7 Cookie Baking Mistakes and How to Fix (or Avoid) Them
Whether you're baking up a storm for the holidays or just whipping up a quick batch for snacking, cookies should be easy. And they are. After all, there's no delicate cake batter to rise or tender crust to fit into a pan. And yet how many of us have ended up with flat-as-a-pancake snickerdoodles or chocolate chip cookies that could double as hockey pucks? Thankfully, most cookie disasters can be easily remedied with a bit of baking expertise—and when it comes to cookies, Dorie Greenspan is the ultimate expert. The author of Dorie's Cookies and a former cookie shop owner, Greenspan has faced just about every cookie mishap and knows exactly how to avoid them. Here, she shares her best advice for cookie-baking success.
Avoid These Cookie Mistakes
Your butter is too cold
Scan a few cookie recipes and you'll quickly notice a pattern. Butter almost always needs to be room temperature, which helps it blend with the sugar and other ingredients. Greenspan explains that it's not just a temperature conversation. It's also about texture, as you want the butter to be pliable. Take the butter out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes in advance and test it by pressing a fingertip into it. "If you leave a fingerprint, you're good." To speed up the softening process, you can cut butter into smaller pieces, and if you're really in a hurry, you can bash it with a rolling pin, "which is fun," notes Greenspan.
Your oven isn't sufficiently preheated
You don't rotate the cookie sheets
Anyone who has pulled cookies from the oven and discovered that the ones in the back right corner are burnt understands that ovens have hot spots. This is why we rotate baking sheets—both from top to bottom and front to back. "It's really important to get to know your oven and its quirks, and to use your judgment," says Greenspan. To find hot spots, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, fill it with shredded coconut, and place it in a preheated 350°F oven. If the coconut toasts evenly, consider yourself lucky, but if you see dark spots, those are your hot spots.
Rotating is a bit of a hassle, so when Greenspan has time, she bakes one cookie sheet at a time and places it in the center of the oven. Also, if the baking time is really short, it's actually better not to rotate, as opening the oven door will lower the temperature and there might not be enough time for your oven—and cookies—to recover.
You don't beat the butter and sugar properly
Beating, or creaming, butter and sugar together is a common step in many cookie recipes, and one that's easy to mess up. For most cookies, explains Greenspan, you want the butter and sugar to be evenly mixed and smooth, so they can welcome in the other ingredients. You also want to avoid beating in too much air, or your cookies may rise and quickly fall flat in the oven. Greenspan's solution is easy: Whether you use a stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium or low just until smooth and evenly combined.
You add the flour in batches
When you add flour to cookie dough, you want to be gentle and not overmix it or you'll end up with dense, heavy cookies better suited to propping a door open. Recipes often call for adding flour in batches, but doing so means the first batch of flour will get mixed an awful lot, says Greenspan. As long as it's not a tremendous amount of flour, she recommends adding it all at once, pulsing it a few times to get it started ("and avoid flour going all over!") and then mixing until almost fully blended. Finish beating by hand with a rubber spatula and you should easily avoid overbeating your dough.
You didn't chill the dough
Not all cookie dough requires chilling, "but if a recipe says to chill, follow those instructions," insists Greenspan. Chilling relaxes dough, which makes for more tender cookies, and if you're making cut-out cookies, chilling helps the dough hold its shape. Chilling also gives the ingredients "time to get to know each other," which is especially beneficial if you're making spice cookies, because those spices have time to permeate the dough, infusing cookies with more flavor.
You roll out cold dough
"Cold dough is so hard to roll out," says Greenspan, who recommends rolling then chilling and calls this trick a "life changer." Once her cut-out cookie dough is ready, Greenspan places it between sheets of parchment and rolls it out. "The dough will do anything I want—it is so soft, so malleable, so easy" reports Greenspan. Next, she places it on a baking sheet and pops it in the fridge or freezer—it does take up more space, but the ease of rolling makes it all worth it. After chilling, all that's left is to cut the dough and bake it off.