Reasons Why Your Cookies Failed
Having the scents of freshly-baked cookies wafting through the kitchen never fails to brighten up our day, especially sluggish Mondays.
There are so many recipes online featuring drool-inducing, thick and gooey cookies. You save them to your to-bake list, pick up your spatula, and attempt to whip up some delicious cookies.
However, after an afternoon of baking, you find that your results are unlike what the recipe promised you.
If that happens, don’t beat yourself up over it! Baking is a science, and little errors and changes here and there can thwart your recipe.
Baking fails can happen anytime, even when you’re making cookies based on a simple recipe.
Whether it is the wrong ratio of ingredients, oven temperature, or an incorrect technique, many factors can make or break your cookies. Read on to learn more about some of the most common cookie problems and how to fix them!
Related: Why Did My Bread Fail? Here Are Possible Reasons Why Your Homemade Bread Failed (+ Solutions)
Problem #1: Cookies are too flat
Image source: Instagram | @farmwifecrafts
Wrong butter temperature
Butter that is too soft or melted will make it hard for your cookies to hold their shape. On the other hand, incorporating cold butter into a mixture of dry ingredients is troublesome and difficult.
Here's a hack: Cut your butter into cubes before letting them soften at room temperature. The increased surface area will help you soften butter more quickly.
Before baking, chill the shaped cookie dough for 1 to 2 hours. That way, you can ensure that all ingredients are mixed well and your cookies will retain their shape when baking.
Chilling makes the fat in butter turn solid, so it will take longer to melt as compared to softened butter. If the fat remains solid for a longer time in the oven, your cookies will not spread as much.
Flour provides texture to baked goods.
When there’s too little flour, your cookies will spread, and they will not rise as expected.
Make sure you’re measuring the amount of flour correctly; it’s better to use a kitchen scale than measuring cups.
If you don’t have a weighing scale, here’s what you can do to accurately measure flour using a measuring cup. Instead of putting your whole measuring cup into the flour bag, spoon and level the flour into the cup until it overflows. Then, level off the top.
This will prevent you from packing in too much flour, and using more than what the recipe calls for.
Using a warm baking sheet
If you cookies still turn out flat even when you've measured all your ingredients correctly, consider cooling your baking sheet down before placing any cookie dough onto it before baking.
When cookie dough comes into contact with a warm or hot baking sheet, the butter in them will melt earlier than it’s supposed to, making your cookies spread too much.
This tip is especially important if you have a smaller oven and are baking in multiple batches using the same baking sheet.
Problem #2: Cookies clump together
Not enough space between cookies
Give some space between your cookie dough when you’re arranging them on the baking sheet.
Cookies will expand when they’re baked, although the extent varies between different types of cookies.
For cookies with a sturdier structure like shortbreads, 2cm should be enough to prevent them from sticking to each other. Give soft, chewy cookies at least 5cm of free space between them since they will spread more.
Try baking our Gula Melaka White Chocolate Chip Cookies to see how enough spacing between cookies will help them bake up beautifully!
Problem #3: The cookies are burnt
This is the most obvious cause of burnt baked goods.
Set a timer whenever you bake, since it's easy to get carried away doing something else while your cookies are gradually getting over-baked in the oven.
Another trick is to take your cookies out of the oven a minute or two before they’re completely done—the residual heat from the baking sheet will continue to bake the cookies even after you take them out.
Wrong oven temperature
When they’re set to the same temperature, the actual temperature across different ovens can vary as much as 10°C!
Therefore, it is very likely for your oven to have a different temperature setting from what is indicated in the original recipe.
Ten degrees might not seem like much, but baking cookies at temperatures higher than necessary will cause them to cook faster than intended.
Hence, following the suggested cooking time will result in burnt cookies. If possible, get an oven thermometer that will help you tell the true temperature of your oven.
Problem #4: The bottoms of the cookies are too brown
Image source: Instagram | @lisalauck
Wrong choice of baking sheet
A lighter-colored metal baking sheet with a dull finish is the best type of pan for baking cookies, if you want an even bake without too much browning on the bottom.
Dark-colored metal baking sheets will absorb more heat and cause the bottom of your cookies to cook faster than the top parts. Our non-stick baking sheet will help you to avoid this problem!
Wrong rack placement
Baking your cookies on the middle rack is often the best option, since the top and bottom parts of the cookies are exposed to the same amount of heat.
However, if you face this problem every time you bake cookies, try baking them in the upper rack.
Problem #5: Cookies are unevenly baked
The cookies vary too much in size.
When you find overbaked and underdone cookies in the same batch, it is most likely because they weren’t shaped evenly prior to baking.
For slice-and-bake cookies like the ones in our shortbread collection, try slicing them as evenly as possible. A small ice cream scoop or a measuring spoon will help in making your cookies evenly sized.
Not rotating the baking sheet
Rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking is recommended.
Different zones of your oven have varying temperatures, so rotating will ensure that all your cookies are baked to the same extent.
To find out your oven hot spots and know which parts of your oven will cook food more quickly, we recommend using an oven thermometer if you have one.
