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Thread: flat cookies -- what's to blame?

  1. #1
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    flat cookies -- what's to blame?

    My last two batches of cookies (gingersnaps and oatmeal) have been duds! Both cookies turned out very thin and very flat. I've never had this problem before and wondering if you could help me figure out the culprit. I used a recently posted recipe for the gingersnaps and the Quaker Oats recipe for the oatmeal cookies. My best guess is that my baking soda is a bit dated and might not be doing it's job. Likely or not? How about my cookie sheets? They are the air-bake kind and I've never known cookie sheets to "go bad" but, then again, I'm still learning. Maybe it's my oven? It's not old. Please help! Holiday baking will be a real bummer if I don't get my cookies into better shape.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    1. Try dropping some of your baking soda into vinegar. If it fizzes, then it should be OK. If it fizzes only slightly (or not at all), it's time for a new box.

    2. Are you greasing the cookie sheets? Too much shortening can be a "flat cookie culprit." There may be enough shortening in the cookie itself that greasing is unnecessary (particularly if the sheets are nonstick).

    3. I have the insulated cookie sheets, too, and so far (3 years) no problems...

  3. #3
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    I have this problem somtimes too -- so frustrating! I always take my butter out of the fridge a few hours early so it is softened but I wonder if I am over-softening it and that is what causes the cookies to be flat. BTW, if my first batch comes out flat, I put the rest of the batter in a square pan and make bar cookies. At least that salvages the dough.

    Hey Val, are you out there? If anyone can help us, it is you!

  4. #4
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    cookies made with butter (as opposed to shortening or a mix of butter and shortening) spread out more. "all-butter" cookies tend to be flatter.

    I am not sure what the problem is, though, if these recipes have worked for you before and now they don't work.


  5. #5
    Originally posted by kcmo727
    I always take my butter out of the fridge a few hours early so it is softened but I wonder if I am over-softening it and that is what causes the cookies to be flat.
    I was going to suggest something similar. Is your dough too soft/warm? Soft dough can often spread quite a bit and cause flat cookies. Try refrigerating your dough for a little while before you bake.

    (In addition to trying new baking soda.)

  6. #6
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    Did you sub margarine for butter???? That can be a culprit, too.
    Springtime is my time of year!

  7. #7
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    And one more suggestion....if your butter was too soft (as in melted in the microwave???), the cookies can spread too thin. I've run into that numerous times before I finally figured out what was causing my own flat cookie problems.

  8. #8
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    I feel your pain. I think everyone goes through the flat cookie blues once and awhile.

    1. If cookie dough is to soft, refrigerate it.
    2. Try not to overmix the dough
    3. I have had to add a little extra flour lately. The lightly spoon method of getting flour has left me a little short lately.

  9. #9
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    I just read this in the recent "Fine Cooking" holiday baking issue.

    “Softened butter is typically called for in recipes for cakes, cookies, and certain pastries that rely on the leavening power of creamed butter and sugar. Softened butter is best for baking when it’s still somewhat cool, not necessarily ‘room temperature’ (that’s often too soft on warm days). It should be pliable but not too soft. This is the temperature at which sugar crystals cut into the butter most effectively, creating the maximum amount of air pockets to lighten your batter. Too cold and firm, and the sugar won’t cut into the butter easily enough; too warm and the sugar will simply dissolve into the butter.

    “If you have an instant-read thermometer, you can check for the ideal temperature: 65° to 67° F, a little cooler than room temperature. Or you can press your finger into the butter to test it. It’s perfect when your finger makes an indention but can’t go all way through the butter. Also, if you can bend your stick of butter without it snapping or mashing—it will feel almost plastic—it’s at the right temperature.”


    Hopefully this information helps.

    -Anna

  10. #10
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    When Alton Brown did his chocolate chip cookie show, he recommended:

    1 - using shortening instead of butter because butter has a lower melting point, it tends to spread more

    2 - And, to refridgerate you dough before baking. Because they are colder, they will spread less before they are cooked.

    It was actually a great episode and is now our favorite chocolate chip recipe. He had other hints like using cake versus all purpose flour, etc. but I don't really remember them.

    Hope that helps!
    kim

    "Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love." -Charlie Brown

  11. #11
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    Are the cookies spreading out too much, perhaps? Mostly, people here are thinking about leavening, but more commonly, I've seen cookies just be too liquidy, and spread out. Of course, I don't think I've ever made a batch of cookies that really rise at all, they actually spread out instead, and this is how they're supposed to - they just don't spread out too much.

