Some cookies are meant to be flat, but when they aren't follow these tips to make sure your batch comes out perfectly.

By Sheri Castle
December 14, 2020
Advertisement

Most cookies are a rather flat baked good, but we know the difference between just-right cookies and those that have lost their shape and spread into a mono-cookie on the baking sheet. What went wrong? Probably nothing that you can’t avoid or remedy. Pretty cookies that are pleasantly plump and gently domed are our reward to paying attention to little details, whether making cookies from scratch, a mix, or store-bought dough.

1. Consider the Temperature of the Dough

  • Flat cookie woes can often be fixed by simply making sure the cookie dough is well-chilled.  Most cookie experts refrigerate their dough at least 2 hours (and up to overnight) before baking, which not only ensures the fat in the dough is firm and will melt slower in the hot oven, it gives the dough time to rest and the flavors time to get to know one another.
  • If your recipe calls for shaping the dough into balls, you can do that while the dough is still malleable and then chill the dough balls.
  • If your recipe calls for rolling and cutting the dough, shape it into a disk, wrap it well, and refrigerate until firm before continuing. If the dough cracks when you try to roll it, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until it cooperates. If the dough warms up too much and turns mushy while you’re handling it, be sure to chill the cut cookies before baking. 

2. Consider Your Pan

  • The baking pan should be cool when it goes into the oven. Cookies will flatten when placed on hot baking pans, so when baking batches of cookies, either swap out pans or give your one pan time to cool between batches. If you’re in a hurry to bake, you can rinse the hot pan under cool water, but to avoid warping, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before placing it under the water.
  • Line your baking sheets with parchment paper instead of greasing or spraying them. It’s easy to get carried away when greasing pans, thinking that more is better to avoid sticking. However, cookies can slip around and lose their shape on a greasy pan, which is less like to happen on those lined with parchment paper. Silicone mats can be great for some baking projects, but many types of cookies do best on parchment.

3. Consider the Fat in Your Recipe

  • Stick with the type of fat specified in the recipe. For example, if your recipe calls for shortening, replacing it with butter or another fat isn’t an even swap. Different fats melt at different rate, so making a seemingly harmless switch can cause your cookies to spread too quickly.
  • When a recipe calls for butter, temperature makes a big difference.
  • Softened or room temperature butter means only soft enough that you can easily make an indentation with a fingertip, not squishy. Overly softened and partially melted butter (often the result of microwaving in an attempt to quickly soften it) won’t mix into the cookie dough properly and can turn the dough greasy. Let the butter come to room temperature on its own (about 30 to 60 minutes on the kitchen counter, and a little quicker when cut into 1-inch chunks) before mixing it with the other ingredients.
  • Chilled or firm butter means straight from the fridge.
  • Melted butter should be liquid, so don’t melt it until you need it. If melted butter sits long enough to partially harden or separate into layers, it’s can’t do its job in the recipe.
  • Sometimes the culprit is old, expired baking powder or baking soda that can no longer do its job in the recipe, leaving the cookies flat and sad. If you can’t remember the last time you bought leavening and there’s no freshness date on the container, buy fresh. This one thing can save the day on holiday baking.

4. Consider Your Mixing

Cookie dough ingredients should be well-combined, of course, but most don’t need the long, vigorous mix required by many cakes. Beating butter and sugar at high speed for too long adds too much air to cookie dough that will quickly rise in the oven, but then fall.  Excess mixing can also cause the butter to melt in the dough, even if it was the perfect temperature when it went into the bowl. When using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment instead of the wire whisk attachment. Scrape the bowl between ingredient additions to cut down on the amount of mixing time needed to incorporate them.

5. Consider Your Measurements

The texture of cookie dough relies on the ratio of flour, sugar, and fat, so little deviations can cause our cookies to misbehave. Too little flour and too much sugar are often the source of flat cookies, so measure carefully and accurately by using dry measuring spoons and cups for dry ingredients (so that you can spoon the ingredients into them and sweep away the excess) and use cups with pouring spouts for liquids.