The pursuit of perfectly soft and chewy cookies comes with its failures. Below, you will find the knowledge you crave to make better cookies and the remedy you need to fix the miffed batch already sitting on your kitchen counter.
(jump to the fix for too FLAT) (jump to the fix for too FLUFFY)
The Best Cookie Baking Tips:
There are several tips I have incorporated into every cookie recipe I try. All of these came from my husband, who was the chief cookie maker in his family of 11. He even won a tri-state baking competition in highs chool with his very own chocolate chip cookie recipe. (It is pretty embarrassing that my husband can bake better than I can.) Only after about 4 years of marriage did he trust me enough to give me this secret cookie recipe. However, he freely gave me his best cookie baking advice.
The following are easy tips to use when following any cookie recipe:
Softened butter is a MUST. I'm talking about completely melt the butter. You want it to be liquid. (I throw mine in the microwave instead of heating on the stove top. You also do not want to brown the butter, or your cookies may taste burnt.)
Do not over cream the butter and sugar. If too much air is whipped in at this point you may end up with fluffy cookies.
Eggs should be beaten in a separate bowl before being combined gently with the sugar and butter. This is, again, in an attempt to avoid too much air being whipped in.
Always add extra vanilla to any cookie recipe.
Any nuts, M&M's, and chocolate chips should be mixed in BEFORE the flour, salt, and baking powder (if you chose to add it).
Do not add the whole amount of flour right away. You will want to slowly add the flour until the consistency is right for baking. If it is too sticky, add more flour. If the dough looks and feels good, try a test batch.
Crafting the Perfect Batch of Cookies:
There is a fine balance of wet and dry ingredients in the perfect cookie. Even within a simple cookie recipe there is variation. For example, the eggs you use may be slightly larger or smaller, and the amount of flour depends on how accurately you measured it out. The final consistency of your dough should be pretty sticky, but not so sticky that you cannot roll it into a ball without it being completely stuck to your hands. You can control the stickiness of cookie dough by carefully adding the flour until it hits your desired consistency. In this batch, I used 2, 2.5, and 3 cups of flour to show how the cookies turn out with the different ratios of wet to dry ingredients. Notice the different appearance of each dough ball.
This baking pan shows a cookie from a batch with 2, 2.5, and 3 cups of flour, respectively. You can see how they turned out with different ratios of wet to dry ingredients. First one pictured was a wetter batter, and produced a flatter cookie. The second cookie, what I normally shoot for, turned out moderately dense and chewy. The third cookie with the highest concentration of flour ended up very fluffy. Believe it or not, I got these results without adding any baking soda or baking powder.
I do not want to accidentally add too much flour, so I stop when I think my dough looks pretty good. I always bake up a "test batch" to make sure that my cookies are the way I like. If I am satisfied with the way the few test cookies turned out, I bake them in larger quantities. This reduces the amount of cookies I could potentially ruin.
How to Fix Flat or Fluffy Cookies:
Shortly into our relationship, my husband declared that I was not allowed to use baking powder because he can taste it in the cookies. He is very adamant that baking powder has a metallic taste and ruins cookies for him. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to nail down exactly how much flour to add to my cookies so that they turn out perfect without any added agent to make them rise. It also meant that I made many a batch of cookies that were either super flat or looking like a muffin top.
If you find that you have followed a recipe already and your cookies did not turn out, don't panic… there is still an opportunity to fix it!
Add a little milk to your batter. (You could use water too, but if you are making cookies you should have milk on hand anyways to wash them down.) I start with a small splash and mix it into the dough. The batter should be thinned out a bit and not quite as difficult to form into balls. Bake a test batch and see how the cookies turn out. If needed, add more milk and try baking another round. Repeat until you have cookies that you are satisfied with.
This was the dough that had 3 cups of flour. I was able to add milk and bring them back to more of the consistency of the batch that had 2.5 cups.
I find this to be more common than having fluffy cookies. There are two tricks to fix this peril.
Refrigerate or freeze the dough. This one takes some patience. The dough must be completely cold before attempting to bake, so it does not spread out as much in the oven. I have done this method before and still found my cookies spreading out too much, and end up having to do trick #2 anyways.
Add more flour. This one is finicky, because if you add too much flour, you will create muffin cookies. Start by adding a 1/4 cup or so of flour at a time. Mix thoroughly and try baking just a few dough balls as a test. If the cookies are looking good, keep baking. If not, repeat the process of adding more flour and trying a test batch until you have desirable cookies.
Once you find your desired batter consistency, whipping up a batch of cookies is easy. I hope the advice and tricks help you in your pursuit of perfect cookies as much as it has helped me!