13 Tips to Ensure Your Cookies Turn Out Perfectly

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Thinking back to your childhood, what part of the holidays do you remember the most?  Seeing people kiss under the mistletoe, sipping hot chocolate after an afternoon of sledding, or opening presents under a real tree?  Heck no!  It’s the cookies your mom or grandmother made.  The baked treats were so much a part of the holiday that my siblings actually bickered over who would get my mom’s tins that she stored the baked goods in before the holiday.

Let’s face it. The winter holidays are so stressful and busy. If we make a commitment to bake cookies we want it to be fun, we need the recipes to be simple, and most importantly outcomes to be successful.  When you invest time and money into baking supplies for cookies, you want them to come out perfect, right? 

Stress no more. I've answered all your baking questions below, pondered all the "what-ifs" when it comes to making cookies, and even provided you with a brand-new, healthier, no-fail holiday cookie recipe, too!
Read This before You Bake:

Last week, I shared tips about the importance of prepping your kitchen, including tossing old spices and leavening agents. Baking soda and powder won't help your cookies rise if they're old, but that's not the only ingredient that can be outdated. Since we're all following a healthy lifestyle, you might notice that it takes longer to use up a whole stick of butter, let alone the four that come in a package. Butter can spoil, so check the label. It's better to store butter in the freezer and pull out one stick each time you need one (letting it thaw in the fridge overnight) if you don't use it very often. 

Always preheat the oven before baking.  Some ovens can take up to 20 minutes to reach your desired temperature.  Most cookies bake between 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Many ovens will heat to a hotter temperature first, then regulate down to the set temperature.  If you put your cookies in the oven before it is ready, you run the risk of burning the cookies before they are cooked.

Choose the right baking sheet. Dark colored sheet pans will overbrown the bottom of your cookies, so you will want to choose light metal pans.  If you only have dark sheet pans in your home, simply line them with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. (Bonus: this also makes for easier cleanup.)

Keep your pans cool. Chill your baking pans between each batch.  If you place your cookie dough on a hot sheet pan the fat in the cookie will start to melt immediately, which will cause your cookies to spread. After transferring your cookies to a cooling rack, chill the pans. If you live in a cold climate just place the pan outside for a few minutes. You can also run cold water over the pans, too.

Avoid crumbly cookies. Allow your cookies to rest on the sheet pan for 20 to 30 seconds after taking them out of the oven and before transferring to a cooling rack. This allows the steam to escape and prevents your cookies from crumbling.

Your Cookie Conundrums--Solved!

My cookies crumble and fall apart
You were probably too heavy handed with the amount of shortening, leavening agent, or sugar. Using too much of any of those can you’re your cookies crumbly and dry.  Unfortunately most "home recipes" are written in volume measurements and not weight measurements.  Weighing items on a scale will ensure accuracy.  If your recipes are by volume only, pay attention when you are measuring your ingredients. Spoon lightly into your measuring cup, then level out the top with the back of a knife or offset spatula. Remember: Baking is a science, and ratios are important. A little pinch of this or that can doom your baked goods.

My cookies nearly burn.
Make sure your oven is preheated correctly.  If you think you gave it enough time to preheat, you might need to calibrate your oven. (See last week's blog for more details.) Too much sugar can also be the cause of overbrowning, so measure carefully. 

My "drop" cookies spread out on the pan.
This is another time when the temperature is key to success. If your oven isn't hot enough, your cookies can spread. The butter or shortening inside will begin to melt before the cookies begin to bake.  You also want to make sure your pans are chilled or at room temperature. Too much flour also can cause cookies to spread, so measure carefully!

