Why Didn’t my Cookies Turn Out and How can I Fix Them?

Frequently Asked Questions

We bake cookies nearly everyday.  We bake them for visitors to our store.  We test recipes.  We develop mixes.  And we answer a ton of questions about cookies.

Every batch of cookies is a little different.  The good cook knows her oven and her pans and can make those little adjustments to time or methods to turn out perfect cookies.  But it helps to know why things happen the way they do and what to expect.

How do I tell when my cookies are done?

The tendency is to over bake cookies, to bake them just a little longer when we are not sure.  You’re better off with under baked cookies than over baked ones.  No one complains about a slightly under baked cookie.  If they are over baked, they are dry and sometimes hard.  And cookies that are over baked stale very quickly—a few hours old and the cookies are nearly unpalatable.

A minute in baking time will make a difference.  Watch your cookies very carefully until you know how a particular recipe bakes in your oven on your pans.  For most drop cookies, when the edges just start to turn brown, they are done.  Get them out of the oven and off the pan, even if a few of the cookies still look moist.

Chocolate cookies are a bit of a problem since you can’t see the edges turning brown.  The surface of the cookies should still look slightly moist and shiny when the cookies are done.  If it’s a new recipe, bake a half dozen cookies to test the time before committing the whole batch.

Do pans really make a difference?

Silver pans reflect heat and dark pans absorb heat.  Does that really make a difference?

Yes, the type of pan really makes a difference.

Nearly all cookie recipes are developed and tested with dark pans.  (When developing our cookie mixes, we bake cookies on dark pans.)

We baked cookies from the same batch on dark pans and light pans in the same oven.  The cookies tested were drop cookies designed to be baked at 350 degrees.  Both the dark pan and light pan were heavy, quality pans, one with a dark nonstick finish and the other with matte aluminum finish.  Neither pan was greased.

Cookies baked on the light pan spread much more than those on the dark pan.  With most recipes, the difference was enough that those on the light pan were unacceptable.

Unless you know your recipe, don’t use light pans.  Have some quality nonstick baking pans for cookies in your pantry.

Why do my cookies spread in the oven?

As the dough heats up, the butter melts and turns to liquid and the cookies begin to spread.  The sugar also melts.  The dough continues to spread until it gets hot enough that the proteins in the eggs coagulate and the starches in the flour set and stop the spread.

Dough spreads more quickly on a well-greased pan than on an ungreased pan.

So the following factors affect spread:

  • The type and amount of fat in the recipe.  (Shortening has a higher melting point and less water than butter.)
  • The amount of sugar in the recipe.
  • How quickly the dough heats, a function of the pan and temperature.
  • How well greased the pan is.
  • The amount of flour in the recipe.
  • The number of eggs in the recipe.

Rolled oats, both quick and old-fashioned, are sometimes added to a recipe to slow spread.  Often quick oats in small quantities are not noticeable in a recipe.

Can I compensate for my light pan by turning the temperature up?

In the test described above, we tried a batch on the light pan with the temperature turned up to 375 degrees.   The higher temperature reduced the spread becasue the dough set sooner, but there was still too much spread.

Does cold dough from the refrigerator make a difference?

Yes.  With cold dough, there is slightly less spread in the cookies.  Cold dough may require another 30 seconds to one minute to finish baking.

What happens if my oven temperature is not accurate?

We have tested recipes extensively at different temperatures.  A cool oven, even 25 degrees cool, can create too much spread.  A hot oven cooks too quickly and there is less spread.  If the oven is too hot, it’s hard to get the cookies out of the oven before they are too done.

How quickly should I remove the cookies from the pan?

Follow the recipe but for most cookies, you want to get them off the pan immediately.  Cookies will continue to bake on the hot pan.  While they may not change in appearance, resting on a hot pan will drive moisture from the cookies and seriously degrade the quality of the cookies.

How long should I leave my cookies on the rack to cool?

No longer than you need to.  Moist cookies are better and since cookies are thin, they dry out very quickly.  As soon as they are completely cooled, remove them to your cookie jar.

Do I need to grease my pan?

That depends on the recipe and the pan.  While greasing the pan is sometimes a way to create more spread, cookies with a high butter content should not stick to an ungreased pan especially if they are removed while hot.

If cookies are allowed to cool on the pan, the melted sugar sets up and makes the cookies much more difficult to get off the pan.

What pans do you recommend?

We recommend good quality, heavy duty, nonstick pans.  We sell professional baking pans that are perfect for cookies.

Consider cookie mixes for better cookies in less time.

It’s much quicker and easier to bake cookies from a mix.  The Prepared Pantry has dozens of mixes to choose from.

Chocolate Fudge Brownie Cookie Mix
cinnamon Burst Snickerdoodles Mix
Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cookie Mix
Very Cherry Chocolate Cookie Mix
Orange Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Caramel Pear and Toasted Pecan Cookie Mix
Raspberry White Chocolate Cookie Mix
Macadamia Nut and White Chocolate Cookie Mix
Spiked Apple with White Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Vanilla Macaroons Cookie Mix