Why Your Chocolate Chip Cookies Never Turn Out Like You Want
Having a reliable, go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe is a quintessential baseline for anyone mildly interested in baking. However, I recently learned that really understanding the ingredients, and more importantly the process of baking your cookies, can prove to be even more invaluable than having a tried-and-true recipe. After picking the brain of our in-house cookie connoisseur (seriously, she's kind of a local legend when it comes to chocolate chip cookies), Time Inc. Food Studios recipe developer Emily Nabors Hall, I was loaded up with helpful tips and techniques to help me nail down my idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Because, let’s face it--in the same way that we all seek out different qualities and characteristics in significant others and the clothes that we wear, we also seek out different styles of cookies that offer certain qualities we value. Your ideal chocolate chip cookie is not the same as the person’s next to you, and understanding how to achieve your desired preferences is indispensable in your lifetime of cookie-baking. It’s all about you, my friend. Make the cookie that speaks to your heart and be gone with the haters.
The first step in your path to cookie nirvana involves some self reflection (inhale, exhale). Ask yourself, “If I were eating a chocolate chip cookie right now, what would I want it to be like?” Are you more of a thin and crispy kind of person, or do you gravitate towards a pillowy, biscuit-like treat? Are you more interested in a golden-brown color, or are you set on a paler, soft-toned tint? Once you’ve reached a place of zen and fully comprehend what you are seeking in this pastry endeavor, choose a recipe that feels right to you and go forth. If your final product isn’t quite what you’d hoped for (don’t feel bad, perfection isn’t typically achieved on the first go-around), the following adjustments, tips, and quick-fixes should get you to where you want to be for your next batch.
Your Cookies are Too Thin
For me, this was a huge deal-breaker. While some people dig the crackly, airy cookie, when I pulled out my first go-around batch from the oven and saw just how much they had spread, I was a little horrified. They tasted delicious, so I was hesitant to mess around with the fat to flour ratio (often a determining factor in how much your dough will spread in the oven), but I wanted a taller profile of the cookie upon biting into it. The hack? Hall suggests that after you’ve dropped your dough onto the baking sheet, slide it into the fridge until the dough is firm to touch (about 10 minutes). This way, you don’t have to toy with the ingredient ratio or wait overnight for all your dough to chill, and your dough doesn’t run off as thin at the ends. If you still want thicker cookies, trying chilling your dough for longer, or add an extra ¼ cup of flour or scale back a tablespoon on your butter.
Your Cookies are Too Pale
For some people, the look of a soft, lightly-tinted color that’s slightly reminiscent of a store-bought cookie may be ideal. However for me, I’m looking for a cookie that looks sun-kissed and tan all around the edges. Yet, achieving this darker shade without over-baking the cookie can be quite tricky--a true art of timing. Here’s the fix: Increase your baking soda by ¼-½ teaspoon (as Hall explained to me, this ingredient aids in browning), and crank your oven up to 450°. In about 6-7 minutes, your cookies are going to be baked just enough, while also boasting a caramelized, golden brown sheen. Keep in mind, when you’re baking at such a high temperature, it’s imperative that you keep a close eye on them, as there’s not much of a grace period. Your cookies can go from golden-brown to borderline burnt in an extremely short span of time.
Your Cookies Are Lacking Moisture
We have crackers for a reason. Cookies should never be hard and dry. Seriously, ew. This can result from a number of factors, but an easy fix for this scenario is adding more brown sugar (2 tablespoons is enough to make a difference). Most chocolate chip cookie recipes are a combination of white and brown sugars, so if you’re wanting to manipulate the moisture of the final product, tip the ratio in favor of brown sugar, and you’re good to go.
Your Cookies Have a Uniform Texture Throughout
I can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s safe to say that most of the cookie-consuming population wants a product that’s crispy on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. It’s important to point out that you shouldn’t be afraid to really go all out when you’re beating the eggs. A well-beaten egg in a cookie dough helps develop a chewy texture. This seemingly small detail is one of the pro-tricks that sets Hall's cookies apart from the average chocolate chipper. She says that no matter the recipe, she always brings this technique into play for her cookies. So if you’ve meticulously played around with oven temperature, ingredients, and bake time like a maniac, and still can’t get hammer down the texture, it might be the size of your cookies that’s throwing it off. A lot of recipes suggest dropping your dough by the rounded tablespoonfuls, but in my experience, that’s not enough dough to create such a diversely-textured cookie. Instead, each cookie should be at the very least 2 tablespoonfuls, although I’m sure that nobody will be opposed to 3. *wink*
Your Cookies Are Too Dense
For some, a dense cookie is a good one. However if you’re looking to lighten things up a bit, you need to go back to your very first step--creaming butter and sugar. You know how recipes usually specify a quantity of time to beat these ingredients? That’s not a suggestion--you really need to do that, Hall says. The reason you use an electric mixer to combine these ingredients is because you are also aerating the dough in the process. Let your mixer do its thing, and do not move on to the next step until your dough is visibly paler and fluffier. Light, fluffy dough yields light, fluffy cookies. Makes sense, huh?
Once Your Cookies Cool, They’re Too Hard
This mistake is probably the most common because it’s so easy to let it happen. You let these go in the oven for too long. Remember, when you remove your cookies from the oven, the baking process is not over. While they cool on the baking sheet, they’re still going to continue to cook, and even once they’re transferred to the cooling rack, they’ve still got some hardening up to do. This means that if they’re completely done when you pull them out of the oven, then they’re going to be hockey pucks by the time they’re on the cooling rack. Grab them while they’re still looking ever-so-slightly underdone in the center, and your cookie will cool to be a soft, chewy delight.
The Bottom of Your Cookies Are Darker Than the Tops
We’ve all been there. Even though you can’t quite tell from the tops, all it takes is a quick peek at their underside to reveal that they spent too much time in the oven. *SIGH* If watching the clock just isn’t your strong suit, an easy fix to this common blunder is to bake your cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, rather than a bare or silpat-lined sheet. This way, if you’re worried that the cookies baked for too long when you pull them out, rather than letting them sit for an additional 5 minutes on the hot sheet where they will continue on their journey to irreversible overdone-ness, you can quickly slide the parchment lining off the sheet, letting the cookies cool on your kitchen counter. This clever tip from Hall might be the most genius of them all. This strategy has saved me numerous batches of “I got distracted while I was scrolling on Instagram” cookies.
Your Cookies Are Lacking Flavor
Sometimes it’s hard to verbalize exactly what it is that your cookies are missing, but if you’re still biting into your cookies and feeling like it needs a little extra “umph,” it’s probably time to bring in the flaky salt. This isn’t going to make your cookie “savory” by any means. Rather, adding salt to your sweets only highlights and further amplifies the rich cookie flavor for your taste buds. Plus, it makes for a gorgeous topping that people are consistently impressed by. Make sure you add it to the raw dough before it’s chilled so that the salt will be baked onto the top of the cookie. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can always amp up the flavor by bumping up the vanilla extract, using brown butter, or splurging on some ~fancy~ chocolate. Do what you gotta do to live your best cookie life.