C is for Cookie, and H is for Help me make my cookies not suck.
December 8, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What is wrong with my chocolate chip cookies? I make the recipe off the back of the chocolate chip bag, or from different cookbooks... it doesn't matter. Every time, they spread out too much and get too thin. It isn't pretty. They taste sort of OK, but what might I be missing?
posted by voidcontext to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you melting the butter instead of creaming the butter and sugar together?
posted by jessamyn at 5:26 PM on December 8, 2005

Add more flour. Up to 1 cup more (if you're using the Nestle Tollhouse chips).
posted by unknowncommand at 5:26 PM on December 8, 2005

Also, these folks appear to share your concerns, and suggest a lot of ways to enfluffen your cookies so to speak.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:34 PM on December 8, 2005

Maybe your oven cooks too low or too high. Calibrate with a thermometer.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 5:37 PM on December 8, 2005

At what altitude is your kitchen situated?
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:37 PM on December 8, 2005

Use half shortning/ half butter in place of the butter.
posted by palegirl at 5:38 PM on December 8, 2005

Use butter-flavored Crisco instead of half the butter.
posted by nicwolff at 5:40 PM on December 8, 2005

This is the absolute most delicious and foolproof chocolate chip cookie recipe I have ever tried. It gives you cookies with crisp, caramelized edges and relatively soft middles. The ingredients are not so different than those in the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag, but the cooking method is very different. Please give it a try and see if it doesn't fix your problem.

Please note: The recipe requires you chill the dough for at least two hours.

Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Cookies and Brownies

Makes about five dozen cookies

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
16 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar, lump-free
1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. chocolate chips
1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

2 cookie sheets, ungreased

Combine the flour and baking soda in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Set aside.

Cut the butter into chunks and melt it in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugars and salt. Mix in the eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture just until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Let the mixture and the pan cool. Stir in the chocolate chips and the nuts. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit degrees. Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Remove the dough from the refrigerator to soften. Scoop rounded tablespoons of dough and place them 3 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown at the edges and no longer look wet on the top. Rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Remove from the oven and let cookies firm up on the pan for 1 to 2 minutes. Use a metal pancake turner to transfer them to a rack to cool completely before storing or stacking. May be stored in a tightly sealed container for several days.

Nut clusters. These are rich. Consider making them half size. Omit the chocolate chips. Substitute 4 to 5 cups of any nut pieces you like for the walnuts, like macadamias, skinned and toasted hazelnuts, salted peanuts, cashews or Brazil nuts.
posted by Sully6 at 5:41 PM on December 8, 2005 [3 favorites]

I will try and see what helps, thanks for all the suggestions.

jessamyn: I was creaming, not melting.

Dr. Wu: altitude of approx 700 feet above sea level.

I will report back...
posted by voidcontext at 5:47 PM on December 8, 2005

Another tip is to reduce the amount of sugar you use by a couple of tablespoons—that usually helps to reduce the spread.
posted by smich at 5:56 PM on December 8, 2005

Oh yeah, and using parchment paper to line the cookie sheets really does make a difference.
posted by smich at 5:57 PM on December 8, 2005

I love this article from allrecipes on how to get the right cookie texture.
posted by whatzit at 5:58 PM on December 8, 2005

Good Eats with Alton Brown devoted an entire episode to chocolate chip cookies, where he provided three different recipes. A transcript of the entire episode is available here:

posted by frogan at 6:02 PM on December 8, 2005

They can be really good spread out like this, but then you really want them to spread out, which means drastically cutting down on the flour. They are really rich this way though. I remember eating cookies like this at my grandmother's house as a child. Mmmmmmmmm.
posted by caddis at 6:09 PM on December 8, 2005

Shortening helps this for me!
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:12 PM on December 8, 2005

Ditto on the shortening. I know it sounds blasphemous to replace butter with it, but it really does the trick here.
posted by litlnemo at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2005

Are you using baking powder instead of baking soda?
posted by hooray at 6:37 PM on December 8, 2005

Although I was raised on cookies made with Crisco, I've become a purist: butter only, in almost all cases. There really is a difference in flavor, at least to me, although I know I am a pastry freak in a way most people are not.

With Crisco, there is of course the issue of partially hydrogenated fats, which not only raise your bad cholesterol but also lower your good cholesterol. Up until 2004 all Crisco was made with these fats. They now have a line called "trans fat free," so if you're going to give shortening a try, look for this product.

If you want to stick with the recipe on the back of the bag, I would make sure that you're not overbeating your butter. When doughs are too soft spreading can be a problem. Refrigerating them before baking usually solves it.

Also, how do you scoop your flour? A lot of folks use the dip-and-sweep method but you usually end up with more flour than the recipe calls for, which can make cookies drier and tougher. Best way to measure flour is to spoon it into the measuring cup, level it off with the handle of the spoon or a knife and proceed as directed with the recipe.

