Everyone has a different opinion about what makes a cookie "good." Some like flat, lacey cookies with a crispy finish, and others prefer puffy, cake-like cookies. No matter what your cookie preference might be, baking cookies from scratch can test the skills of any home cook. To help you achieve your desired cookie result, we're sharing some of the most common cookie issues and their solutions. Bake on!

Chewy Sugar Cookies
Photo by Melissa Goff

Cookie Troubleshooting Guide

Q: Why are my cookies so thin and flat?

The butter or dough was too warm.

Butter should be at room temperature (unless otherwise noted). If the dough seems too soft, chill it for 10 to 15 minutes before baking.

Use shortening instead of butter or a combination of the two if you don't want to sacrifice that buttery flavor.

The dough was too wet.

Using the wrong size egg could also add extra liquid, resulting in too much spreading. Try decreasing the number of eggs in your recipe, or use egg yolks in place of whole eggs.

Too much sugar, not enough flour.

Using too little flour will prevent rising, and too much sugar will result in more spreading since sugar liquefies when heated.

The baking sheet was too warm or greasy.

Always use room temperature baking pans and cool your baking sheet between batches. Bring pans to room temperature quickly by carefully running the bottom of the pan under cool water. 

Use parchment paper to prevent your cookie sheets from becoming greasy in between batches.

Using too much baking soda.

Try using baking powder instead of baking soda. Baking soda encourages spreading while baking powder puffs the cookies up.  If your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, you would use 3 to 4 teaspoons of baking powder. Caution: This could result in an unwanted flavor shift.

Q: Why are my cookies so puffy and cakey?

Whipping too much air into the dough.

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.

Adding too many eggs.

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.

Using the wrong type of flour (or just too much flour).

Using too much flour will make your cookies too cakey, so try reducing the flour amount by two tablespoons.

Avoid using cake flour instead; try a mix of all-purpose flour and bread flour for a more dense and chewy texture.

Using too much baking powder.

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.

Q: Why are my cookies so tough and hard?

Using only white sugar.

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.

Baking for too long. 

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.

Not using enough fat in the dough.

A greater fat ratio (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.

Overmixing your dough.

Roll or mix your dough as little, and as gently, as you can.

Q: Why are my cookies not crisp enough?

They are underbaked.

 Lower your oven temperature and bake longer but at a lower temperature.

Using too much flour or the wrong kind of flour.

Try using an all-purpose flour; its higher protein content results in a crispier cookie.

Too many eggs or other liquids in the dough.

Decrease the number of eggs in your recipe, or use egg yolks in place of whole eggs.

Too high a ratio of brown sugar to white sugar.

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.