10 Ways to Fix Common Cookie Mistakes

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

Because there’s nothing worse than a botched batch.

Holidays are best celebrated with twinkling lights, with friends and family, and (perhaps most importantly) with the comfort of warm, hearty meals and the joy of sweet desserts. Holiday cookies are the perfect seasonal treat, and making them is a fun activity for adults and kids alike. But baking cookies is not always as simple as mixing the dough and tossing a batch in the oven. All seasoned bakers will tell you about their cookie disasters—from underbaking to burning, and everything in between.

In the hopes of easing any holiday cookie-related stress, here are the test kitchen's solutions to 10 cookie problems that you might encounter while baking. While the occasional mistake is inevitable, at least you’ll be equipped with the know-how to smooth over the situation. (And isn't that sweet?)

PROBLEM: The last cookies always seem short on chips.

SOLUTION: Reserve some morsels to add later.

When chocolate chips, nuts, or raisins are in the mix, the last few cookies from a batch never seem to have as many of these goodies as the first few. To get around this, reserve some of the mix-ins and stir them into the dough after about half of it has been scooped out.

PROBLEM: Cookies that keep burning on bottom.

SOLUTION: Use a light-colored baking sheet and line with parchment paper.

We typically don’t like light-colored bakeware since it doesn’t absorb heat as well as darker finishes, leading to spotty browning. But the cookie sheet is the exception. All of the dark nonstick cookie sheets we’ve tested consistently overbrown the bottoms of cookies. Light-colored sheets, on the other hand, prevent overbrowning but are prone to sticking. We get around this by baking cookies on parchment paper.

PROBLEM: Cookies that don’t add up to the correct yield.

SOLUTION: Use a portion scoop.

When cookies are portioned out larger or smaller than the recipe directs, they may not produce the intended texture. To ensure consistent size and the proper yield, we use a portion scoop. (We keep many different sizes on hand for just this purpose. A typical cookie requires a #30 scoop.)

PROBLEM: Chewy cookies that aren’t chewy.

SOLUTION: Underbake them.

To ensure a chewy texture, take cookies out of the oven when they are still slightly underdone, which often means they will droop over the end of a spatula. Crevices should appear moist and edges on smooth cookies should be lightly browned.

PROBLEM: Cookies that run together.

SOLUTION: Bake them in staggered rows.

When scoops of dough are placed too close together on the sheet, the cookies can fuse together. To ensure enough space between cookies, alternate the rows. For example, place three cookies in the first row, two in the second, three in the third, and so on.

PROBLEM: Unevenly baked batches of cookies.

SOLUTION: Rotate them during baking.

The temperature in most ovens varies from front to back, top to bottom—even side to side. To prevent uneven baking, rotate the cookie sheet partway through baking so that the back side faces front.

PROBLEM: It’s hard to tell when dark, chocolate cookies are done.

SOLUTION: Press the middle.

Most cookies, irrespective of texture, are done when pressing them lightly with your finger leaves just a slight indentation.

PROBLEM: Cookies that are left in oven too long.

SOLUTION: Cool them immediately on a rack.

If you become distracted and leave your cookies in the oven a minute or two too long, all is not lost. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, instead of allowing the cookies to set on the sheet, immediately transfer them to a wire rack, where they will cool more quickly.

PROBLEM: Cookies with overly crisp edges.

SOLUTION: Briefly chill dough and don’t use a hot sheet.

If your kitchen is particularly hot, the butter in the dough can start to melt, softening the dough and leading to overcooked edges. If the dough seems too soft, chill it for 10 to 15 minutes before portioning.

Putting raw dough on cookie sheets still warm from the oven can cause them to begin spreading, leading to burnt edges. Always allow baking sheets to cool completely before adding more batches. To expedite cooling, rinse warm—but not hot— sheet under cold tap water.

PROBLEM: Chewy cookies that dry out too quickly.

SOLUTION: Store them with bread.

To keep chewy cookies from turning dry and brittle, store them in a zipper-lock bag at room temperature with a small piece of bread (no more than half of a slice) placed inside.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

We set out to perfect the back-of-the-bag classic with a cookie that was crisp at the edges, chewy in the middle, and full of rich toffee flavor.

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