Also, don't grease your cookie sheets, as that can contribute to spread.

Don't handle the dough too much either. If you're rolling it into balls or anything like that, the warmth from your hands may be softening the dough too much.

Oven temp is important too, as sirmissalot mentioned. This product is pretty cheap and should tell you if your oven is calibrated right.

Finally, Shirley Corriher has a section on chocolate chip cookies in her cookbook Cookwise that you may want to check out. She suggests tweaks like corn syrup and extra baking powder. (But if you're going to try new recipes, give Alice Medrich's a shot first. Every time I've made those cookies people have gone totally ape. I took several dozen to the neighborhood picnic this fall and they were gone in about ten minutes, no lie.)
posted by Sully6 at 6:38 PM on December 8, 2005

Add oats. Or flour. And/or more baking powder.
posted by loquacious at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2005

Second the guess that your oven is too hot. Check with a thermometer before altering the recipe.
posted by Miko at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2005

Oatmeal. It doesn't take much, but you'll definitely want to experiment. Besides, nothing's better than a chocolate-chip oatmeal cookie.

I have my own variation, ugly but delicious -- alas, it's a secret recipe. Perhaps I'll have to bring 'em to a meetup.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:55 PM on December 8, 2005

Sully6 gave the right answer(s) but I'll repeat: Refrigerate the dough overnight, and don't let it cool off too much before you put it in the oven.

Do stay away from the regular Crisco because of the hydrogenated fats. The half-Crisco version of the Toll-house recipe actually makes the cookies come out flatter and crispier than full butter anyway. Since I prefer them that way, I found that when I switched to full butter I had to flatten the balls of dough a little more, and let the dough warm a bit pre-baking to compensate.

It's personal preference, but my #1 chocolate chip cookie tip is not to take them out too soon before the sugar gets good and caramelized. My #2 tip is to substitute pecans for walnuts, and #3 is to use a bit more chips and nuts than the recipe calls for.

Oh and be sure to sift the dry ingredients together.
posted by Manjusri at 6:57 PM on December 8, 2005

I'm glad this was asked. I've similar problems off and on with toll house cookies. I've heard that it can be the baking soda/powder. Apparently they can go bad - or at least, lose their effectiveness over time.

Also, I'll share what I have learned. Don't skip the salt. I discovered this after noticing my cookies had a, kind of... "flat" taste. I thought leaving out salt would be more healthy. Maybe, but there is a noticeable difference.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:08 PM on December 8, 2005

I second the Alton Brown cookies. All varieties come out awesome.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:24 PM on December 8, 2005

Happened to think: Cookie sheets and placement of cookie sheets in your oven can make a difference. Generally cookies should be baked in the bottom third with the pan rotated front to back once during baking.

Insulated sheets are crap, as are dark metal or nonstick ones. I've found the cheap ones to work really well--Mirro, Wilton, etc.

Also, if you bake infrequently, you may want to replace your baking powder or soda as they lose their punch with age.
posted by Sully6 at 7:30 PM on December 8, 2005

What I do for not-spready chocolate chip cookies:

Cut the sugar and butter by 1/4. Leave the rest of the recipe the same. (Shortening changes the mouthfeel of the cookies, which is fine if you like that. We don't.) Don't ever leave out the leavening (baking powder/baking soda) or the salt.

We like them better this way- my kids think that 'regular' chocolate chip cookies are too sweet and too greasy. It's a lot easier than adding "some" more flour, or "some" oatmeal (besides, if we want oatmeal cookies, I've got a killer recipe for those), or chilling. (I don't usually have time to chill my cookie dough -- I'm making cookies after the kids go to bed so there's cookies for the next day's lunchboxes. There's usually just enough time to get a batch of cookies through the oven and cooled enough to put away before I need to go to bed myself.
posted by jlkr at 7:30 PM on December 8, 2005

baking soda vs baking powder: one makes things rise, the other makes things spread. Be sure you're not doublin' up on the spreader-y one.
posted by Kololo at 8:05 PM on December 8, 2005

My problem was my own ignorance.

I was using pastry flour instead of regular all-purpose flour. I didn't know there was a difference.

Thanks everyone, very much. I will definitely be incorporating some of your suggestions into my next batch.
posted by voidcontext at 8:06 PM on December 8, 2005

baking soda vs baking powder: one makes things rise, the other makes things spread. Be sure you're not doublin' up on the spreader-y one.

Kololo - Which is which?!?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2005

I have had similar issues with insufficient pre-heating of the oven. Try leaving it on longer than you think it needs- perhaps an extra 30 minutes after it nominally reaches the desired temperature.
posted by wzcx at 10:03 PM on December 8, 2005

My new favorite word is "enfluffen", thanks to unknowncommand.
posted by tula at 10:59 PM on December 8, 2005

Hmmm, but shouldn't pastry flour make fine cookies? I'd swear I've used it for cookies, but maybe not...anyway, I'll second using some oatmeal for some of the flour, but try grinding it up. Not into oatmeal flour exactly, but fairly fine. You want people to wonder if it's oatmeal in there or not. Use a blender or food processor to grind up the oatmeal. Or, use your great-great-grandmothers 19th century grinder. They work well.