    With the low-fat cookies from Cooking Light, they actually recommend you freeze the dough first, so that they don't spread out too much when they cook.

  12. #12
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    Re: flat cookies -- what's to blame?

    Originally posted by betzross
    My last two batches of cookies (gingersnaps and oatmeal) have been duds! Both cookies turned out very thin and very flat. I've never had this problem before and wondering if you could help me figure out the culprit. I used a recently posted recipe for the gingersnaps and the Quaker Oats recipe for the oatmeal cookies. My best guess is that my baking soda is a bit dated and might not be doing it's job. Likely or not? How about my cookie sheets? They are the air-bake kind and I've never known cookie sheets to "go bad" but, then again, I'm still learning. Maybe it's my oven? It's not old. Please help! Holiday baking will be a real bummer if I don't get my cookies into better shape.

    Thanks!
    Since it happened to more than one recipe, have you checked the accuracy of your oven temperature? A slow oven might make your cookies flatten.

    My oven is off by 22 degrees - to the cool. So, I have to adjust the temperature, and I use the oven thermometer. I used to have a problem baking, now my stuff comes out a lot better.
    The mind knows what the heart enjoys.

    "I regret that I have but one life to give for my cuisine."

  13. #13
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    I have success using butter flavored crisco, but I also chill the dough if I've used margerine or butter. I shape the cookies in balls, tchill them, then pull the dough balls out and put them on the cookie sheet to cook. Sometimes, I even freeze the balls and cook them frozen. If you do that, you have to lower the temperature, and lengthen the cooking time. I got that idea once from buying Mrs. Fields frozen cookie dough. You can make a huge batch of dough that way, and cook the balls when you want warm cookies. Beware though, frozen cookie dough is great! (It's my kids who love it!)

  14. #14
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    Softened does not mean downright squishy. Butter tastes a heckuva lot better than shortening. Also, dump your baking soda - especially with the holidays coming up. It's cheap enough to rotate out.
    "There's no food in your food!!" Joan Cusack to John Cusack in "Say Anything."

  15. #15
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    A recent Cook's Illustrated article stated that overcreaming the butter and sugar also can cause flat cookies. It recommended creaming for 3 minutes.
    Alicia

  16. #16
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    From www.landolakes.com

    Why do my cookies spread and become flat after they've been baked?

    Cookies may spread for a variety of reasons. Before baking an entire batch, bake a test cookie to give a good indication of dough condition. If it spreads too much, the dough may be too soft.

    Try refrigerating dough until well-chilled (1 to 2 hours). If the dough is still too soft, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour.

    Also, make sure that the butter is not too soft before making the dough.

    Be sure to cool cookie sheets between batches.

    There is no need to grease the cookie sheet unless the recipe indicates to do so. Greasing a cookie sheet when the recipe does not call for it can cause the cookies to spread too much and brown too quickly around the edges.

    Never use a lowfat spread with 60 percent or less fat in place of butter or margarine in baking recipes. Lowfat spreads have a higher moisture content and will make cookie dough very soft.


    Here is the link to more questions:

  17. #17
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    Thanks for all of your responses! I'm doing pies and cakes for Thanksgiving so I'll give my frustration with cookies a much needed rest. However, I'll have LOTS to keep in mind when I get the cookie sheets out again. Thanks for your help!

    Betsy

  18. #18
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    This goes against everything I've ever read, heard or believed about cookie baking; but I made the recipe for Soft-Baked Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Tish Boyle's book The Good Cookie and it called for MELTING the butter. I read and re-read the recipe and said "no way". Well, I was so curious I had to try it, and boy was I shocked at the results. Not a flat-as-a-pancake cookie, but a soft and puffy one that brought rave reviews from DH and the kiddos. Here's the recipe:

    Soft-Baked Chocolate Chunk Cookies
    The Good Cookie
    Tish Boyle

    These cookies are for those who love soft and chewy, rather than crisp, cookies. The secret is to use melted instead of softened butter, which gives them a soft texture and deep, nutty flavor. Overbaking will make them crisp, so watch carefully, and remove the cookies when they are just brown around the edges.

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
    1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    2 large eggs
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    10 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4" pcs
    2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugars. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, whisking until well blended. Whisk in the vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients until combined. Stir in the choclate and walnuts. (The dough can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 4 days or frozen for up to a month.)

    Using a 1/4 cup measure or ice cream scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2" apart. Bake, two sheets at a time, for 15 to 18 minutes, until the cookies are just brown around the edges; switch the position of the sheets halfway through baking. The centers of the cookies should be soft and slightly puffy. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheets or wire racks.

