Why do my cookies flatten?
July 11, 2018 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I've been trying to make this recipe and every time I make it, the cookies flatten and spread out way too much. What should I do?

I recently got a stand mixer and tried this recipe for the first test of the requipment. I followed the recipe and the cookies spread out so much that they were basically a single cookie sheet. I've watched them during baking, and everything seems ok until about 8 minutes in, then they fall and turn into puddles.

Since then, I've tried it a few times with variations on the recipe, and nothing works. First I thought I was mixing them too much, so I reduced the amount of time for each step with the mixer. Flat cookies. Then I thought it was the butter causing issues, so I tried using half butter/half shortening. Flat cookies. Then I tried increasing the oven heat and reducing cooking time. Flat cookies. I tried reducing the sugar by taking out the powdered sugar. Flat cookies.

I'm in Boston and it's been humid and hot a couple of the times I've made the recipe, so perhaps that's been an issue...

They taste good, but the texture just isn't there. I don't know what to do. Any ideas?
posted by msbrauer to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Are you refrigerating the dough for at least an hour? Because that would make a difference. Many cookie doughs using butter require refrigeration, to solidify the butter, then when you bake it, it rises using steam from the water in the butter (like pie dough), but warm cookie dough = flat cookies, in my experience.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2018 [16 favorites]

Have you tried chilling the dough for 30 min or so? That would take care of the heat/humidity problem and help with this a lot, potentially. Here's a good article explaining why it could help.
posted by Knicke at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's because it's all butter and by the time you get them in the oven, the butter has softened too much (because you put it in soft, then cream it, which further softens it.)

Try putting the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours, then scooping it out on your tray.
posted by headspace at 1:55 PM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is your baking soda or powder bad or old? Have you checked your oven temp with a thermometer?
You also say it's been humid, maybe your flour is increasing in volume and you need to add a little more when it's humid. (Try going to weight-based measurements for flour.)
posted by thewumpusisdead at 1:56 PM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think sugar may be part of the culprit too. It looks like there's about 1/4 c more sugar than similar recipes from reputable sources. Sugar takes volume that would otherwise be used by protein and starches to create structure. I'd try cutting out the powdered sugar.
posted by General Malaise at 2:01 PM on July 11, 2018

Chill the dough, put cold dough on room temperature cookie sheets for every bake.

Between batches, keep dough in fridge. When a sheet of cookies comes out hot, cool the cookie sheet down before putting chilled dough on it to cook another batch.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:03 PM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Put the pre-scooped dough balls in the freezer (not fridge) overnight. You might need to watch the first batch to see if you need to lengthen the baking time. They will end up crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
posted by little king trashmouth at 2:24 PM on July 11, 2018

Temperature is the issue.

The very best way to do this, if you have room in your fridge or even freezer, is to make your dough into balls while it's soft (don't handle with warm hands or the chips will streak; use a dough scoop) and pop them right onto your parchment-lined baking sheet, put the whole thing in the fridge/freezer for a while.

But if you don't have room for the sheet pan in the fridge, don't worry. Just scoop the balls onto a plate or something and then chill. Then pop the chilled balls onto the parchment lined sheet.

Either way, the idea is, make sure the oven is preheated properly and the dough is cold (frozen is fine) going in.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:25 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Could be the butter is too warm. But the proportions of the recipe seem a little...off? something. I'm not an expert Baker , I've just made a lot of cookies.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:41 PM on July 11, 2018

Definitely chill the dough before baking.

I'm going to suggest that you try this recipe from Serious Eats re salted chocolate chip cookies instead because I think there are a few possible issues with that recipe, e.g., as mentioned above, it has more sugar than most recipes; also, more eggs and less butter for that amount of flour; baking soda should be sufficient (i.e., I don't know why baking powder is included); finally—and this may just be personal preference—I suspect that the powdered sugar may make the cookie more cake-like, rather than a bit chewy.

