Martha Stewart would tsk-tsk and look down at me over her reading glasses.
I'd get booted right off Cupcake Wars or Pastry Revolt or Bakers' Smackdown or whatever culinary reality show is on these days.
Why, you wonder?
I don't measure my ingredients over the bowl, avoiding the inevitable lid falling off a jar and pouring the entire jar of spice in the mix. I resist the urge to use butter-flavor Crisco for anything other than greasing a pan now and then. I treat my Kitchen Aid mixer with the great reverence it has earned.
The one mistake I make nearly every time I bake is one that shows both my eagerness and my impatience, my zest for kitchen creations and my lean toward laziness. Never fails. I dive into a recipe and get halfway through the mixing and sifting and folding, then come to a screeching, panicking halt.
I have started to bake without checking my recipe to make sure I have all the ingredients.
Tonight's missing-in-action recipe component: Cream of Tartar.
I will digress for a moment by stopping to ask, really, what the heck is Cream of Tartar? I've never really known. Never actually questioned. But tartar is what builds up on one's teeth and must be scraped off by a mean-spirited dental hygienist who, much like Martha Stewart, tsk-tsks at the patient's lack of brushing prowess and inability to floss the recommended 17 times a day. Cream of that? Not at all appetizing.
But according to every Snickerdoodle cookie recipe on the planet, said cookie cannot be made without Cream of Tartar.
So I began the frantic cabinet search. Paprika. Pumpkin pie spice. Cajun seasoning. Dry Mustard. Ugh! No way! I've already mixed the butter and granulated sugar into a fluffy cream, whipped in the egg, splashed the half-teaspoon of Vanilla. Where are you, pesky Cream of Tartar?! I use you, maybe, three times a year. Only for Snickerdoodles! I cannot have used you up! You must be here!
I emptied three shelves, two spinning space-saver contraptions, and was about ready to pull on my shoes to head to the store, when I found it. Behind the Stick Cinnamon and can of Nutmeg. Cream of Tartar.
My dough is now chilling for the recommended hour before I form it into 1-inch balls, roll it in a cinnamon-sugar combo, and bake at 350 until the tops crack and the edges begin to brown. All is good. Until next time when I discover the last stick of butter has disappeared from the fridge. Or the roll of parchment paper is empty. Or I could have sworn we had Baking Powder, but there's only Baking Soda on the shelf.
Will I learn my lesson? Maybe not.
But we are now going to learn what Cream of Tartar is and why it is a Snickerdoodle necessity.
Cream of Tartar comes from wine! That must be what gives the perfect cookie its perfection.
From the blog BakingBites.Com: Cream of tartar, more technically known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, is a fine white powder with many culinary applications. It is a byproduct of the winemaking process as the powder forms inside wine barrels during fermentation. It comes from tartaric acid, a naturally occurring substance in grapes and some other tart fruits that is the principle acid in winemaking. It helps to help control the pH of fermenting grape juice (wine) and that also acts as a preservative for the wine. It is an acid and it is often used as a major component in baking powder, combined with baking soda to react when the mixture is moistened to ensure that baked goods rise well.