    Cookie Bite: Cooling the cookies on the baking sheets, thereby preventing air from circulating around them, keeps them from becoming crisp.

    Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. makes about 18 cookies.

  19. #19
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    LMcKay,

    I was also pleasantly surprised by using melted butter in chocolate chips cookies! Here is the recipe I use. It is from Cook's Illustrated, but I learned about it from Mamasue on the BB. (PS - Have you made any other recipes from the Tish Boyle book? Would you recommend it?)


    * Exported from MasterCook *

    Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

    Recipe By :Cook's Illustrated
    Serving Size : 18 Preparation Time :0:00
    Categories : Cookies & Brownies Desserts


    Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
    -------- ------------ --------------------------------
    2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour -- (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    12 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted and cooled until warm
    1 cup brown sugar, packed
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 large egg
    1 large egg yolk
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


    Heat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower- middle positions. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

    Either by hand or with electric mixer, mix butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Mix in egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; mix until just combined. Stir in desired amount of chips.

    Form scant 1/4 cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball using fingertips of both hands, pull into two equal halves. Each half will have a jagged surface where it was ripped from the other; rotate each half up so the jagged surface faced the ceiling and press the halves back into one ball so that the top surface remains jagged. (The nooks and crannies you have created will give the baked cookies an attractive and somewhat rough, uneven appearance.) Place formed dough onto one of two parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, about 9 balls per sheet.

    Bake, reversing cookies sheets' positions halfway through baking, until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes (start checking at 13 minutes). Cool cookies on cookie sheets. Serve or store in airtight container.

    Description:
    "The simple cookie with the gourmet touch."
    Source:
    "The Best Recipe"

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 264 Calories; 13g Fat (41.1% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 43mg Cholesterol; 105mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Fat; 2 Other Carbohydrates.

    NOTES : Getting the Recipe Right: Most cookies start with creamed butter. Creaming incorporates air into the dough, resulting in an undesirable (in these cookies) lightness. Our thoughts sifted to chewy brownies and blondies, both of which typically begin with melted butter. We tried both creamed and melted butter and found that melted butter did indeed give us the dense, chewy texture that we were after. Then, we tried unbleached and bleached flour to see which would yield the most tender cookie. Bleached flour, with less protein than unbleached flour, helps make the cookie crispy and crunchy on the outside and tender inside. The texture of the just-baked cookies was good, but as they cooled, they hardened.

    We turned to the one factor that we hadn't yet fully examined--the egg factor--and found that one whole egg plus one egg yolk keeps the cookies soft and pliable hours after emerging from the oven. Also, cooling the cookies directly on the cookie sheet promotes the soft, chewy texture. Finally, we had a thick, chewy chocolate-chip cookie that could rival any gourmet bakery's.



    Nutr. Assoc. : 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

  20. #20
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    Sep 2000
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    I had the a similar problem recently with my "Harvest Ginger Snaps". The first couple of sheets of cookies were very flat and baked unevenly. I've made these cookies every year and could not figure out what was going on. I too thought maybe my airbaked sheets were on their way out. I bought new cookie sheets from the restaurant supply store & replaced my baking soda AND baking powder. Still, flat unevenly baked cookies. The next day I preheated my oven to 375 degrees. After 10 minutes the timer beeped and I started baking only to notice my oven thermometer said "300 degrees"!!!!!!!! It took and additional 20 minutes to reach temp. I maintains it, but takes way too long to get there. I now have a service call scheduled!!! I hope you can solve your mystery. Good luck!

  21. #21
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    Originally posted by Laura B
    LMcKay,

    (PS - Have you made any other recipes from the Tish Boyle book? Would you recommend it?)
    I just got the book last week (Merry Christmas to me ) and have flagged so many recipes to try (Triple-Ginger Pecan Biscotti, White Chocolate Lemon Cookies and Chocolate Toffee Brownie Bites to name a few), but this chocolate chip cookie recipe was my first.

    Overall, I wish the book had more pictures, but the ones it does have are gorgeous. There are chapters on equipment, ingredients, tips and techniques and the recipes (of which there are 250+) are divided by type (i.e. bar, drop, rolled, etc.) The descriptions are wonderful and the directions seem clear and easy to follow.

    If you enjoy baking cookies, this book is definitely worth a look.

    Liz

  22. #22
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    Liz,

    Thanks for the review! The next time I make it to a bookstore, I will check it out. I already have at least three cookie books, but you can never have too many!

