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Fixing Flat Cookies and Other Cookie Fails

Baking a good cookie can test the skills of any home cook. But everyone has a different opinion about what makes a cookie "good." Some folks like flat, lacey cookies with a crispy finish, and some prefer puffy, cake-like cookies. (This writer prefers that elusive crisp-edged, chewy-centered cookie.) We're not here to tell you which one is better than the other; we just want to help you achieve your desired cookie result. Bake on!

 

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Photo by Melissa Goff

Try this recipe: Chewy Sugar Cookies

Cookie Troubleshooting Guide

Q: Why are my cookies so thin and flat?

Causes:

  • Using all butter (instead of butter and oil or shortening)
  • Baking at too low a temperature, used room temperature dough
  • Too much liquid in the dough
  • Placing the dough on a warm baking sheet

Solutions:

  • Decrease the amount of butter and sugar.
  • Use shortening instead of butter, or a combination of the two if you don't want to sacrifice that buttery flavor.
  • Add an egg to the dough.
  • Use cake flour or pastry flour.
  • Use baking powder instead of baking soda; if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda, you would use 3 to 4 teaspoons baking powder. Caution: This could result in an unwanted flavor shift.
  • Try baking your cookies at a hotter temp—make sure your oven is accurate by purchasing one of these inexpensive oven thermometers!
  • Always cool your baking sheet between batches. Hurrying this process will result in your second batch being much flatter than the first.
  • Scoop your dough and chill the balls before baking. Many recipes benefit from an overnight chill, though even an hour will help.

Q: Why are my cookies so puffy and cakey?

Causes:

  • Whipping too much air into the dough while creaming butter and sugar
  • Adding too many eggs
  • Using cake flour (or just too much flour)
  • Using too much baking powder

Solutions:

  • That fluffy texture you want in a cake results from beating a lot of air into the room temperature butter and sugar, and it does the same for cookies. So don't overdo it when you're creaming together the butter and sugar.
  • Use melted butter for a denser, chewier cookie.
  • Play with the liquid ratio in your recipe. For added liquid without the leavening properties of eggs, try a tablespoon of water as a replacement for one egg.
  • Use all-purpose or bread flour.
  • Increase the sugar content slightly.
  • According to the science geeks at Serious Eats—we love you!—baking powder yields a cakier cookie than baking soda. If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking powder, you would substitute 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. But if you use baking soda instead, your recipe needs acid (like in buttermilk or brown sugar) to activate it.
  • Bring your cookie dough to room temperature before baking.

Q: Why are my cookies so tough and hard?

Causes:

  • Using only white sugar
  • Cooking baked too long
  • Using too much flour
  • Not enough fat in the dough
  • Overmixing your dough

Solutions:

  • Brown sugar—particularly dark brown sugar—makes a cookie chewy; white sugar makes it crispy. If your recipe calls for all white sugar and you want a fudgier result, try swapping out some of the white sugar for brown (go for half and half and adjust from there). You can also use honey or molasses for a chewier cookie.
  • Try taking your cookies out when they're browning at the edges but not in the center. Leave them on the sheet for about 5 minutes to set completely, then remove them to cool on a rack. The result should be a chewier center and more pliable overall cookie.
  • Reduce the amount of flour slightly.
  • Add an egg.
  • A greater ratio of fat (butter, margarine, shortening, etc.) to flour will result in a more tender cookie. Start by adding just a ¼ cup additional to your recipe. Melting the butter before adding it to the sugar will also up the chew factor.
  • Scoop larger portions of dough.
  • To keep cookies from hardening by the next day, store them in an airtight container immediately after cooling. Freeze to keep them fresh longer.
  • To soften hard cookies after baking: put them in an airtight container with a few slices of apple or a piece of bread overnight. Microwaving a sad, stale cookie for 15 seconds or so can sometimes rejuvenate it, too!

Q: Why are my cookies not crisp enough?

Causes:

  • Cookies not baked long enough
  • Using too much flour or the wrong kind of flour
  • Too many eggs or other liquids in the dough
  • Too high a ratio of brown sugar to white sugar

Solutions:

  • Bake longer but at a lower temperature.
  • Use all-purpose flour; it's higher protein content results in a crispier cookie.
  • Use butter instead of shortening.
  • Increase the ratio of white sugar to brown sugar, or use all white sugar. Using corn syrup will also help crisp up a cookie when it bakes.
  • Decrease the amount of eggs in your recipe, or use egg yolks in place of whole eggs.

Ready to Get Baking?

Here's how to bake perfect cookies from scratch.

Find our most popular cookie recipes—from the best chocolate chip cookies to big soft ginger cookies to chewy coconut cookies—here.

Get tips for freezing cookies and cookie dough: a smart make-ahead solution for holiday baking.

 

About Chelsea Lin

Obsessive cake baker and lifelong lover of food. On Instagram @seawordnerd and @tinboxbakeshop.