In this post we’re going to look at all of the ways you can improve your cookie baking skills. I’m going to offer my top 12 cookie baking tips so that you can enjoy perfect cookies every single time.
I’ve already covered the ins and outs of sugar cookies in my Cut-Out Sugar Cookies post, so I won’t be talking about those here, though the tips I give you should be helpful with cut-out cookies as well as drop cookies.
We’ll start with the basics. Then I’m going to answer several of the questions you’re asking about cookie-baking.
Before I share my cookie tips. . .
I thought I should explain that the photos you’ll find in this post are all of cookies that I’ve baked over the past year or so.
Want the recipes? Many of those pictures are hyperlinked to posts with the recipes. Just click the pictures to see the posts. (Hint: You might want to wait until you’re done reading this post first! There’s a lot of information that will help you become a better baker.)
Cookie Baking Basics:
Let’s start at the beginning with a quick, basic tutorial. Even if you’ve been baking for years you should probably glance over this list.
These are easy suggestions but often overlooked by cookie bakers. Follow the advice you find here and you can come away with a tray of perfect cookies!
I’ve put these tips in order to simplify things.
- Pre-heat your oven. Make sure it’s exactly the right temperature before you begin. I usually begin to preheat my oven the minute I start mixing my cookies. I know that my oven has a tendency to run hot in those first few minutes so I give it plenty of time to get to 375, which is my go-to temperature for cookies. You might consider purchasing an oven thermometer to make sure the cookies are actually baking at the right temperature.
- Use room temperature ingredients. This is true for most baking projects, whether you’re talking cookies or cakes. Make sure your butter, eggs, and any other refrigerated ingredients come to room temperature before baking.
3. Measure carefully. This is especially important when it comes to the amount of flour you add. Too much and your cookies will be dense and hard. Too little and they will fall flat.
4. Don’t over mix. Overmixing activates the gluten strands and causes dense cookies.
5. Chill your dough before using. You can choose to chill the entire bowl of dough at once or place trays in the refrigerator after scooping balls of dough.
6. Choose light colored pans. Dark pans will cause your cookies to bake faster. If you only have dark pans, lower your oven temperature and watch the cookies carefully so they don’t burn.
7. Use parchment paper. Back in the olden days we greased our cookie sheets. This resulted in crisp cookies. These days most recipes are lighter and fluffier. Use parchment paper (or a silicone pad) to place the balls of cookie dough on.
8. Use a cookie scoop to measure out your dough. You can look like a pro with this simple trick! For more tips see my post titled 20 Must-Have Tools for Cookie Bakers.
9. Bake a single sample cookie to make sure your recipe is right. This way you won’t waste a lot of dough if the recipe isn’t correct.
10. Bake in the center of the oven for an even bake. Be careful not to over bake.
11. Deliberately under bake. You can allow the cookies to finish baking on the cookie sheet outside of the oven. Place it on a wire cooling rack.
12. Cool baking sheets between batches. This can be done by “waving” them in the air. (You’ve probably seen this technique on baking shows.) Another option is to run cool water over them.
See? I told you they were basic tips, but critical for every cookie baker.
Your Cookie Questions
Maybe you’ve tried to bake cookies in the past but haven’t had much luck, so you’ve given up. You’ve turned to slice-and-bake. Or maybe you’re using one of those cookie mixes. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t give up on the idea of baking cookies from scratch. You can solve your cookie-baking problems one issue at a time.
Let’s look at some common questions cookie bakers are asking. No doubt you’ll glean some information you can take with you into the kitchen next time around.
Question: Why did my cookies fall flat (or spread)?
Flat cookies are a common problem. I really used to struggle with this. . .a lot. Especially with the simplest of cookies–my chocolate chip cookies.
It took a long time to figure out where I was going wrong. I want to share what I’ve learned. The following things can cause your cookies to fall flat, too.
- You didn’t chill the dough: chilling makes sturdier cookies, prevents spreading.
- You used margarine instead of butter (or your butter is too soft).
- You shorted the flour. Try adding a couple tablespoons more.
