Why do so few recipes call for cream of tartar?
December 5, 2016 6:55 AM   Subscribe

I made snickerdoodles yesterday and had to run to the store for cream of tartar. Bought a little jar that will last me another 10 years because I only ever use it to make the damn snickerdoodles. Got to thinking: why do so few recipes call for cream of tartar? Also, why do snickerdoodles call for it specifically when few other cookie recipes do?
posted by coppermoss to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
This page explains a lot, and snikerdoodles specifically -- it's for flavor and consistency. It also has substitutions, so you don't need to buy it next time, and other uses so you can actually make use of it aside from baking.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:03 AM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Cream of tartar is useful for thickened sauces, puddings, stabilizing whipped cream, and stiff peaks in egg whites. It's also a component of baking powder (and you can whip your own baking powder if you run out if you have the other components.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:08 AM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Combining cream of tartar and baking soda gives you the equivalent of baking powder, so most recipes just call for baking powder. Using cream of tartar gives a slightly tangier flavor than you'd get using regular baking powder. Apparently cream of tartar also prevents sugar crystals from forming, keeping you snickerdoodles soft.

If you're looking to use up your cream of tartar, make some buttermilk biscuits! There are a lot of recipes that call for it, and I think you get the fluffiest biscuits using it.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 7:25 AM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Key ingredient in homemade playdough, if you want to use it up.
posted by rabidsegue at 7:30 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cream of tartar does lose potency after awhile. We made several batches of snickerdoodles earlier in the fall, and saw a big improvement in texture and flavor when we got a new jar instead of using the years-old stuff in the pantry.
posted by cabingirl at 7:51 AM on December 5, 2016

Was coming to say what cabingirl did -- you might want to be careful about using old cream of tartar. I once had a ruined lemon meringue pie because I used old cream of tartar, and if you think a ruined lemon meringue pie is not the saddest thing you've ever seen well then you are very much mistaken. (Ok, well, ruined popovers are actually probably the saddest thing you've ever seen but this is getting to be a derail now so.)
posted by holborne at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

Aside from recipes, cream of tartar is worth keeping around in case you burn the bottom of a pan. If you add water & cream of tartar and bring to a boil, the burnt part boils right off.
posted by veery at 8:24 AM on December 5, 2016 [15 favorites]

I bake from Rose Barenbaum's Cake Bible book. She consistently calls for cream of tartar for making meringues in various cakes. It makes it easier to consistently hit the perfect meringue consistency (from what I can tell) but is not absolutely necessary.
posted by ethidda at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

if I make a mistake doing vitreous enamel on fine silver for a jewelry piece, I can make a paste of equal parts cream of tartar and salt with a bit of water. Applied thickly on the enamel and placed on a piece of mica, the silver piece is placed in a kiln at 1450 degrees for 5 minutes and then tossed in a deep bucket of water. Presto! The bad enamel is blasted off leaving the silver ready to polish and re-enamel! Yay cream of tartar!
posted by antiquated at 5:50 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cream of tartar was generally replaced by baking powder, which contains cream of tartar, and was invented by Vincent Price's grandfather.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:31 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

In the same vein as meringue, I have found that if you mix some cream of tartar into your scrambled eggs before you cook them, it gives them some extra fluff. Yum!
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:40 AM on December 6, 2016

Great question, it's answered but Angel Food Cake uses a bit of it.
posted by ibakecake at 12:05 PM on December 6, 2016

why do so few recipes call for cream of tartar?

Cream of tartar is acidic, so is normally only used in foods that are alkaline.

Adding an acid to an alkaline ingredient results in leavening.

Similarly, adding an alkali such as sodium bicarbonate to acidic ingredients results in leavening.

Cream of tartar was generally replaced by baking powder

Not really. Baking powder combines cream of tartar and sodium bicarbonate [i.e. both acid an alkali], and is useful for leavening ingredients that are neutral or close to it.

There are many foods that are neutral to acidic, but few that are alkaline, hence cream of tartar isn't frequently used on its own.

Disclaimer: I have never heard of snickerdoodles.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:56 PM on December 6, 2016

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