- Making cookies is common but isn’t always easy.
- Some home chefs forget to chill the dough.
- Others grease their baking sheets with butter.
Making cookies is often many people’s first foray into baking, and although they can be the easiest tool in someone’s baking arsenal, home chefs constantly make the same common cookie mistakes in the kitchen.
INSIDER talked to Courtney Cowan, founder of Milk Jar Cookies, about some of the more common cookie mistakes that amateur bakers make (not chilling the dough, not properly greasing your baking sheets, etc) and how you can start making better cookies.
MISTAKE: Not chilling the dough.
Professional bakers always stress the need to chill your cookie dough before baking, and yet so many home chefs tend to skip this step.
“Cookie dough likes to rest a bit so all the ingredients have time to mingle, so letting it chill in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking allows for this to happen,” Cowan explained. “Be sure to saran wrap it tightly to keep the dough from drying out.”
Not only is chilling the dough a necessary step in the cooking baking routine, Cowan says this step is how you create crunchy cookies with gooey insides.
“Putting cold dough in the hot oven creates that crisp outer layer that makes biting into the cookie so delightful!” she added.
MISTAKE: Overcrowding the pan.
It’s important not to overcrowd the pan with cookie dough or place the dough balls too close together. Not only will this cause the cookies to spread into one another, creating bizarrely shaped cookies, but Cowan says that “overcrowding a baking sheet will result in flatter cookies as they are sharing the heat with too many [other cookies].”
Invest in a second baking sheet if you’re guilty of cramming two dozen cookies onto a single sheet.
MISTAKE: Working with the wrong temperature butter.
Common baking knowledge seems to dictates that you should always cook with room temperature butter, but Cowan says there’s no “wrong” butter temperature.
“Different temperatures of butter just produce different types of cookies,” she told us. “There are a lot of recipes out there that specifically call for melted butter and other recipes want the butter to be room temperature.”
The only rule here is to pay attention to whatever butter temperature your specific recipe calls for.
For example, the original Nestle recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for “softened butter” which can be achieved by bringing the butter to room temperature or according to Better Homes and Gardens, popping a cold stick of butter in the microwave for 15 seconds on 30% power.
MISTAKE: Over-mixing the dough.
“Over-mixing your dough will result in flatter, crispier cookies,” Cowan says. If you over-mix the dough, you will end up aerating the dough (adding air) which causes the cookies to rise and then fall, leaving you with flat cookies.
So how do you know when to stop mixing? Pastry chef Nicole Weston wrote in her blog Baking Bites that “you should just do the minimum amount of mixing necessary to make a uniform dough. A good rule of thumb is to stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain in your mixing bowl, or if you’re going to be adding chocolate chips or fruit into your mix, you can stop when a few small streaks of flour remain, since you’re going to give the mixture a few extra turns when you stir in your add-ins.”
MISTAKE: Under-mixing the dough.
Under-mixing the dough can be just as damaging as over-mixing. Under-mixing results in pockets of dry ingredients presenting in the final product, like a mouthful of brown sugar. You can stop mixing when your dough looks uniform, paying extra attention to the dry ingredients which are the biggest culprits in the under-mixing battle.
MISTAKE: Incorporating ingredients into the dough in the wrong order.
It’s not just enough to mix the dough for the correct amount of time, the order that you incorporate ingredients into the dough matters. Many home chefs are guilty of throwing all the cookie ingredients into a bowl at once, but Cowan says you should always mix wet ingredients first and then slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.
“I recommend mixing the wet ingredients together just until there are small chunks of butter remaining,” Cowan explained. She then slowly incorporates the dry ingredients into the dough in three parts. “With each addition of dry ingredients, mix the dough just until all of the flour has been fully incorporated,” she says.
MISTAKE: Using stale baking powder and soda.
Using expired or stale baking soda or baking powder is a really common mistake because so many amateur pastry chefs forget that their baking soda has been in the fridge for years. Cowan says that an unopened container of baking powder or soda is good for about two years, but opened cans should be switched out every six months.
“Baking powder and soda are the agents that lead the chemical reaction of the baking process. When they are stale, they are less potent, which causes your cookies to not bake properly and end up way too dense,” she explained.
Using dark-coloured baking sheets.
Using darker coloured baking sheets isn’t a mistake, per se, but it can be if you don’t adjust your baking times accordingly.
“Darker baking sheets will make your cookies bake faster,” Cowan explained. “So you will just need to make small adjustments to your temperature and baking time. If using dark baking sheets, I would recommend decreasing your temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and your bake time by 4 minutes. You can always add a minute or two until they are baked to your liking, but start with less.”
MISTAKE: Using butter to grease the cookie sheet.
To grease or not to grease. Most pastry chefs, including Cowan, line their baking sheets with parchment paper, but many cookie recipes still call for a “lightly greased baking sheet,” and often it’s not clear what that means.
“If you don’t have [parchment paper] in your kitchen,” Cowan advises. “I would recommend coating them with a cooking spray. Using butter to grease your cookie sheet can cause the bottoms of your cookies to burn.”
MISTAKE: Opening the oven door too many times.
It’s tempting to constantly open the oven to check on your cookies, especially towards the end when it’s not clear if they’re done or not, but Cowan cautions against this.
“Opening the oven door allows the heat to escape, which can affect how your cookies bake. If you want to check on your cookies while they bake, try to stick with using the oven light.”
MISTAKE: Trying to adapt a standard cookie recipe to accommodate a dietary restriction.
There’s nothing saying you can’t experiment in the kitchen, but baking, unlike cooking, is more of an exact science, and turning a standard recipe into a vegan or gluten-free recipe isn’t as simple as swapping one ingredient for another.
For example, gluten-free cookie recipes often call for additional ingredients like xanthan gum. Swapping out sugar for an alternative like applesauce or honey isn’t a one-to-one ratio either. There is a cookie recipe for nearly every dietary restriction on the internet, so it’s always best to follow those than to experiment on your own.
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