How can I make my chocolate chip cookies come out flatter?
February 13, 2013 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I made the same recipe multiple times, and have gotten different results every time. How can I maintain consistency?!

So I made this recipe a few weeks ago, and it turned out just like the picture. Flat, beautiful cookies! I have made it 2 more times and gotten totally different results, and I can't figure out what I did wrong.

The second time I made them, they turned out much taller and domed. I wasn't totally alarmed because I'd browned the butter and used a different brand of chocolate (lower quality), so I figured that had something to do with it. I also used the whisk attachment on the KitchenAid because my paddle attachment broke, so I figured the extra air made the cookies fluffier.

I made them again a few days ago and used the bread hook attachment, added an extra tablespoon of butter, and used the same brand of chocolate I originally had. The cookies still came out slightly domed, and not flat. They taste good, but aren't what I wanted! I'm going crazy trying to figure out what I did the first time that made them turn out so picture-perfect.

So lend me your ideas, please! Should the butter be freshly melted or room temperature? Should I sift the flour? Should I refrigerate the dough, or not refrigerate it? It doesn't seem to have made a difference, since I refrigerated on both the first and third rounds, but maybe some combination of these is the key!

Also if you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, I'd love to hear it. I used the Tollhouse recipe for years and loved it, but there's a bakery near my house that makes these big, thin cookies that I can't get enough of and they're moving, so I'm on the prowl. Thank you!
posted by masquesoporfavor to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Are you weighing your ingredients?

Also, start using a lab notebook.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:38 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alton Brown's thin recipe
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:38 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Weighing and a notebook are considerations but part of the reason I like this recipe is that it's so quick and easy, I barely have to think about it. I think busting out the scale and notebook would dissuade me from making them as often. :-\
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:43 PM on February 13, 2013

Humidity can make a difference in baking. And so can using different techniques each time, which it sounds like you did. Don't discount how much difference mixing with a wooden spoon vs a whisk vs a dough can make - in baking, it can be a lot!

Try Alton Brown's recipe, weigh your ingredients, and make notes each time you make them.
posted by rtha at 4:44 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, margerine will bake flatter than butter, as will subbing some of the butter for shortening.
posted by windykites at 4:49 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, first of all, you haven't followed the recipe the same each time, have you? Browning the butter will affect the cookie, as will adding another tablespoon of butter.

If you followed the recipe exactly as written the first time, following it exactly as written again should give you the same results. Baking is science. You mess with one ingredient/method, things change.
posted by cooker girl at 4:52 PM on February 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

I wouldn't use the bread hook attachment. I can't technically explain why not but I wouldn't use it. Maybe the kneading action is causing them to not flatten.

Don't refrigerate. I chill my dough and cookie sheets to prevent spreading. Room temperature dough is going to spread more than chilled dough.

I'm no expert but perhaps you had too much flour when the cookies mounded.
posted by Fairchild at 4:55 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Butter should be soft but still cool.

Is your baking powder active?

Watch the amount of flour--I would think more would cause the batter to be stiffer. I also only make the dough by hand but would recommend this over a mixer.

I also wouldn't refrigerate the dough, though I know that's popular these days.

(On preview, I think Fairchild and I are on the same track.)
posted by Riverine at 4:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgot to add that a fantastic cookie recipe is Orangette's whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.
posted by Fairchild at 4:58 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Different baking sheets will give different results - the faster the bottom of the cookie cooks the taller the cookie will end up. Using a silicone sheet (silpat) will make your cookies flatter.
posted by foodgeek at 5:00 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have read (but not yet tested) that making cookie dough and then keeping it in the fridge for a week will significantly increase quality. One thing to check is your oven. Is it running hot, cool, flaky, etc. Also, I'd ask the bakery for hints.
posted by theora55 at 5:04 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joe Pastry breaks this down in detail. The flat version is partway down the page; the other posts explain some of the reasons behind the variations.
posted by pie ninja at 5:44 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could be overbeating. I beat the sugar and butter together then beat in the eggs and stop as soon as everything is mixed together. Then I stir in the flour with a wooden spoon.

I'm a fan of keeping dough in the fridge but mostly because I rarely cook an entire batch at once- much better to bake a couple of cookies every night.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:36 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

This issue has seen a lot of traction in our house -- identical recipes with different results (Mr. Llama's mom, and his grandma, over decades).

I think it might have to do with how well the butter/sugar/egg/vanilla whipping is managed, and the brevity of incorporating flour--at least that's what happened when we last made them over the weekend.

We beat the hell out of the wet ingredients, then very briefly with no more stirring than necessary, incorporated the dry, and that got us fairly flat cookies.

Unfortunately, that's just the one data point!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:07 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Llama hits it on the head: You can blend the wet ingredients as much as you like, but once the flour gets wet, mix as little as possible.

Why? Because once the flour gets wet, all the manipulation of it is simply kneading the dough. This makes the dough tougher and more apt to trap air and become puff up like rising bread in the oven rather than spreading. When you work the dough too much, you're making the protein chains in the ground wheat line up and gain strength. Clearly good for bread but not for cookies. For cookies you want the flour to just barely be held together by the sugar, butter and egg mix. That way the butter melts and the cookie spreads out.

Go ahead and melt the butter. That'll make it easier to combine with the dry ingredients. And you can sift the flour, since that will reduce the amount of mixing you have to do. Refrigeration won't do that much for you. And don't use the bread hook.
posted by Mercaptan at 7:50 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Weigh the ingredients. This was covered this week by one of my favorite cooking blogs.
posted by xmts at 7:53 PM on February 13, 2013

Really, if consistency is an issue, weight the ingredients. 1 cup of flour can cover a pretty wide range of weight and that's what is important. I think it is faster to use a scale than measuring by volume once you are used to it and you save time by making fewer dirty dishes (put your bowl on the scale, zero after each addition). If you want consistency, you have to be consistent yourself and that means weighing ingredients.

The issue might be many things (too much mixing, oven and pan variations), but the first one to consider is ingredient proportions. If you browned the butter, you heated it up to the point where all the water evaporated out. Since butter is 14-18% water, by doing so you made your dough significantly drier.
posted by ssg at 10:56 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

We make the tried-and-true recipe on the Nestle bag, and always turn-out proper flat cookies. We use real butter, and make sure the brown sugar is firmly packed. We never weigh.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:14 AM on February 14, 2013

Things that will make cookies thinner:

-using baking soda instead of baking powder (powder is self-rising, soda only rises to the extent it interacts with the acidic ingredients in the dough)

-subbing granulated sugar for some of the brown sugar (lower acidity; molasses holds/attracts moisture; light rather than dark brown sugar will also help b/c less molasses)

-unmelted butter (melted butter separates into water and fat; water begins immediately interacting with the gluten in the flour, making the cookies chewier/thicker)

-lower-fat butter (i.e. use American not European butter; softens at a lower temp); don't use shortening, it has a higher melting point than butter

-preheating the cookie sheet (cookies will spread faster than they set)

-lower oven temp (more time for spread before setting)

To others: reverse all of these if you want a thicker, chewier cookie.

For consistency, weigh ingredients.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:37 AM on February 14, 2013

also: a little less flour.

i usually add a 1/4 c flour to the recipe on the nestle choc chip bags to avoid the flatness.
posted by pearl228 at 10:18 PM on February 14, 2013

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