Dainty, perfectly spherical little cookies like the ones you see in bakeries and magazines are hard to make! Baking is a delicate process, and even slight inconsistencies in ingredients or temperature can change the results in unexpected ways. If you're having issues baking consistently good cookies, this simple trouble-shooting guide might help!
Are your cookies...
My cookies are too hard!
Usually, very hard cookies are a result of adding too much flour in proportion to the other ingredients, meaning that you either added too much flour, or not enough sugar or butter. It could also come as a result of over-mixing. Next time, check the measurements again and avoid overmixing once the ingredients come together.
My cookies are crumbling too much.
This is usually a result of having too much sugar or shortening; next time, adding a little more egg could help hold it together. Another possible cause of this is that your dough isn't quite mixed enough, so spending a little more time there could help too.
My cookies aren't baking evenly.
If your cookies are baking inconsistently in the same pan, this may be a result of unevenly shaped cookies to begin with - try rolling the dough as evenly as possible and distributing it evenly - or your oven has hot spots. To find out where your oven's hot spots are, line one row in your oven with slices of bread and bake them until browned. If some are darker than others, those are where your hot spots are! Turn your pans accordingly.
My cookies are browning too much on the bottoms.
Try using a heavier gauge cookie sheet; darker or thinner cookie sheets may cause your cookie bottoms to heat up too much and overcook.
My cookies are too dry.
It could be that they were baked too long, or at too low a temperature; in the future, you might want to bake them at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time. Additionally, substituting brown sugar for some of the granulated sugar may help your cookies retain moisture, since brown sugar has a higher moisture content.
My cookies are too soft.
If your cookies are too soft, particularly your drop cookies, it could be that you just need to let them cool for longer. Many cookies tend to be overly soft straight out of the oven - just leave them be!
My cookies are spreading too much!
Spreading in cookies happens for a few reasons. It could be that you're baking them at too low a temperature - a higher temperature and shorter cooking time may be to blame, or your oven's temperature itself is not quite where it should be. Adding too much sugar or oil (in the recipe itself or in the pan), or not enough flour could also be a factor. Again, double check your measurements and adjust them accordingly.
My cookies aren't browning enough.
You want that nice, lightly browned exterior in your cookies! If you don't get that look, it's possible that you're not baking them at a high enough temperature (your oven may not be holding its temperature accurately). Not adding enough sugar could also cause your cookies to be paler than desired.
The next day, my cookies are always hard as rocks.
Exposure to air will usually harden cookies pretty quickly. Packaging them in a nice, sealed container covered with a slice of bread will usually keep them much softer for a longer period of time.
My cookies just fall apart whenever I try to move them or package them.
As soon are your cookies are cool (and you really should let them cool down completely first), package them in a tight-fitting container lined with plastic wrap or wax paper. Don't stack your cookies on top of each other; put them in even, unstacked layers and separate each layer with wax paper - including one sheet at the very top.
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Photo Credits: quick-dish, Cooking Light, mouth from the south, sugatreats