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What happened to my cookies?

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Troubleshooting your cookie mistakes

Too crispy, too puffy, too flat, too chewy. If your cookies are anything less than perfect, we know what's wrong. And now, you do, too!

Woman baking cookies

Troubleshooting
your cookie mistakes

Too crispy, too puffy, too flat, too chewy. If your cookies are anything less than perfect, we know what's wrong. And now, you do, too!

At its core, baking is just edible chemistry. And when it comes to chemistry, accuracy is key. A little too much of this or a little too little of that, and something will go wrong. Fortunately, when you're baking cookies, an error like this doesn't mean something could explode (usually). But that doesn't mean you have to live with it, either.

My cookies are flat

There are several reasons your cookies could come out flat. If your cookies are flatter than you'd like, try these fixes.

  • Check the temp — Check your oven's real internal temperature using a cooking thermometer. It may have become mis-calibrated over the years. You can have this fixed by a repair person, but sometimes, it may be more cost-effective to simply purchase a new oven.
  • Stop cooking! — You may be overbaking them. Try pulling the cookies out a couple minutes earlier than the recipe specifies.
  • Keep it cool — While most pro bakers would say to use ingredients at room temperature unless the recipe specifies otherwise, you might try using them cold. It also may help to simply chill the dough (right on the baking sheet) in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then just pop the cookies into a hot oven. Additionally, don't reuse a baking sheet until it's completely cool.
  • Careful with the butter — Never use margarine in baking unless it's specifically called for. It's oil-based and will cause cookies to spread more. If the recipe says butter, use unsalted butter. If that doesn't solve the problem, try substituting half the butter for shortening.
  • Cream with care — If you over-cream the fat with the sugar, they can turn out flatter. Cream them until they're just light and fluffy.
  • To grease or not to grease — Follow the recipe's directions on greasing the pan. Softer cookies may spread more on a greased sheet.

My cookies are too puffy

If your cookies look more like little mounds than cookies, try these fixes.

  • Stay out of the cold — Ingredients in cookies should always be at room temperature (unless you're having a problem with flat cookies). That includes the milk, eggs, butter and any other refrigerated ingredients. Let them sit on the counter for about half an hour (longer if necessary).
  • Beat with care — When baking cookies, only mix the ingredients until they're just blended (and a bit fluffy in the case of creaming the fat and sugar). Don't beat anything on high unless the recipe calls for it. This could incorporate air, which is what gives a meringue its fluffy texture.
  • Flatten it out — While a lot of recipes just call for dropping a ball onto the cookie sheet, if you're having a puffiness issue, consider flattening the ball out a bit.
  • Adjust the ingredients — If your cookie calls for a leavener, like baking powder or soda, use less of it. Make sure you're using unsalted butter and not shortening, too.

My cookies are too crispy

Ah, the age-old debate! Chewy or crispy! Good news is, if you're making the cookies, you get to decide. If you prefer your cookies less crisp, try one of these fixes.Double chocolate chip cookie

  • Out early — Sometimes, it's as simple as just pulling them out a few minutes early, while the centers still look a bit raw. They continue to cook when you remove them from the oven, so if you pull them out when they look done, they'll get even more done.
  • Separate your eggs — Instead of one whole egg, use two egg yolks to add a bit more moisture to the batter.
  • Be a flour rebel — Instead of using all-purpose flour, try a high-protein flour. Bread flour works well. You may have to use part of each, so this may require a bit of trial and error before you get it right.
  • Give them some (brown) sugar — Brown sugar attracts moisture from the air, so if your cookies are crispier than you'd like, try substituting some or all of the white sugar for brown sugar. If necessary, use dark brown rather than light brown (it has more molasses in it).
  • Switch the leavener — Use baking powder in place of baking soda. It's more acidic, so the cookie will spread less and stay chewier.

My cookies are too chewy

If you need your cookies to be a bit crispier than they are, you may need to change a thing or two. Try one of these fixes.

  • The replacements — When you want a crisper cookie, just do the opposite of what we suggested for getting chewier cookies. Use all butter, adjust the sugar balance so it contains more white sugar than brown or use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour instead of the baking powder the recipe calls for. You can also use milk instead of eggs or use a tablespoon of corn syrup in place of a tablespoon of the sugar.
  • Add a splash of milk — Instead of replacing ingredients, you could just add a splash of milk or two to the batter to make it thinner. The dough will spread more when baking, resulting in a crispier cookie.
  • Bring on the heat — Bake the cookies a bit longer than usual and cool them on a wire rack so they don't keep cooking as long (or they could be too crispy to bite!).

Bonus tips

Sometimes, the issue is just the way your dough works! If your dough is giving you a tough time of it, make sure it's not something you did by accident before giving up on the recipe altogether.

  • If your dough cracks while you're working with it, it's probably too cold. Just let it sit out for a bit to warm up.
  • If your dough is too sticky, you're either short on flour, or it's not cold enough. First let it sit in the freezer for a few minutes. If that doesn't work, add some flour to the mix.
  • If your dough seems dry, you went too far with the flour. Drizzle on a bit of vegetable oil and knead it until it reaches the right consistency.

More baking tips

Holiday baking tips from a pro chef
Learn to work with fondant like a pro
Bake like a cake boss

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