My cutout cookies look less like trees and reindeer and more like abstract shapes.
When you're rolling out cookies, it's important that you and the dough stay cool. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours before rolling out the cookies. When you handle the dough and when you use an electric mixer you heat up the dough. Chilling the dough will allow the butter to solidify and will prevent it from spreading too much on the baking sheet, so your tree ends up looking like a tree.  My best tips on rolling dough:
  • Save time on cleanup: Roll out your dough between two sheets of parchment paper.  Extra flour is not needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your countertop.
  • The colder your countertop the better.  The next time you are at a tile shop, ask for a remnant of marble.  Marble stays cold and is perfect to keep your dough cold as your roll.
  • Though you don't need to flour your countertop, you'll need to flour your rolling pin and cookie cutters. Use a shallow baking dish to contain the mess.
  • When choosing cookie cutters, select metal ones rather than plastic, as the edges are sharper and will create a clean line. Be sure to hand-wash and immediately dry them to avoid rust. Do not place them in the dishwasher.
  • If you have trouble keeping your cookies an even thickness, wrap rubber bands around the ends of the rolling pin. This will help you roll out the cookies evenly, which will make sure they bake evenly.
Use these tips when you make my cinnamon-scented cut-out cookies, which I guarantee will be a new family favorite.

You can bake a batch and give as a gift, or you can poke a small hole on the top using a wooden skewer, then turn them into ornaments or edible gift tags (my favorite!).

Prepare icing by mixing 1/4 cup powdered sugar with about 1 teaspoon of water to make a paste.  Use piping bags with tips or paint brushes to decorate.

Now that you're ready to bake, be sure to sign up for the Recipe of the Day email newsletter. From Dec. 1-12, we're sharing healthier holiday cookies. If you missed a day or two, check out this article!  

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Like this blog? Then you'll love "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight"--now available for pre-order in paperback!

Have you made any of these baking mistakes? Which of these tips was the most helpful? 

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JUDY1676 11/8/2020
Great tips! Report
CECELW 8/17/2020
These are great tips. I do love to bake Report
Good tips! Report
Awesome article. Report
Cookies, who eats cookies? Report
I learned several tips and i bake cookies twice a month Report
Good to know how to cook. Report
I have noticed that people are not really taught to cook any more. The tips you list are all things I learned when my mother, grandmother, aunts and friends all shared their experiences as they showed me how to cook, a form of learning that worked well when I was a child. Just another nuance that is missing in the busy lifestyle of today. Report
I bake many cookies at Holiday time only these days since our sons have left and no grands close by. I Re-USE my parchment paper repeatedly I just towel off any residue and use it again. Thanks for the tips, I am happy to read the educational blogs. I was an educator and too few people were ever taught to cook and bake. I love to do both and love having a freezer now there are just 2 of us. We use the freezer for portion control and it is less time consuming to just do a BIG BATCH and save. Then have fast meals every day and all home cooked.This way you KNOW what is inside. Pat in Maine. Report
I love parchment paper. I use it on my George Foreman Grill all the time. Report
Awesome tips! Thanks!! Report
parchment paper is a life saver and i love the way the cookies react on them perfect cookies every time!!
Your Holiday cookie recipes are repeats from 2009, 2010, 2011, exact same recipes year after year. Report
Very timely post. Thanks, Chef Meg. I can't believe I never learned these things since I've been baking cookies for over 50 years. I don't eat as many cookies as I used to, so I want the ones I do eat to be Just Right! Report
I Thank You For This Blog! Learned A Lot Of Great Advice/Techniques. I Figured I Didn't Let The Cookies Sit Long Enough. Now I Know! :) Going To Make Cookies With My 5 Year Old Niece Tomorrow And I Will Make Sure None Of These Mishpas Occur! Blessings!!! Report
My cookies just don't taste magically delicious like my mother in law's. I suspect that I do not put crack in them. Report
Thanks Chef Meg. Although I have been baking cookies (and tons of other things) for over 50 years, I learned a couple of things in your blog, like letting the cookies rest for about 30 seconds after baking, and about the spreading cookie-oven temp connection. I have different cookie sheets for different types of cookies, as sometimes the darker ones work better with certain recipes, and sometimes, the lighter ones are better. Always something new to learn, and I can't wait to start my Christmas cookie baking this weekend. Thank you again for your helpful, important tips! Happy baking everyone! Report