Powder vs. soda: they both cause rising, but baking power more so. Baking powder contains baking soda and an acid. My philosophy is to do exactly what the recipe says for each and buy new baking powder every year.
posted by sevenless at 11:07 PM on December 8, 2005

My mother made flat toll-house cookies all my life and I actually preferred them to everyone else's fat, fluffy cookies. Not as much cookie getting in the way of the chips, I guess.

Try using margarine instead of butter. And definitely adjust the temp on the oven.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:44 AM on December 9, 2005

It sounds as if you're using different recipes every time, so it's tough to say what you're doing wrong.

We own a bakery and I make chocolate chip cookies just about every day. My two cents:

1. DEFINITELY refrigerate the dough. Doesn't have to be overnight, but it needs to be chilled. I threw my dough in the fridge for an hour before I made them and the cookies came out fine this morning.

2. Check your oven temp.

3. If the recipe calls for "packed brown sugar," don't pack the living shit out of it. This is the number one reason for cookie screw-ups when we have someone else make cookies of any kind. Pack it lightly.

4. Whoever said to throw out the fancy cookie sheets is completely on the money. Those things are overpriced crap. Go to a restaurant supply store and get some plain sheet pans. They're about $7 apiece and work like a charm. While you're there pick up a Silpat or two -- they're rubber mats that Martha Stewart uses all the time. They last forever, are easy to clean and ensure the cookies will pop right off the sheet when you're done. If you don't have a restaurant supply place, I know Sam's Club sells the sheet pans and stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond sell the Silpat/Exopats, which are about $20 wherever you go. They're worth it.

5. Don't press the cookies down too far. We use an ice cream scoop-like thing to ensure they're all the same size. If you use one of those or just roll them in a ball in your hand, don't press them down too far.

6. Ovens have hot spots, which is why we turn things in the oven. The top rack is also typically the hottest place in your oven, so try the cookies on a lower rack. It might take a little longer, but there's less chance they'll spread.

Sorry I wrote a chapter on this.
posted by Atom12 at 6:50 AM on December 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I like my cookies with more spread, so I've actually figured out ways to induce it because cookies with spread have more of caramel sweet flavor to them. If you add a scant teaspoon of water and don't beat the butter/sugar mix very much, then you'll get spread (bigger chunks of butter will melt and spread out).

If you want your cookies to be more cake like, cream the bejeezus out of the butter and sugar. I mean, really hit it hard until the mix is a pale, pale yellow fluffy mix. When you beat in the eggs, try to get that same light color. All of this will give you lighter cookies with easier to distribute fat, which means the cookies will hold together more.

Beating the flour too hard will give tough cookies. You don't want this.
posted by plinth at 7:02 AM on December 9, 2005

This page helped me out when I was having trouble with runny Tollhouse cookies. Also, these three tips made a big difference:

1. I added about 3/4 of a cup of extra flour to the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag.

2. I chilled the dough for about 45 minutes before baking. (And put the dough back in the fridge between batches.)

3. I cooled the baking sheets (with cold running water) between batches.

Good luck.
posted by evoo at 7:50 AM on December 9, 2005


Apparently if you use pastry flour, you should use at least a some regular flour.

When I was making them with just pastry flour, the cookies would spread out and cover the entire bottom of the cookie sheet.

Things are working out great now, though.
posted by voidcontext at 8:22 AM on December 9, 2005

(1) do not melt butter, use only softened butter, (2) do not grease the cookie sheet.
posted by GarageWine at 9:51 AM on December 9, 2005

I would like to point out that the problem is not with the Toll House recipe itself. I grew up on those cookies and ours were always fat and well-loved as some of the best anyone had ever had. So it's either your ingredients, your technique, or your oven.

The only thing I can think we do differently technique-wise is that we don't roll the dough into balls--we just use our fingers to grab a bit and let it sit on the sheet all lumpy and uneven. Other than that, we use butter (often butter softened in the microwave), we do the dial & sweep flour method, and we just use regular cheap flour & sugar.
posted by dame at 10:04 AM on December 9, 2005

I have to say, the oven in my apartment is predictably one hundred degrees warmer than whatever you set it at. So definitely look into a little thermometer you can put in there.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:02 PM on December 9, 2005

weigh your flour. if you don't have a ~$40 kitchen scale, get a digital one. I usually figure about 140g/cup for AP flour, works well for my taste in baked goods - which are VERY sensitive to measurements, much more than a given stovetop dish. also useful for my morning double shot @16g. :)
posted by kcm at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2005

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