- You didn’t use enough baking soda.
- You greased your pan instead of using parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Your pan is too hot. (Adding dough to a piping hot baking pan will cause the butter to break down quickly, which leads to spread.)
Question: Why are my cookies dense (or tough)?
Getting the texture of your cookies right isn’t always easy.
I ran into this problem with my Chunky Oatmeal Craisin Cookies and my Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies at first. They’re so packed with goodness that they often ended up lumpy and dense. I’ve since figured out that I had too many dry ingredients. Here are the usual suspects that lead to dense, tough cookies:
- Too much flour: Don’t pack your measuring cup. Spoon the flour into your measuring cup instead of scooping it. (When in doubt, weigh your ingredients!)
- Over mixing: As I mentioned above, mixing activates the gluten proteins. Carry that process too far and you end up with dense, gummy, tough cookies. Unfortunately, this is easy to do with an electric mixer, so pay close attention!
- Over baked cookies: Leave them in the oven too long and they’ll harden up. I’ve had to cut back on my bake time for some of my cookies, pulling them from the oven a minute or two earlier than the recipe calls for, then allowing them to complete baking outside of the oven for a couple of minutes.
- Improper measurements: Too little baking soda, too much flour, the incorrect number of eggs. . .all of these things can affect the density of the cookie. Make sure your measuring cups and spoons are accurate and then use them religiously.
- Using the wrong flour: When in doubt, use all-purpose flour. If you resort to wheat or bread flour you’ll definitely end up with cookies that are dense.
Question: Why are the bottoms of my cookies too brown?
The obvious answer to this question would be: they’re over baked. But that’s not always the case. The following problems can all lead to cookies that are too brown on bottom.
- Using a dark baking pan: Believe it or not, dark pans bake the cookies faster. (Ask me how I know!) It’s a good rule of thumb to use a light-colored baking sheet like the one above.
- Baking on a hot pan: This is a common problem. You’re in a hurry. The cookie sheet is still warm from the batch that just came out of the oven. But you want to get that next batch in so you load up the hot tray with cookie dough. Then you wonder why the bottoms are burnt. Oops! It’s best to cool the tray between uses.
- Your dough is too warm: To avoid burnt bottoms, cool your dough before baking.
- Your oven temperature is too high. Get to know your oven. Use a thermometer to make sure it’s actually baking at the right temperature and make sure your oven has no hot spots.
- You’ve over baked your cookies. As I mentioned above, this can be remedied by removing the cookies early.
- You didn’t use parchment paper. If you want to end up with uniform cookies, always use good quality parchment paper.
- You made your cookies with brown sugar, honey, or molasses. These products have a tendency to cook faster on the bottom and slower on top. When you’re baking something like my Brown Butter Pecan Cookies, consider the double-pan method. Doubling the pans slows the transfer of heat.
Question: How do I get my cookies to all look alike?
This is one thing that sets the pros apart. . .their cookies (even the basic ones) all look the same. You’re wondering how they pull it off. Here are a few suggestions:
- Mix your dough properly. Make sure the recipe is right, the butter is softened (but not too soft) and there are no random bits of cold butter or egg floating around in there.
- Use a cookie scoop to measure your dough balls. I have scoops in three sizes: a traditional cookie scoop size, a smaller one (for mini cookies) and a larger one (which I often use to scoop cupcake batter). These days, it’s trendy to bake bigger cookies using those larger scoops. (I never claimed to be trendy. I always use the medium-sized one.)
- Carefully space your cookies on the baking sheet. No doubt you’ve had that experience where your cookies swell up and end up stuck together. That ain’t pretty. Follow the instructions above to avoid having your cookies fall flat and make sure you space them out on the parchment paper.
Question: How do I make my cookies softer?
Softer-than-a-cloud pillow-cookies are easy to achieve. Just check out the tips below.
- Substitute shortening or margarine in place of butter. I covered the reasons behind this in my Heavenly Snickerdoodles post.
