Why fail, cookies?
May 22, 2010 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Why did our cookies get all burned and fail?

Tomorrow afternoon one of my close friends is getting married, and to save some money, they're making their own party favors! Sugared almonds and some cookies, in little jars!

The cookies are the bride to be's own recipe and they've never failed before. This time, however, when they went in the oven, they began to rise, then in the space of a few minutes, suddenly melted out and burned (and apologies for my poor terminology, I know nothing at all about baking.)

Right now the current theory is that the dough was left for too long before the cookies were put out and cooked, but since they're going to try making another batch at the last minute tomorrow morning (and there really won't be another chance to get this right!), If anyone here knows anything that we don't about why this failure should occur, then it'd be great to get some pointers so that the same thing can't happen again!

The failed recipe is as follows:

Erica's Asian Pear Butter Cookies

3/4 c. Unsalted butter, softened
1 c. Sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. Asian pear butter
2 c. all purpose flower
2 t. bakind soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground ginger
additional sugar

Preheat oven to 350

In medium bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Add egg and mix until smooth, then stir in the Asian pear butter. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Blend the dry mixture into the asian pear butter mixture.

For thin, crisp cookies: drop by spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges look brown and dry.

Apologies for a question that could be obvious to more experienced chefs, but the couple are stressed, I know nothing about cooking, and it'd be a real disaster for this to happen again! So any help or advice would be very appreciated!
posted by emperor.seamus to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How old is your baking soda? If it's been in the cabinet a while, that can cause the cookies not to rise. Also, are you using a dark, non-stick cookie sheet? If so, you need to bake at 25 or so degrees less than the recipe recommends.

If using a pizza stone, your cookies will generally need to go a few minutes longer, so it would be good to know what the bride uses when she cooks them, too.
posted by misha at 2:49 PM on May 22, 2010

Do not ignore the warning to preheat - that can burn things badly.
posted by fish tick at 2:55 PM on May 22, 2010

The oven thermostat may have gone kablooey, making the oven temp higher than it seems to be. Buy a separate oven thermometer to use -- something like this. They're cheap and you can find them at any place like Bed Bath & Beyond.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

BlahLaLa is absolutely correct. Oven thermostats are not very accurate and need to be calibrated. (In fact, if you pull the knob off, you might see set-screws for adjusting it)
posted by gjc at 3:40 PM on May 22, 2010

Per Nick Malgieri, it is possible the dough was overmixed. Overmixing can overaerate the cookies. If that happens they puff up too much in the oven and then fall miserably into flat, greasy pancakes.
posted by gudrun at 4:35 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did your friend preheat the oven? When older style ovens (the kind with exposed elements) are warming up, they produces a lot of direct heat. Putting cookies in an oven that hasn't yet reached the desired temperature up is a bit like putting them under the broiler (us) or grill (uk/aus). They get too much heat too fast, so the insides stay mushy and the outsides get burnt. I have made this mistake many times, but now I always remember to pre-heat the oven.
posted by embrangled at 5:28 PM on May 22, 2010

gah, typo: they produce a lot of direct heat.
posted by embrangled at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2010

Did you accidentally use baking powder instead of baking soda?
posted by zinfandel at 6:44 PM on May 22, 2010

I'm guessing either bad cookie sheets-see the above comment on nonsticks, which I've found also applies to the ones with air pockets in them, or did you soften the butter too much? To properly soften it for cookies, you need to leave it on the counter for 20 minutes, don't melt it in the microwave. If the butter softened too much, the cookies won't keep their shape while cooking, they just melt into flat nothingness and burn.

Also, try to use the middle rack of the oven.
posted by supercapitalist at 8:16 PM on May 22, 2010

Yeah that can happen if the butter gets too melty, like supercapitalist says.

You don't mention the specific circumstances, but I've had it happen when I was in a hurry, and only had one baking sheet, and didn't let it cool down before I dropped more cookies on there. Dropping cookies on a hot baking sheet kinda pre-melts them and causes big problems.

Other things that could cause it would be a kitchen that's too hot, setting the dough atop the stove so that it warms up, anything like that. Keeping the bowl of dough refrigerated as much as possible can help.
posted by ErikaB at 10:45 PM on May 22, 2010

You hadn't mentioned how long the dough had been left out before the cookies went into the oven, but if it sat out for a long time, that would definitely account for the cookies collapsing after rising for a few minutes. Baking soda is a single-action leavener, which means that it begins to work as soon as liquid is added to it. Nearly all commercial baking powder, on the other hand, is double-acting, meaning that it gets activated first during hydration, and then again once the baked goods are in the oven. So unless you're making icebox cookies (which are usually made either with baking powder alone or a baking powder/baking soda combination), if you're making cookies leavened with baking soda alone, you want to get them in the oven as fast as you can, to avoid the baking soda's exhausting all of its leavening power before the cookies even make it into the oven.

And of course, nthing everybody else on checking your oven temperature, not baking on hot cookie sheets, confirming that your baking soda isn't old, not letting the butter get overwarm and greasy, etc.

Keeping my fingers crossed that the last batch is, in fact, the charm!
posted by bakerina at 1:05 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

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