Problem #6: Cookies are stuck to the baking sheet
Image source: Instagram | @abbeyn
Not enough greasing/Not using parchment paper
Sufficiently greasing your baking sheet will prevent the cookies from sticking. However, keep in mind that excessive greasing will also make the cookies spread too much.
A safer option is to use a piece of parchment paper, which creates a non-stick barrier between your cookies and the surface.
This will allow your cookies to slide off easily after they’re baked and cooled down.
Removing cookies before they’re completely cooled
The smell of freshly baked cookies might tempt you to dig in right away, but refrain from removing just-out-of-the-oven cookies from the pan as they’ll fall apart very easily.
Warm cookies are fragile, and some parts often stick to the baking sheet when they’re not completely cooled.
Instead, let fresh cookies cool down and set slightly, before removing them carefully from your baking sheet onto a cooling rack. The cooling rack also helps keep your cookies from getting soggy.
Using an offset spatula to transfer your cookies will also help to prevent breakage.
Problem #7: Cookies are too puffy and cakey
Creaming for too long
Butter and sugar are often creamed at the beginning of making cookies to give cookies a lighter texture.
But remember that creaming is also what makes cakes fluffy, and that is not something we want in our cookies.
Over-creaming the butter-sugar mixture will incorporate too much air into your cookie dough, making your cookies puffy and cakey.
So, stop creaming when the mixture lightens and do not continue beating until the mixture volumises (reserve that for cakes!).
Too much baking powder
Baking powder helps your cookies to rise and prevents them from being too dense, but add a little bit too much and they’ll puff up a lot more than expected.
It’s very important to measure your chemical leavening agents accurately, since they can affect your baked goods dramatically if you add just a little bit too much/little to your batter.
Problem #8: Cookies are tough and hard
Not enough moisture and fat
If you expect your cookies to be on the softer side, be sure to incorporate enough ingredients that provide moisture, such as brown sugar and fat (butter, shortening, or margarine).
If your recipe only uses white sugar and you want your cookies to softer and chewier, substitute up to half of the total sugar weight with light brown sugar.
You can also experiment by adding more fat; try using a little bit more than what the original recipe calls for.
Mixing the dry and wet ingredients in cookies induces gluten formation, so it should never be overdone. Gluten gives your cookies structure, but too much will make them tough.
Cookies are one of the baked goods where you don’t want too much gluten to form!
Add mix-ins like chocolate chips or nuts before the batter is completely mixed (some streaks of flour are still visible), so they’ll be evenly distributed just when you finish mixing.
Wrong type of flour
Cookies are generally made with cake flour or all purpose flour as these flours have a lower protein content.
Lower protein content flours will not form too much gluten when it is mixed together with the wet ingredients.
In general, unless the recipe asks for it, refrain from substituting all purpose/cake flour with bread flour since bread flour has the highest protein content, which can make your cookies too tough.
Problem #9: Cookies are too dry
Using only white sugar
Most cookie recipes use a combination of brown and white sugar for a reason.
If you don't have brown sugar, here's how to make it: Mix 1 tablespoon of molasses or honey to every 225 grams of white sugar to replace brown sugar in any recipe.
Too much flour
Over-measuring flour is a common problem causing baked goods to have an overly dry texture.
If you’re using measuring cups to measure flour, spoon flour into the cup and level the top instead of packing it in. Otherwise, use a kitchen scale to ensure accurate measurements every time.
In some circumstances, baking for too long might not burn your cookies, but they’ll cause too much moisture evaporation, drying out your cookies.
Cookies are soft when they’re still hot in the oven, and it might mislead you to think that they’re not done yet.
However, they’ll firm up when they’re cooled down, so stop baking once you have reached the suggested baking time, or if your cookies fit the visual cues provided in the recipe.
You can always put your cookies back in the oven if they’re still undone, but there’s no way to salvage dry cookies!
Problem #10: Cookies have an alkaline taste
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Too much baking soda
Baking soda is only added in small quantities, and using more than required will only give a weird alkaline taste to your cookies.
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a highly alkaline chemical substance that needs acid to react with and leaven your cookies.
When there are not enough acidic ingredients (e. g., buttermilk or lemon juice) in your cookie dough, there will be some unreacted baking soda left, giving your cookies an undesirable taste.
And if a recipe calls for baking powder, never simply do a 1 to 1 substitution with baking soda as they act in completely different ways!
Learn to Bake Your Cookies the Right Way
Baking cookies is a fun and simple afternoon activity, but sometimes, things do not turn out the way you expected, whether it is because of your recipe, oven, or certain errors you might have made throughout the baking process.
If that's so, try to figure out where you went wrong. We hope this cookie troubleshooting guide helps you identify and fix your cookie mistakes, so that you can have perfect cookies the next time round!
Here are some cookie recipes that can help you gain some confidence in baking cookies:
- RECIPE: Pistachio Rose Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies, a Sweet Surprise this Valentine's Weekend
- RECIPE: Orange Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies For Your Holiday Bake-athon
- RECIPE: Gula Melaka White Chocolate Cookies—Chewy Caramel Cookies Made By Substituting Brown Sugar With Palm Sugar
For more cooking and baking tips, facts, and trivia, follow us on Instagram @bakestarters.