- Use half shortening/half butter. That way you’ll still get the flavor of butter without all of the added weight. Speaking of butter flavor, you might be tempted to use unsalted butter, but I always use salted because it brings out the other flavors in the cookie.
- Add a teaspoon or two of cornstarch. This will lighten your cookies and make them fluffier.
- Add a couple tablespoons of cream cheese. Believe it or not, cream cheese will lighten your cookies.
- Add a couple tablespoons of pudding mix. (I haven’t tried this tip but can’t wait to do so!)
- Under bake by a couple of minutes (But leave on cookie sheet a couple of minutes to finish baking outside of the oven.)
- Make your cookies thicker. A thicker cookie will have a softer center.
Question: How do I make my cookies chewier?
You want chewier cookies? No problem! Take a look at the check list below.
- Add butter (not margarine or shortening). Butter has a higher fat content.
- Make sure butter is room temperature. (You’ll notice a theme here. Keeping ingredients at room temperature is best, no matter what style cookie you’re making.)
- Add more brown sugar for a chewier cookie. I covered the science behind the various sugars in my Become a Better Baker post.
- Add extra egg yolk. (This works for cakes, too! If you read my Cake Baking Tips post you already know that.)
- Lower the oven temperature of your oven by 25 degrees. (Cook low and slow.)
Question: How can I make my cookies crispy?
Looking for crisp cookies? You’ve come to the right place!
- Place your chilled dough on a warm cookie sheet OR use a cool sheet but room temperature dough.
- Lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees and bake a little longer.
- Use white sugar in place of brown. Baking soda doesn’t react as well with white sugar so the cookies won’t rise the same.
- Reduce the flour by a couple of tablespoons.
- Cut back on eggs, brown sugar and flour because they all hold moisture.
- One last tip: Remember to sample-bake one cookie before wasting an entire batch of cookies on a dough that’s not quite right.
Some fun cookie recipes
Here are some of the recipes I shared in the photos above. Feel free to try them out and let me know what you think! (I have my favorites!)
- Brown Butter Pecan Cookies: Nutty, rich, and loaded with the delicious flavors found only in browned butter, these Brown Butter Pecan Cookies provide a true sensory overload!
- Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies: Loaded with peanut butter, pretzels, and yummy semi-sweet chocolate chips, these cookies offer a flavor explosion!
- S’Mores Kiss Cookies: Gooey, sticky marshmallow. Melting chocolate. Graham crackers, crumbling into pieces as you bite into them. Watching the whole thing converge into one? Nothing even comes close. Until now. . .
- Cut-Out Sugar Cookies: Pull out those cookie cutters! This sugar cookie recipe has made its way to dozens and dozens of homes over the past 8 years and has been enjoyed by wedding guests, graduates, small children, elderly, and everyone in-between! It’s a sturdy but soft cut-out sugar cookie, different from most other recipes but super simple. It’s a blast to decorate with my Easy Royal Icing!
- Lemon Burst Cookies: Light, fluffy, lemony. . .these Lemon Burst Cookies are absolutely perfect because they hit all of the spots!
- Peanut Butter Nutella Sandwich Cookies: Peanut butter and chocolate were meant to go together, y’all!
- Mexican Wedding Cookies: What makes Mexican Wedding Cookies unique is their nutty, buttery goodness. This recipe is easy and melts in your mouth.
- Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies: Light, fluffy, loaded with peanut butter. . .these cookies are the perfect combination of salty and sweet. And, for the true peanut connoisseurs, they’re like fluffy clouds of peanut butter heaven, soft pillows of nutty delight.
- Heavenly Snickerdoodles: We’re talking about the quintessential cinnamon-y sugar cookie, the Snickerdoodle.
- Chunky Oatmeal Craisin Cookies: I load mine with walnuts or pecans, along with a more-than-adequate amount of Craisins (dehydrated cranberries).
- Double Mint Chocolate Cookies: These yummy bites of deliciousness are “doubly” good because of the addition of cocoa powder. It’s chocolate on chocolate on mint. And, oh my! The result is powerful!
That’s it for now, friends. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ve found these cookie baking tips helpful!
About the Author
Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.