(Last weekend I made chocolate chip cookies with cake flour—I won't be doing that again.)
posted by she's not there at 2:44 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had a problem with my chocolate chip cookies flattening no matter what. I chilled the dough for 24-48 hours, I used butter at the right temperature, I didn’t soften in the microwave. And the answer was:

Too much beating

Sure enough, that recipe calls for beating on medium for nearly 10 minutes. That’s too much. I would recommend trying the following: beat butter and sugars on low for 2 minutes, add eggs, beat on low again for 2 minutes, then add dry ingredients and mix by hand.

I agree the proportions of the ingredients seem off. I use this recipe for my chocolate chip cookies, and it calls for more flour and less sugar. But again, my recipe also requires beating times that turned out to be excessive. I only found success in non-flattened cookies when I reduced the beating speed and time—sugars and butter for two minutes total, eggs for two minutes total, hand-mix dry ingredients. If you want to try the Dorie Greenspan recipe, I highly recommend reversing the sugar quantities (a cup of brown, 2/3 cup of white). Dusting with sea salt flakes too. 👌
posted by Autumnheart at 2:51 PM on July 11, 2018

Oh, and in regard to chilling the dough, I roll my dough into a log, wrap with Saran Wrap, chill for however long, and then slice and ball cookies onto the sheet for baking. It’s a lot easier to chill a log in the fridge than a whole cookie sheet.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:54 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

This classic article from Serious Eats breaks down cookie phenomena ingredient by ingredient and might help you figure out why they are spreading so much.
posted by gyusan at 3:14 PM on July 11, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think it could be a flour issue. Last time I had this problem, it was because I'd tried to use a lower-protein flour than what the recipe called for so they didn't have the structure necessary to keep their thickness. So it's possible that you need more flour or bread flour for the amount of fat or sugar that is in the recipe.

This is an Alison Roman recipe, and it is also posted over at Epicurious. It gets pretty good reviews there with only a few people mentioning spreading. Using more flour, and beating less are suggested fixes. It's also posted in the New York Times food section but I don't have an account to check out what the reviews are saying over there.
posted by BeeJiddy at 4:00 PM on July 11, 2018

As a summer science project my kid and I have been talking about cookie chemistry so I’ve just been looking at and trying several chocolate hip cookie recipes with different ratios. The cookies that spread out the most had more butter, egg, and sugar in them, and these have more egg and sugar than the most spready ones we’ve tried, which spread out a ton.

Also, a stand mixer can pump more heat into dough through friction, so I agree with the other comments that the flour and protein aren’t getting a chance to set up before the butter totally liquefies. I suspect that chilling the dough and ~halving the brown sugar should get them to work better.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:19 PM on July 11, 2018

I've seen some cookie charts. Googling "cookie chart" is unwieldy. It's generally recommended to put cookie dough in the fridge for at least a couple hours, preferably overnight.
posted by theora55 at 9:44 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe higher protein flour? Bakewise is a great resource for this stuff.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:16 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've watched them during baking, and everything seems ok until about 8 minutes in, then they fall and turn into puddles.

That strikes me as a plausible amount of time for most of the water in the mix to have dried off and for the dough temperature to rise to the melting point of sugar (about 160°C), at which point all the sugar in the mixture would suddenly cease being a solid structural binder and instead become a syrupy liquid lubricant.

I'd try again with less sugar.
posted by flabdablet at 12:14 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a cookie baker who doesn't have a stand mixer, so you know where I'm coming from. I think the problem is the mixer! I think the butter is getting pounded into oblivion and way too melted by the process described in the recipe. Ten minutes?? Why does it need so much action? I would make these the old-school way by creaming the butter and sugars and egg etc. with a fork, then fold in the dry ingredients and chocolate, also by hand. It's really not that laborious. The recipe only calls for one stick of butter. I see you've tried reducing the time with the mixer, so that's out. My advice - nix the mixer.
posted by tomboko at 10:31 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

One other thing - get an oven thermometer and make sure that the temp you’re setting is actually the temp you’re backing at. My oven says it’s 25 degrees warmer than its actual temp.
posted by azpenguin at 4:28 PM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Based on this thread I made the Serious Eats cookies. I browned butter. I rested the dough in the fridge for 24 hours. I measured to the gram. I used an actual cookie disher to scoop them out.


Delicious, but pretty flat cookies.

You cannot win it seems.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 PM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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