Tuesday Tips: why are my cookies flat?

How to Prevent Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies on Foodess.com

This is the first in my new series called Tuesday Tips – short and sweet posts with (hopefully!) helpful nuggets of baking and cooking wisdom.

Have you ever had the super sad experience of paper-thin, oily cookies, when you’d kill for a toothsome, chewy-middled, crisp edged chocolate chip cookie just like your best friend Beth’s mom makes? I’ve known some pretty great bakers for whom flat cookies are all that’s ever produced, even with famous recipes.

Having learned the chemistry magic of baking perfect cookies in a food science classroom, I’d like to pass on a few tidbits to prevent the sorrowful flat cookie fate. Here goes:

1. Refrigerate your dough: let it chill for at least a couple of hours, or overnight, before baking. This is the single most useful tip! Doing this prevents the butter from melting in the oven before the starch has time to set. It also improves the flavour. Or, if you’re impatient, scoop the dough balls onto the pan, then stick it in the freezer till the dough is cool and firm (about 15 min).

How to Prevent Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies on Foodess.com

2. Preheat your oven: completely preheated, no impatience here! For the same butter-melting reason as #1. Also, make sure your oven temperature is accurate… for the sake of all your baking! If you think it may be off, buy a cheap oven thermometer.

3. Cool your pans: run baking sheets under cold water for a minute between batches. Never ever ever ever ever put dough onto a warm cookie sheet. Again, butter melts too quick, cookies spread too fast.

4. Make sure you’re following the recipe correctly: measure or weigh ingredients meticulously. Make sure you’re not adding too much butter, which can happen if you just use the ruler-guide on the foil wrapper. A scale is the best option for accuracy – a cup of butter is 8 oz/227 grams. Don’t add too much liquid in the form of egg – typically recipes use large eggs; if you use extra-large you’ll have too much. And don’t be tempted to just add more flour! This makes cakey, not chewy, cookies.

How to Prevent Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies on Foodess.com

If flat cookies aren’t an issue for you, two tips to take your already-perfect CCCs to a whole ‘nother level: the best possible vanilla extract and high quality chocolate. My current favourites are Los Cinco Soles vanilla extract (I could drink it straight from the bottle) and TCHO’s incredible, silky-rich 66% baking chocolate drops. From these two ingredients your best cookies ever could be produced.

Do you have any tips you’d add?

  • http://www.brooklynfarmgirl.com/ Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl

    Great suggestions, I’ll be sure to frigerate my dough from now on!

  • http://erinatlarge.com/ Erin

    Do you have a local source for that vanilla? I’d love to try it.

    • foodess

      So far I’ve made all my friends who’ve gone to Mexico bring me back some, but I finished the last drop with these cookies! Gonna order some online… totally worth the shipping – a bottle that size lasts me about a year, and I do a lot of baking! :)

  • Sophie Loves Food

    This is exactly what I needed! Thanks for the tips. My cookies are usually a little too soft and cakey but am usually too impatient with leaving my cookie dough to cool so will try better next time!

    • foodess

      Soft and cakey might mean that you’ve used too much flour! Fluff the flour with a fork, then very lightly spoon it (by no more than tablespoonfuls) into a measuring cup until it overflows, then level off with a knife. Flour packs – you can get easily an extra ounce per cup just by scooping from the bag rather than using this method.

  • Helen

    Do you have any info on protein levels in flour changing or fat percentages in butter? My grandmother’s recipes from the 30’s don’t seem to work anymore (they still worked in the 90s)…

    • foodess

      Hmm.. I don’t know. You could try contacting the info line on the flour & butter you buy.

  • Sophie Collins

    Can’t wait to try all of these suggestions. I absolutely love the idea behind this column!

    • foodess

      Thanks, Sophie!

  • Beth D

    My moms cookies are pretty awesome…

    • foodess


  • http://www.femme-fitale.com/ Kelly @ Femme Fitale

    Oooh, I love this post, Jenn! Such good tips. The refrigeration tip is one that I need to follow. I think this Tuesday series is going to be awesome!

    Now don’t scoff at me, but what about recipes that use a butter substitute such as coconut oil? I don’t think they’ll ever turn out as good regardless, but do you suggest using the same strategies?

    • foodess

      Yeah, for sure! Coconut oil is a saturated fat too, that hardens in the fridge, so I’d use the same strategy if flat cookies are an issue… but I’ve never baked cookies with coconut oil.

  • Paul

    Great baking tips indeed! I’m getting more into baking and pastry latetly and posts like this one is extremely helpful! Thanks Jennifer!

    • foodess

      Awesome! You’re most welcome!!! :)

  • Michelle Hooton

    Great tips! I’ve been baking cookies for 40 years and never knew about chilling the cookie dough.

  • http://danceonflour.blogspot.com/ Irena Sahara

    Such good tips! I will not be lazy to freeze my dough from now on ;)

  • (Girl) Shawn

    I love Beth’s Mom’s cookies! I will have to try the refrigeration tip when I make cookies next!

    • foodess

      Who DOESN’T love Beth’s mom’s cookies?!! :)

  • LG

    I have several sugar cookie recipes I have been making successfully for years. However, recently they are coming out flat. I use all the tips you suggest- refrigerate the dough, use cold cookie sheets, preheat oven oven etc. Nothing works. In my chocolate chip cookie receipt I can only make it work if use 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening, when a few years ago all butter worked fine..

    Has there been some change in store butter that is causing this ?


  • Bettybil

    I have been having the same issue! Does anyone have any idea about this?

  • kathy osberg

    @LG I don’t know either but im having the same problem with my snickerdoddles I am using I cant believe its not butter,i wonder if that could also contribute to the failure,i once had a lady tell me to always use unsalted butter for baking ? I might try this as well  happy baking

  • mad

    I’m so mad. Always with the flat cookies no matter how precisely I follow measuring (100%) and instructions (100%) AND I expect this annoying s*** to happen so I even add an extra 1/4c flour, 1/4c brn sug and THEYRE STILL FLAT!!!! ARRRRGH!!!!

    • http://www.foodess.com Jennifer Pallian

      Adding more brown sugar won’t help you, since sugar dissolves and essentially becomes a liquid in terms of baking science. Did you try refrigerating your dough? If still flat, I’d suggest that your oven temperature might be running low. If you’re an avid baker, it’d be worth buying an oven thermometer, otherwise, crank the temperature up 25-50 degrees and just keep a close eye – if the temp is too low, the cookies will flatten out before then can set up. Also, is your baking powder fresh?

  • Juls

    Thank you so much for the suggestions. I never let the pan cool down between re-loading and wondered why my cookies were going flat. (still taste great, but just way too thin for my liking) Bless you!