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Cookie Troubleshooting Guide

Is there anything worse than putting in the energy to bake cookies (and clean dishes) only to have them flop? Nope, there’s not. Luckily, I, the cookie queen, am here to help with a cookie troubleshooting guide.

costco chocolate chip cookies with chocolate chunks on the counter.

The Need for a Cookie Troubleshooting Guide

Believe me, I have had my fair share of kitchen failures. Hi, there’s a reason I don’t bake cakes anymore. But really, not every recipe is going to turn out every time and that is certainly the case in my line of work. Over the years I have gotten really good at figuring out why cookies fail and how to prevent common issues. Please consider this your go-to cookie troubleshooting guide on how to bake the perfect cookies. Let’s get into it.

loft house sugar cookies, frosted with sprinkles on top on a cookie cooling rack. One with a bite taken out of it.

Why do my cookies come out flat? 

Cookies may flatten for a lot of reasons. The most common culprit is leavening agents (like Baking Soda and Baking Powder) that are expired. Another possible cause is too much butter in the dough or not enough flour.  Surprisingly, weather (aka humidity, elevation etc) can play a huge roll in your cookies spreading or not.

Solution: Check your expirations dates and if you’re good there, try cutting back a little on your butter or adding in an extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Why are my cookies too hard or tough?

Over-mixing your dough or adding too much flour can result in hard or tough cookies.

Solution: When you’re mixing your dough, mix until ingredients are just incorporated and be careful not to add too much flour! If your first few cookies are hard and do not spread, try adding a few tbsp of milk to the dough before baking up more cookies.

Why are my cookies too soft or undercooked?

Your oven may be your enemy if you’re running into this problem – ie: your temperature might be too low. Or you might simply not be baking your cookies long enough. 

Solution: Use an external thermometer to make sure your oven’s temperature reading is accurate. If the external thermometer comes back with a lower reading than what your oven says, increase your oven temperature and see if that does the trick! You can also try baking your cookies for a little longer and see if that affects your results.

Why are my cookies too crumbly?

We’ve all heard the saying, “that’s just how the cookie crumbles.” But that doesn’t mean you have to deal with this problem. Crumbly cookies mean you have too much flour or not enough fat in your dough. 

Solution: Check your measurements to ensure you’re not adding too much flour and try adding a bit more fat (like butter or margarine) to your dough and see what happens.

A hand holding a chocolate pb cookie that has been cut in half and stacked together after being reheated.

Why do my cookies spread too much?

Cookies spread when the butter in the dough melts in the oven. If your oven isn’t hot enough, your cookies can spread out too much. It may also mean you don’t have quite enough flour in the mix.

Solution: Try increasing your oven’s temperature before baking next time – you might be surprised at how easily it fixes your spreading problem! If you’re still seeing too much of a spread, add a little bit more flour (likely not more than ¼ cup) to see if that helps.

Why do my cookies have burnt bottoms?

This could be due to an oven that runs too hot, or a baking sheet that’s too thin.

Solution: My first recommendation would be to use an oven thermometer to check your oven’s temperature accuracy. If it seems like your oven is accurate, consider buying a heavier-duty baking sheet (I like these ones!) Also, make sure you are baking in the middle of your oven- middle rack, in the center of that rack!

Why do my cookies have uneven shapes or sizes?

When it comes to cookie problems, this one is on the lower end of the totem pole, but it’s still highly annoying. If your cookies seem to be all over the place, you probably aren’t using the same amount of dough for each cookie. 

Solution: Try using a cookie scoop (like these) to ensure each piece of dough is the same size. If you’re hoping for rounder cookies, once the cookies are baked, take a glass cup around the circumference of the cookie and give it a couple of swirls to round out the cookie’s edges.

How do I adjust my recipe for high altitude baking?

Did you know that different altitudes cause different reactions in baking? High altitudes can cause cookies to spread too much, rise too quickly and then collapse, or dry out. So you might be able to blame your cookie woes on where you live! 

Solution: Don’t worry though, there are a few easy fixes that can remedy these issues. Try increasing your oven temperature slightly or adding more flour and see if that fixes your problem! Also, FYI, I test all of my recipes at 5700 ft! So if you are at a similar elevation to me, you likely won’t run into any issues with recipes found here and at cookingwithkarli.com.

Up close photo of a kitchen sink cookie with a mini pretzel and flakey sea salt on top. Perfect for a cookie troubleshooting guide.

How do I make my cookies gluten-free or vegan?

Gluten-Free: Substitute all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend. Most of my recipes can be made with a 1:1 substitute like Bob’s Red Mills. 

Vegan: This will vary depending on the ingredients in the original recipe, but here are some common substitutions I use. Sub butter for coconut oil and eggs with applesauce! 

Why do my cookies have a strange taste or texture?

Using expired or off-tasting ingredients can result in cookies with an odd flavor or texture.

Solution: Always use fresh ingredients and double-check your measurements. Oh, and make sure the butter isn’t stored next to the onions in your fridge.

How do I prevent my cookies from sticking together in storage?

I’m all for eating more cookies, but I don’t necessarily want to do it because my cookies are sticking together. Cookies may stick in storage if they are too hot when they’re put in a container or they have sticky ingredients. 

Solution: Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing them and place a sheet of parchment paper between layers to ensure you only get one cookie at a time. If you need more tips on how to freeze cookies, check out this post!

I hope this was helpful in making you feel more confident in baking superior cookies! If there is a question that I missed, please shoot me a message on my Instagram accounts  @cookiesfordays and @cookingwithkarli and I’d love to help you!

Up close photo of a funfetti cookie on the counter covered in sprinkles with more cookies in the background. Perfect for a cookie troubleshooting guide.

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