How to Stop Your Cookies From Spreading

Spread Cookies image courtesy of crypto on flickr.com

Spread Cookies image courtesy of crypto on flickr.com

Here in the Decadent Vegan Baker’s kitchen I have whipped up my fair share of cookies. I always want them to look good for pictures, and for bragging rights, so I did some research on how to avoid the dreaded cookie spread. You know — when the cookies turn into unsightly blobs or, worse yet, fuse into each other. Here is what I found out …

A tip I got many years ago was to be sure to cool baking sheets down before placing the next batch of raw dough on them. That’s easy enough to do in the winter as I just prop them on the wall near an outside door. In the summer I have to wait patiently while the sheets cool off, but that time can be well spent engaged in the next piece of advice.

My second item of advice is to place the dough in the fridge prior to baking the cookies. “Chilling the dough solidifies the fat in the dough, meaning that it will melt more slowly under the heat of the oven and result in taller, thicker cookies,” say the chefs at Food52. Dough that is too warm can make cookies that look like flat blobs.

On the King Arthur Flour website they recommend two things for attaining the perfect cookie: lowering the baking temperature while also extending the baking time. For a recipe that called for cookies baked at 350°F for 14 minutes, they “dropped the temperature to 300°F, and extended the baking time: 22 minutes for chewy, 30 minutes for crisp.” They explained that “the fat in cookies is a big part of their structure, prior to baking…Once those cookies hit the oven, though, the fat starts to soften and melt. And the hotter the oven, the more quickly it melts. If the oven’s hot enough, the fat melts before the cookies set. And since their flour/liquid matrix hasn’t yet had a chance to harden, the cookies spread.”

A final trick offered by Food52 is that “when a recipe calls for room temperature butter, you should be able to make a small indentation easily with your finger without the area sinking under its weight. If the butter is too cold, you’ll have to do more mixing to get it to properly incorporate.” Unincorporated butter leads to airy dough that leads to cookies that fall in the oven, and that leads to the ugly blob.

If you find that you have tried all of my recommendations and still produce unsightly cookies, do not worry. Send the cookies to my house and my husband will dispose of them properly … for dessert.

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How To Make A Pretty Cookie

Chocolate Peppermint CookiesDuring National Vegan Cookie Month, I baked a lot of cookies. I experimented with different ways of preparation and baking, and I discovered something amazing – Cookie Scoops do make a difference.

While making a batch of cookies, I had only enough dough at the end to make a few so I rolled them by hand instead of scooping them. They were baked the same amount of time as the others but they turned out drastically different. They spread more making them crunchier and, frankly, they were uglier.

I should reveal that I have used scoops only occasionally in the past; they just seem too fussy. And I never drop cookies from spoons because of the awkwardness. Generally I roll the cookies into balls with my hands and flatten them slightly once on the cookie sheet. I didn’t realize that there is an art form and a science to using cookie scoops until I did some research.

Upon visiting King Arthur Flour’s website, I discovered an article on using cookie scoops for drop cookies (i.e. chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal). First off, the baker compares using a teaspoon cookie scoop to using a regular spoon and says, “The finished cookies include some that aren’t perfectly round; but they look pretty good. Unlike my spoon-scooped cookies, the cookies are all basically the same size.”

The baker also notes that using a cookie scoop saved time and kept the baker’s hands clean. Plus, scoops come in various sizes so you can choose from bite-sized to huge. This gave me insight into the benefits of using a scoop, but I didn’t get an explanation on why my cookies spread until I delved deeper.

I moved on to an article discussing cookie spread. “(Why) does baking temperature affect cookie spread? Because the fat in cookies is a big part of their structure, prior to baking. Scoop the dough onto the baking sheet, and the fat is at least partially responsible for them holding their shape.” I thought about oven temps and realized that the temperature of my hands became a factor in how they baked. My hand heat must have started to melt the fat and caused them to lose shape before they even hit the oven.

So, what did I learn? That cookies are finicky!! For a perfect looking cookie, baby the dough by using a cookie scoop instead of your hands.