  23. #23
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    This is what I read in the Nestle's VeryBestBaking website:

    Avoiding Flat Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies -

    - For best results, don't omit the nuts, but if you do, then add 1 to 2 T extra flour.
    - Soften butter at room temperature just until it yields to light pressure. If softening butter in the microwave oven, microwave one stick of cold butter on defrost (30% power) for 10 to 15 seconds. Check, let stand. If not soft enough, rotate butter and microwave 5 to 10 seconds longer. Butter should soften just until it yields to light pressure.
    - When using margarine, do not soften. Use directly from the refrigerator. Use a good grade of margarine; avoid tub and light margarines. Don't overbeat.
    - Use ungreased baking sheets.
    - Allow baking sheets to cool between each batch; baking sheets may be chilled briefly in refrigerator or freezer to hasten cooling between batches.
    - Wipe baking sheets clean of grease between batches, or wash and dry baking sheet.
    - Add 1 to 2 T extra flour on humid or rainy days, if desired.
    - Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing to wire racks to cool completely.
    - Use large eggs, not extra large.
    - Have oven fully preheated at the correct temperature. Check the accuracy of your oven with a mercury oven thermometer. A few degrees can make the difference between a great cookie and an overbaked one.
    - Use unsifted all-purpose flour. Most flour today is marked “Presifteds” so there’s no need for sifting.
    The mind knows what the heart enjoys.

    "I regret that I have but one life to give for my cuisine."

  24. #24
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    more flour helped me!

    I had a flat cookie dilemma a while back, incidentally it was after I started measuring my flour "the right way"--fluffing and spooning lightly. Turns out, lots of recipes don't count on you measuring that way, and the less flour you use, the flatter the cookie. I pack in my flour for most cookie recipes, unless the recipe specifically directs to spoon lightly, and even add some extra.

    Adding more flour has made ALL the difference--nice, puffy cookies again!

  25. #25
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    Re: more flour helped me!

    Originally posted by kbucky
    I had a flat cookie dilemma a while back, incidentally it was after I started measuring my flour "the right way"--fluffing and spooning lightly. Turns out, lots of recipes don't count on you measuring that way, and the less flour you use, the flatter the cookie. I pack in my flour for most cookie recipes, unless the recipe specifically directs to spoon lightly, and even add some extra.

    Adding more flour has made ALL the difference--nice, puffy cookies again!
    That corresponds to what Nestle says in the post above yours. On humid days, add more flour.


    Just yesterday, I had the opposite problem. Many years ago, I made chocolate chip cookies every once in a while. They always spread out real nice after being dropped in a round lump from a tablespoon. I made some Toll House cookies yesterday and did the same thing I used to do. But, this time I ended up with lumpy gobs that didn't go flat - they didn't move at all. They taste good, but I had to shape all the others. Oh, well.
    The mind knows what the heart enjoys.

    "I regret that I have but one life to give for my cuisine."

  26. #26
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    the melted butter trick worked!! I can hardly believe it.


    in the interest of science I tried the layered cookie jars (below)with both softened butter and melted butter. I chilled the dough of both recipes for about 20 minutes.

    the cookies came out just as good or maybe better using melted butter. surprisingly, the ones made with melted butter didn't spread quite as much. they were thick and fairly soft.

    overall, though, there wasn't a huge difference between the two batches. but since the batch made with melted butter was easier to stir, I am going to modify the instructions so that the recipient uses melted butter.



    Layered Cookie Jars

    Recipe By : posted by Lrimerman
    Serving Size : 48 Preparation Time :0:00
    Categories : Desserts

    Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
    -------- ------------ --------------------------------
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar -- packed
    1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
    3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 cup chocolate covered candies (such as M&M's
    or Hershey's Candy Coated Bits)
    1/2 cup rolled oats
    1/2 cup cocoa crisped-rice cereal
    1/2 cup white chocolate chips

    In a one quart (32 oz?) wide mouth jar, add the ingredients in the order listed (I swiched the oats and the M&M's around). Pack them down firmly after each layer (use the blunt end of a table knife or a wooden spoon to level and tamp down each layer).

    Screw on the cover and prepare a gift tag with the following instructions.


    Instructions for label are: To make your cookies, cream together 1/2 cup of butter or margarine, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1 egg in a large bowl. Add contents of jar and stir until well blended. Drop by rounded teaspoonsful onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

    Source:
    ""Family Fun Magazine December/January 2001""

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