Baking, as you know, isn’t just a culinary art form; there’s a lot of chemistry involved, too. To up your cookie-baking game, we’ve called in chefs and bakers to share some common cookie baking mistakes that happen, and relay their best tips on what to do instead. That way, no more cookies need to be sacrificed to the trash bin.
Here are 15 cooking baking mistakes you may be making, and how to avoid them.
1. Creaming the butter wrong.
When you put a stick of butter into the mixer it will be much harder to get a smooth consistency and may even take a toll on your machine, says Aja Cage, pastry chef at Mirabelle in Washington, D.C.
How to fix it: Cut your butter up into small cubes and add your sugar, Cage says. She suggests using the mixer’s paddle attachment on medium-high speed for about five minutes. The mixture will become smooth and airy, lighter in color and fluffier in texture, similar to a cake frosting. “This will result in a more tender cookie,” she says. This technique works great for making sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, and chocolate chip cookies.
2. Measuring your flour incorrectly.
If you’re pushing and packing flour into your measuring cup, you’re probably adding too much to your mix, Cage says. The result? A dense, heavy cookie.
How to fix it: Gently place spoonfuls of flour into your measuring cup until it is overly full, Cage suggests. Then, lightly tap the top of the cup with the back of a knife and level off the surface by dragging the flat side of the knife directly over the top of the cup, she suggests.
3. Forgetting to scrape the bowl.
If you’ve ever had a batch of cookies where some of the cookies baked up perfectly and some of the cookies spread into oily blobs, it’s because your batter is unevenly mixed, says Jenna Huntsberger, head baker with Whisked! in Washington, D.C. If you use a stand mixer, like a KitchenAid, it’s easy for some of your ingredients to settle on the bottom of the bowl, right under the mixing attachment, and not get fully incorporated, she explains.
How to fix it: Always scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl before you add an ingredient, Huntsberger says. Also, after all of your ingredients are added and mixed, take your bowl off the stand mixer and mix by hand, making sure to incorporate the batter in the bottom of the bowl.
4. Greasing the cookie sheet.
If you bake your cookies on a greased sheet pan, not only will the cookies spread too much, but they’ll be too thin and they’ll probably burn, says pastry chef Eileen Gray.
How to fix it: Unless the recipe specifically tells you to grease the cookie sheet, leave the pan ungreased, Gray says. “Even better, line the cookie sheet with parchment paper,” she adds. “Parchment paper will prevent the cookies from spreading, and cleanup is a breeze.”
5. Not knowing what constitutes “room temperature.”
Most cookie recipes instruct you to use “room temperature” butter and eggs without explaining what that means, Gray says. As it turns out, room temperature does not mean the actual temperature of the room you’re in.
For example, in the middle of summer, the air temperature in your kitchen could easily be 80 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, butter will be melted and greasy, so your cookies will spread all over the pan. If it’s winter, meanwhile, and the air temperature is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the butter will be too firm, so your cookie dough will not get enough air while creaming, she says, and they won’t rise properly.
How to fix it: So, what exactly is room temperature? Gray says “room temperature” ingredients should be between 68 and 70 Fahrenheit. When it’s within this range, the butter will be firm yet pliable.
6. Using artificial vanilla.
Harlee Morrow, the executive pastry chef at Sparrow + Wolf in Las Vegas, Nevada, says using artificial vanilla (or artificial almond or lemon) is one of the biggest mistakes she sees people make when they’re baking cookies at home. “No matter the quality of your other ingredients, your cookies will wind up tasting artificial,” Morrow says.
How to fix it: Always use pure vanilla, either extract, paste, or bean, recommends Morrow. “The flavor is incomparable,” she says.
7. Relying too much on your timer.
Setting a timer and double-checking that your oven is set at the right temperature is just one line of defense when it comes to making sure your cookies don’t burn to a crisp. But lots of home bakers let their timer do all the work and forget to peer at them through the oven window. In fact, eyeing your cookies can help you get them just right, explains Brigette Contreras, corporate executive pastry chef of The ONE Group, which has STK in its restaurant group.
How to fix it: “Cookies do not have to look fully cooked to be removed from the oven,” she says. Her go-to tip: Take them out of the oven once they fluff up and no longer look shiny. In fact, the only shine should be that of the melted chocolate chips, she says.
8. Not letting cookies cool enough.
You’ve made perfect cookies, and you’re eager to serve them warm. But if you remove them from the pan too quickly, they’ll fall apart, cautions Contreras.
How to fix it: Leave them on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. That way, they’ll firm up and keep their shape when you slide the spatula underneath them.
9. Leaving the cookies in the oven too long.
Cookies can go from chewy and soft to hard and crunchy in very little time, cautions Jessie Sheehan, a recipe developer and the author of The Vintage Baker.
How to fix it: If you love chewy cookies, try underbaking them by a minute or so, she says.
10. Overmixing the batter.
Overmix your batter, and you’ll end up with one tough cookie (batch), Sheehan says. Batter that’s been mixed for too long can lead to dry, cracker-like cookies. And that’s not what you’re going for, right?
How to fix it: When you’re using an electric or hand mixer, stop mixing your dough when you can still see streaks of flour in the mix. Then, finish mixing by hand, which isn’t so rigorous, Sheehan says.
11. Not chilling the dough.
The scenario: You want to make a dozen cookies, but instead you end up with one big cookie conglomerate because the dough spread on the sheet. Experts say this mistake happens when you don’t chill your dough. Chilled cookie dough doesn’t melt as quickly, so it doesn’t flatten out too much on the cookie sheet or meld with nearby cookies.
How to fix it: When you’re making drop cookies, like chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal raisin, you’ll want to chill your dough before it goes in the oven. “Freeze your portioned cookie dough on a cookie sheet for at least an hour before baking,” Sheehan says. “This will help your cookies keep their shape when baking.”
12. Using a spoon for drop cookies.
Ever wonder why your cookies aren’t perfectly round and uniform, a la your Pinterest board? The secret to round cookies, it turns out, is an assist from a kitchen gadget that’s not a spoon.
How to fix it: It’s worth investing in a small ice cream scoop to help portion out your dough, Sheehan says.
13. Randomly substituting ingredients.
PSA: You can’t use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour or oil instead of butter and expect the cookie to turn out as they do in the recipe, Gray says. A wrong flour could make the cookie too dry, and oil will make the cookies much softer than butter.
How to fix it: “The recipe writer chose the specific type of flour, fat, sugar, and liquid to create the perfect version of that cookie,” Gray says. Read through the recipe and make sure you’ve got all the right ingredients before you start mixing the dough, she suggests.
14. Using a single baking sheet.
The drill: Your first batch of cookies come out of the oven, and you move them quickly to a cooling rack and start filling up the sheet with your next batch. Doing this will result in thin cookies because they’ll melt and spread before they start baking, warns Rachel Paxton, who has three decades of baking experience and runs the blog Creative Homemaking.
How to fix it: Keep a few cookie sheets on hand so that you can let them cool down between patches, Paxton suggests.
15. Using an old cookie sheet.
Are your cookies constantly burning? You may want to wag your finger at those old, thin cookie sheets you’ve been using, Paxton says.
How to fix it: Your best bet is to invest in a new, heavy-duty cookie sheet, Paxton says. But, you could also get a little more mileage out of your old cooking sheet by adding a layer of aluminum foil, which will help prevent your cookies from burning, she suggests.