Cookies are one of the most popular homemade treats. There may be thousands of variations, but they still seem approachable. You don't need any special equipment. They're easy to make and easy to share. Because they're bite-sized, it's almost as if each cookie is baked especially for you.
Here are the tips you need to know to make perfect cookies every time.
1. All Ingredients Should Be at the Right Temperature (Usually Room)
A mindset that completely changed my baking is when I started to think of temperature as another ingredient.
Temperature is crucial in any baking recipe, and it certainly holds for cookies as well. Good cookie recipes not only specify oven temperature but also what temperature the ingredients should be before mixing. Just like when you swap out ingredients or adjust quantities, different temperatures will alter your results.
If your ingredients aren’t at the correct temperature, the dough will not mix properly. Broadly speaking, room temperature ingredients are best. This is the optimal temperature for creaming butter and sugar together and aerating the batter effectively.
Room temperature butter is soft: you can easily indent it with your finger, and it should not feel greasy or melt. Ideally, butter should be between 65°F and 70°F. Depending on your kitchen temperature, this means about an hour or two out of the fridge. (Shortbread is an exception; in that case the butter should be colder to make a flakier, tender cookie.)
Eggs should also be at room temperature. If refrigerator-cold eggs are added, the butter will seize, breaking the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Any other ingredients should also be at a similar temperature for the same reason. Melted chocolate should be slightly cooled. Any liquids, such as milk or buttermilk, and ingredients like sour cream, should also warm up to room temperature before mixing.
Oven temperature and preheating the oven are also important variables in baking. Pay attention to the baking temperature in the recipe and use an oven thermometer for the best accuracy.
2. Chill the Dough
Chilling the dough has so many benefits that it’s often the first thing I test when tweaking new recipes. Chilling the dough not only improves the texture and appearance of cookies but also concentrates their flavor. Cookies made from chilled dough won’t spread as much and they even brown better in the oven.
Most drop cookies, especially chocolate chip cookies, benefit from chilling for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Chilling the dough is also necessary for most roll-out cut-out cookies. If the dough is too warm when you try to roll it out, it's more likely to stick to your counter, to your rolling pin, to your cookie-cutter, to your hands; you get the messy picture. Cut-out cookies also hold their shape better if they’re cold when they go into the oven. You can chill the cookies on the pans for 20 minutes while the oven preheats before baking.
The only cookies that definitely don’t benefit from chilling are spritz cookies, which need to be soft to be pressed.
3. Consistency is Key
A major element in consistently well-baked cookies is, well, consistency. If all the cookies are about the same size and shape, they are more likely to bake evenly. This way, with the same baking time, you don’t get some cookies that are overbaked while others are still too doughy.
Because of their size, cookies are more sensitive than larger baked goods when it comes to baking times. Sometimes just seconds could be the difference between a chewy cookie and a crisp cookie, or golden edges and a burnt cookie.
For drop cookies, my favorite tool for uniformly portioning dough is a scoop. Plus, scooping cookies is no-mess, easy, and fast. Drop cookies spread as they bake, so remember to allow enough room between them on the pan to expand without touching each other.
When making cut-out cookies, roll the dough out to an even thickness. The baking time in the recipe is intended for the specified thickness. If it’s uneven, thin spots in the dough will crisp and brown too quickly while the thicker parts will stay too soft or chewy. Check the recipe for the correct thickness but generally, most recipes indicate about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
4. Bake One Batch at a Time
If you have the time, it’s best to bake cookies one batch at a time, in the center of the oven. This allows you to focus on one batch at a time, and make any needed adjustments to the following batches.
The center of the oven is the ideal environment for even baking: it’s equidistant between the two heating elements and allows for efficient airflow. Remember to cool the baking sheets between batches as well. Placing cookie dough on a warm baking sheet will result in unevenly baked cookies that spread too much.
If you must bake more than one tray of cookies at a time, rotate the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Place one pan on a rack in the upper third of the oven and the other pan on a rack in the lower third. Halfway through, rotate the pans 180 degrees and swap racks.
5. Cool On the Sheet Pan First
A cookie warm from the oven is a magical experience: comforting and gooey and full of messy melty chocolate. But how cookies cool is an often-overlooked aspect of baking that is especially important if you're saving them to serve later.
Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before you transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Even out of the oven, the cookies continue to cook and set on the baking sheet. If you try to move them before they set, they will fall apart and break.
Remember to cool cookies completely before icing them or adding any decorations. If they are still warm, they may break while you handle them and the icing will melt.