Good Cookies Gone Bad
I made cookies this weekend, by special request. I have not been baking much, and the cookie monster in my house reminded me of that fact by placing the empty cookie jar in the center of my kitchen island—subtle, huh?
So I pulled out my favorite Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe and went to work. I love this recipe. It is easy, on the healthy side of cookies (no, no—it does not qualify as health food, it’s just on the healthier side), and until now it has been fool-proof. I have literally baked this cookie hundreds and hundreds of times. But when I pulled that first batch out of the oven, I knew something had gone terribly wrong.
The cookies are flat. Truth be told, they are very, very flat. A thin stack of standard copy paper—10 sheets to be exact, is thicker than these cookies. I know, I measured. Argh!
I have already had one baking mishap recently (remember the banana bread)! I did not need another. I especially did not need one when I was tripling the recipe. That’s right, TRIPLING. I now have a freezer load of these babies. Sigh…
Okay, so what went wrong.
Well, in my case, it was a combination of too little flour and baking soda gone flat. I remember thinking when I was putting the cookie dough together that it was kind of loose. But, nah, I have made it hundreds of time. So lesson learned—listen to the batter. Well, at least pay attention to it.
And, just like in the quick breads, test those leaveners—baking soda in this case. I knew I had not baked in a while. I should have tested the baking soda before I put it in the recipe. But I didn’t, and the cookies told on me. Second lesson learned—make sure you have good ingredients.
Did my cooking mistake stop us from eating them? Um, no. In fact I was told this morning that they make a good breakfast cereal. Oh dear…
5 Common Cookie Mistakes
- One of two things happened, the cookies were over mixed or they had too much flour.
Over mixing cookies does the same thing to cookies as it does to cakes, it makes them tough. For cookies it will also make them hard and flat. Do not let your mixer run while you measure ingredients. Have everything ready to go, or turn off the mixture if you need to spend time measuring.
Too much flour may be the result of poor measuring or rolling flour into the dough. Make sure to measure accurately. If rolling the cookie out, try using powdered sugar instead of flour.
For a sugar cookie recipe, it may also mean that they were cooked too long. For most sugar cookies, the color should stay a light blonde color. Golden brown is overcooked.
- Make sure to only grease a cookie sheet when the recipe calls for it. And allow cookie sheets to cool slightly before adding the next batch.
A greased cookie sheet help cookies spread. It is tempting to add nonstick spray, just in case. But 9 times out of 10 the cookies are going to start getting cozy with their neighbor if you spray the pan. Avoid the temptation to spray. If, however, the recipe calls for greasing the pan, regrease after each batch.
A pan that is too hot will melt the fat in the cookie dough. Allow the cookie sheets to cool slightly before adding more. Plus, it helps to keep the cookie dough chilled. Chilling the dough will keep the fat solid regardless of how hot the kitchen gets.
- Either the sugar and butter weren’t creamed together, the dough was over mixed, the pan was too hot, or the leavening was old.
Creaming butter and sugar help air pockets to form which help give cookies some lift. Don’t get carried away, creamed butter and sugar will never look like whipped cream, but after several minutes (sometimes as much as 8 to 10 minutes) the butter will be a paler yellow and fluffier.
Over mixing the dough will make the dough flatten when cooking and look greasy. Mix just until you don’t see large streaks of flour. Remember if you are adding chocolate chips, nuts or other add-ins that there is a bit more mixing to do. Mix just until all the ingredients are combined.
A hot pan will melt the pan, and the cookies will spread out resulting in a flat cookie. Keep the dough in the refrigerator between batches, and allow the pan to cool slightly.
As for the leaveners…Please, test your soda today! Don’t let a good cookie go bad.
- It could be the oven, uneven sizing of the cookies, or the baking sheet.
Uneven cooking is caused by hot spots. To test your stove for hot spots, fill a jelly roll pan with plain bread. Place in the center rack in a preheated 350 F oven and let the slices toast for a few minutes. The areas that are darker are hotter. You may need to rotate your cookies from front to back and from top to center to help even out the cooking.
If the bottom of the cookie gets too brown, the pan may be to blame. Avoid using dark-colored pans for that cookie recipe. Cookies will continue to bake on a hot pan, so remove cooked cookies to a cooling rack for best results.
To make sure your cookies are the same size use a cookie scoop. The cookie scoop will help ensure that the cookies are the same size thus baking at the same rate.
In a sugar cookie recipe, an intricate cookie cutter may be the culprit. The small intricate pieces may cook faster than the whole cookie. Stick with simpler cookie shapes.
- A dry crumbling cookie has too much flour. A rolled cookie that crumbles may also be the result of rolling the dough too thin.
For drop cookies, I find that letting the dough rest 5 to 10 minutes before cooking allows the moisture to be absorbed. But sometimes you will have to add a little more liquid to the dough. Try an extra egg or a couple tablespoons of milk. In general, milk will produce a crisper, flatter cookie and adding an egg will produce a puffier cookie.
For rolled cookies, the dough should be 1/4-inch thick then cut into shapes. If the rolled cookie isn’t cooked all the way through, then it wasn’t rolled thin enough.
Your turn: What is your secret to the perfect cookie?