Imagine you’ve somehow entered the science fiction universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune and you’re on the planet Arrakis… What does it smell like? What does the precious spice or ‘melange’ on which so many things depend taste like?
At least ten references to the odor or taste of cinnamon appear in the book. When Duke Leto and Paul are checking out the spice mining operations and open the door of their ornithopter, “Immediately, their nostrils were assailed by the odor of cinnamon—heavy and pungent.” When a sandworm pursues Jessica and Paul in the desert, “Cinnamon yelled in their nostrils.” Infused with melange, coffee and the Water of Life also smell like cinnamon.
So what better way to immerse yourself in this other world than by enjoying your very own delicious cinnamon ‘spice cookies’?!
How I came to associate these cookies with Dune was when I was first teaching the novel at university. I wanted to give the students some kind of sensory experience, because the world-building is such an important part of the book and its success. Since I couldn’t manipulate the temperature of the room and crank the heat up to mimic a desert environment, I settled for baking a type of ‘snickerdoodle’ cookie with lots of cinnamon.
I individually wrapped cookies in snack-size plastic food bags and distributed them to the students at the start of class, telling them that they didn’t have to eat them but that we would be using them later on. So they were curious about what these were for, and the cinnamon smell was quite potent through the bag, which helped create an interesting atmosphere even before I asked them to do anything.
After discussing the rise of drug culture in the U.S. in the 1960s—and getting some skeptical looks about the cookies—I asked them to open the bag and take in the smells, and to imagine what it would be like to live on a planet surrounded by that smell all of the time, in the air, in food and drink. I then suggested some questions that Herbert may have wanted his readers to consider regarding drugs and the ethics surrounding them.
Later feedback on the cookies was very positive and they talked about them long after that class, so I hope that the olfactory response helps them to remember the novel and some of the themes in this world-building classic.
Until we have widespread Smellovision, these cinnamon ‘spice cookies’ can help us fill the gap when we’re reading or watching Dune!
Dune ‘Spice Cookies’
- 1 cup (2 sticks or 230g) butter, softened to room temperature [salted butter is OK]
- 1 and 1/3 cup (267g) white sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 cups (375g) flour
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 3 and 1/2 tsps. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Topping: 1/4 cup (50g) white sugar & 1 tsp. cinnamon
[this usually seems to make more than needed, so can start with less]
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Use parchment/baking paper on cookie sheets to make cleanup easier.
- Prepare the topping by combining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
- In a large bowl, use a mixer to cream the butter for a minute (low-medium speed) then add the sugar until it becomes fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix together.
- In a different bowl, whisk the dry ingredients (flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt) together.
- Add the dry ingredients in batches to the wet, mixing on low speed. The dough should become thick and hard to manage.
- Depending on how many cookies you want, roll the dough into small or medium balls, then roll them in the cinnamon-sugar topping, then place them on the cookie sheet. Leave a little room for spreading.
- Bake for 11-12 minutes. They should start to brown a little bit on top and may still look underdone, but that’s okay.
- Press down on the cookies lightly with a fork to flatten them a little, then wait a few minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool. They should stay soft and delicious for a while if they last that long!
*recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction Snickerdoodle recipe