15 Common Cookie Baking Mistakes You Might Be Making
Don't make these cookie mistakes during the holidays.
We've all been there. You went to pull your Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookies out of the oven, only to discover they had become Christmas blobs. Or maybe you've experienced conjoined gingerbread men, burnt-to-a-crisp chocolate chip cookies, or a myriad of other disappointing cookie results. There's nothing more frustrating than wasting time, money, and dishes for cookies that aren't up to par, especially in the middle of the hectic holiday season. Before you bake another batch, read through these common cookie baking mistakes to avoid.
1. Your cookies aren't baking evenly.
If you're having this issue, it may be because you're putting too much trust in your oven. Ovens have hot spots and cold spots, causing some cookies on your pan to be undercooked while other are nearly burnt. To avoid this conundrum, rotate your pans halfway through the baking process so that they're exposed evenly to the different temperatures in your oven.
Your oven will also try to trick you and tell you it's reached your desired baking temperature, but that's not always true. Home ovens have been known to be off by 20 degrees or more. Consider investing in an oven thermometer (try this $7 Amazon bestseller) to get an accurate read on your oven temperature and a flawless bake every time.
2. You use eggs straight from the fridge.
To achieve a fluffy, light-as-air texture, use room temperature eggs. Cold eggs prevent the dough from aerating properly, meaning you won't have those air pockets that help improve the texture of your cookies. If you don't have time to allow your eggs to reach room temperature, you can quickly bring them up to temperature by placing them in a bowl of warm water for several minutes.
3. You use the wrong kind of flour.
While most cookie recipes call for all-purpose flour, make sure you are using the type of flour specified in the recipe. Using the wrong kind of flour can drastically change the texture of your cookies. Learn how to make sure you're baking with the right flour.
4. You measure flour the wrong way.
Simply using the right type of flour isn't enough — it's just as important to make sure you're using the right amount as well. The ol' scoop straight out of the bag method could actually be packing way too much flour into your measuring cup. Instead, use the "spoon and level" method by spooning flour into a measuring cup and scraping off the excess with the flat side of a knife or straight edge.
5. You soften butter too much or not enough.
Let's be honest, not many people are clear about what constitutes "softened" butter. Often our impatience gets the best of us, and we nuke the butter in a microwave for a few seconds. That's when the butter ends up more liquid than soft. Butter that is too soft won't hold air, giving you a dense and heavy dough, but if you've ever tried to cream cold butter, you know it's no fun. The best way to get perfectly softened butter is to let it sit out at room temperature for about 15 minutes. It should give a little when you press down on it, but it shouldn't break, crack, or lose its shape.
6. You use stale baking powder or baking soda.
Baking powder and baking soda act as leavening agents in the baking process, helping to give baked goods their rise. With time, they will become less and less potent, and using stale baking powder or soda will give you dense dough. A good rule of thumb is to switch out opened containers of baking powder or baking soda after six months.
7. You overwork the dough.
If you're one who likes to mix until you can't mix anymore, I hate to tell you, but your cookies will be doomed. If you mix or roll out the dough too much, you're going to end up with hard cookies. Over mixing can add excess air to the dough, causing it to rise and then fall flat in the oven. Over rolling the dough can cause gluten to get tougher. The best practice is to mix or roll your dough the minimum amount needed to get uniform dough.
8. You skip chilling the dough.
If you're looking to get cookies that are crispy on the outside yet gooey on the inside (so, that's everyone), then chilling the dough is a step you can't skip. Chilling cookie dough in plastic wrap for up to 24 in the fridge allows the ingredients to mingle. It also keeps your dough from spreading so much in the oven. And putting cold dough into a hot oven gives you that crisp outer layer that is so desired.
9. Your baking pan is too dark.
Dark baking sheets are going to make your cookies bake faster, as they absorb more heat than light ones. So while you don't have to replace your baking sheets altogether, you will need to adjust the temperature if you're using a dark colored baking sheet. Try reducing the temperature by about 25 degrees, and the cooking time by about four minutes. Learn why using aluminum foil-lined baking sheets can have a similar effect.
10. You overgrease your cookie sheet.
11. You overcrowd the cookie pan.
To avoid the dreadful cookie blob, be sure to stagger your cookies on the baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Not only will this prevent your cookies from spreading into one another, but it will also prevent you from getting flat cookies as a result of too much dough sharing the heat. You may have to use two pans, but it will be well worth it in the end. Save yourself some baking heartbreak and resist the temptation to fit as many cookies as possible on one pan.
12. Cookies bake on the wrong rack.
Using the top rack of the oven (or placing your oven rack too close to the top or your oven) will result in burnt cookies. To get the most even bake, use the middle rack. This is where air is circulating, and heat sources are evenly distributed. If you have more than one pan baking at once, be sure to switch them halfway through.
13. You sneak too many peeks.
While opening the oven door every few minutes to check on your festive goodies can be fun, it can also affect your results. Heat escapes every time the door is opened, so it's best to use the oven light and a glance through the glass door to check on the progress of your cookies.
14. You don't give your cookies enough time to cool down.
Your cookies are finished baking, and you're pleased with the result — don't let your hard work go to waste by immediately removing them from the pan. Allow them to set a few minutes on the baking sheet. This will prevent them from falling apart when you transfer them to the cooling rack.
15. You eat the cookie dough.
To eat cookie dough or not to eat cookie dough — that is truly every baker's question. It's guaranteed to spark a debate anywhere you go, but I'm going to argue that you want to save that cookie dough for your cookies. Yes, raw cookie dough contains raw eggs that can carry Salmonella, leading to foodborne illness and, well, you know the rest... But you'll also be shorting your batch, and why do that when there are many edible cookie recipes out there to enjoy without risk? Learn How to Make Raw Cookie Dough Safe to Eat (and 10 Treats to Try).