appearance, and Sever puts spins on classics such as buckeyes, those peanut butter and chocolate gems, and turns them into bars.
Cookbooks as Light Reading
Midwest Made also happens to be self-effacingly hilarious. It’s the kind of cookbook that after you read it cover to cover, you really feel like you know a person, why they wrote it, what is important to them in a cookie, in cake, and in life. Can’t say that about every cookbook you read, can you?
What’s a Snickerdoodle Bar?
After much deliberation and baking several of Sever’s recipes (Donut Loaf and Cinnamon-Sugared Pumpkin Chip Snack Cake, most notably), I settled on these Frosted Snickerdoodle Bars. The goofy name is believed to derive from the name Schneckennudeln, a snail-shaped German cinnamon roll.
Whatever you call it, the cookie version of the snickerdoodle is typically both crispy and soft, fragrant with cinnamon sugar. As a Pennsylvania resident for the past 20 years, I make the cookie version of these bars regularly, which are associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities there and in Indiana.
Sever turns them into bars and then tops them with a cinnamon frosting that is not shy. Bold baking, indeed!
Storing and Freezing Snickerdoodle Bars
These keep well covered in the fridge for up to five days. However, they also freeze well, frosted or unfrosted. Just wrap them individually in wax paper and then freeze in a container or zip-top bag.
It’s best to defrost them in the fridge overnight or for at least a few hours, but if you’re impatient, you can gently zap them in the microwave. If you’re accidentally too aggressive in the microwave, the frosting oozes, and then the bars transform into something that tastes like a cinnamon bun with super hot frosting and a cold middle. That’s not necessarily a complaint, just an observation borne of experience. (I kept eating it anyway.)
I can’t tell you for sure how long they keep in the freezer, frosted, because mine didn’t last more than a week. It’s safe to say they’ll keep for at least a month.
You can also freeze them unfrosted but wrapped individually in wax paper for at least a month.
Other Awesome Bar Cookies!
- 7-Layer Magic Bars
- Classic Lemon Bars
- Pecan Pie Bars
- Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping
- Peanut Butter Pretzel Magic Bars
Q & A With Shauna Sever!
This book gave me all the feels, so much so that I thought I'd been born in the Midwest. (I'm from NJ!) What is it about the Midwest that is so captivating? What did you want to convey?
One of the first things I did when starting to sketch out the book was trying to put my finger on this exact thing—what is it about living and eating in the Midwest that sets it apart and makes it so beloved? I knew given the scope of the project that it was going to be very important to create some touchstones for myself.
So early on I developed what I like to call the Five Tenets of Midwestern Baking:
- Bake Big (big batch baking to share with a crowd)
- Bake Easy (the best recipes are really straightforward and simple)
- Bake with Purpose (I always say we “have” to cook, but we “get” to bake, and in the Midwest we’re always looking for a reason to bake, whether it’s a birthday or a weekday quick bread)
- Bake in the Past (we love storied family recipes)
- Bake in the Present (Midwesterners are the best at using what you have on hand in a given moment, innovating, and trying twists on old recipes)
The Midwest is diverse in its landscape and its offerings. What kinds of recipes reflect those surprises?
The biggest inspiration for this book was learning about all the different immigrant influences that are so deeply embedded in Midwestern culture that most people don’t even know they’re there, even outside of the urban centers. But when you have the opportunity to travel and eat in many places, you can see just how deeply and proudly German some places still are, say in Wisconsin, or the Scandi influence in Minnesota, Czech in the Dakotas.
I think the greatest surprise has been from lifelong Midwesterners who see the book and find things they’ve never heard of. Kranskake or Michigan bumpy cake or Nebraskan runzas, for example. Those recipes are unique to some and yet an everyday thing for others. The Midwest is so much more varied than people give it credit for!
What recipe gave you the biggest challenge—and thrill—to get right?
The biggest challenges were taking the really beloved, retro, kitschy recipes that run on all processed ingredients or pre-packaged mixes and give so many people warm, fuzzy feelings, and trying to remix them to be all from-scratch recipes.
One example would be my Auntie Amy's Taffy Apple Salad, another would be the Raspberry Poke Cake with a fluffy homemade white cake meant to mimic a box-mix cake, and a filling with real raspberry puree, with a cream cheese-bolstered whipped topping instead of the stuff in the tub.
How many cookies were eaten in the making of this book!?
What was your most washed kitchen tool or utensil while testing the recipes for this book?
Definitely the KitchenAid bowl and my BeaterBlade attachment. I bought multiples of both items for testing! And lots of 9x13s.
Is there a quintessential holiday recipe from the Midwest?
Oh, I’d say you can’t go a holiday season without seeing at least a few peanut butter blossoms. My Peanut Better Blossoms are my ode to that. Kolacky, too!
Shauna Sever's Frosted Snickerdoodle Bars
Is there anything more fantastically homey than that most marvelous of soft-baked cookies, the snickerdoodle. The name is thought to come from 19th century New England, deriving from the word Schneckennudeln, a type of snail-shaped German cinnamon roll. Snickerdoodles are famously associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch and the Amish communities of Indiana, which explains how they made their way to the Midwest and have long been a homespun favorite here.
And, of course, if you can find a way to turn something, anything at all, into a recipe that can be crammed into a 9x13, it becomes extra midwestern. The swath of frosting on top gilds the lily here, but it’s so worth it.
Excerpted from Midwest Made by Shauna Sever. Copyright © 2019. Available from Running Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
- For the bars:
- 2 3/4 cups (352 g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, sifted
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (Shauna Sever recommends Vietnamese cinnamon)
- 1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (170 g) light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup (57 g) whole milk
- For the frosting:
- 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (180 g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting (optional)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Prep the pan and the oven
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 325°F. Line a 9x13 light-colored metal baking pan with aluminum foil and spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
Whisk together the dry ingredients
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
Make the batter
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the brown and granulated sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, giving each about 30 seconds of beating to fully incorporate. Beat in the milk.
Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the flour mixture. Finish stirring the batter by hand to make sure every bit is incorporated.
Bake the bars
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top looks puffy and begins to turn golden. Rotate the pan 180 degrees, and while doing so, rap the pan on the oven rack until the bars deflate.
Bake for 5 minutes more, or until the bars have pulled away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The bars will still look quite soft.
If they’ve puffed back up during the last minutes of baking, rap the pan on the countertop once again.
Let cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack
Make the frosting
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, milk, vanilla, and salt, and beat until smooth. Raise the mixer speed to high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Frost the bars
Spread the frosting over the cooled bars. Lightly dust cinnamon over the entire pan, if you wish. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.