Any American will tell you that cookie-making is an art in itself. We asked our bakers what they think makes the perfect cookie and how you can bake a winning batch every time.
Change any of the ingredients or method and you may end up with a cookie that’s flatter, rounder, plumper, crisper, chewier or browner than the last batch.
Classic American cookies tend to be much bigger, chewier and softer than their biscuity British counterparts, but it’s all down to preference.
Most people know what they like when it comes to cookies, whether that’s a chewy centre or a golden brown top, and it’s useful to know what steps you can take when baking to get the desired cookie result!
For a chewy cookie, look for a recipe with plenty of egg in the dough. Chilling the dough before baking will also make the cookie chewier. Read our Ingredient Guide on Eggs for more egg-cellent advice.
Brown sugar, rather than white caster sugar, adds a caramel flavour and colour to your bakes, so recipes with some brown sugar added will give a more golden brown cookie with a sugary crisp top. Using only white caster sugar will result in a softer, flatter cookie. Darker muscovado sugars and molasses both give a really deep caramel flavour and colour and will make the cookie soft. Using liquid sugars, like maple syrup, will also make for a softer cookie and will impart extra flavour. Find out how the sweet stuff affects your bakes in our Ingredient Guide on Sugar.
We use mostly plain flour in our cookies, which is easy for home bakers to get their hands on, but it’s also possible to use mixtures of different flours to get a more cake-like texture, e.g. by adding cake flour or strong bread flour into the mixture. This will make a bouncier, cakier cookie that will turn out much more domed – think almost like a cookie crossed with a scone. A word of caution: too much flour and your cookies may end up dry. Get to grips with the basics in our Ingredient Guide on Flour.
Creaming together the butter and the sugar is an important step and is the point in the cookie-making process where you get to add air to your mixture. This helps the cookies to rise in the oven. This step should take around 5 minutes, so don’t be tempted to switch off your mixer after two minutes or your cookies will turn out heavier.
Some of our cookie recipes call for baking powder and some call for bicarbonate of soda. Baking powder gives a less heavy texture and will make the cookies puff up more like a cake, compared to bicarbonate of soda. To find out how raising agents work, read our blog: Baking Guide to Raising Agents.
Chilling your cookie dough beforehand will stop the dough spreading out as quickly on the tray when baked, so if you like a thicker or thinner cookie, bear this in mind. The general rule is: chilled dough for thick cookies, room temperature dough for thinner cookies. Using room temperature ingredients (such as butter) will also make the cookies melt quicker and bake thinner than if it comes straight from the fridge.
Shaping your cookies is all about presentation. If you want to get hands on and messy, breaking off a piece of dough and rolling it into a ball will give you a more rustic, homemade shape. This is lots of fun to do and if you have little helpers in the kitchen, give them a go at rolling out the dough in their palms. For uniformity, you can use a small food portioner to scoop out equal amounts of dough, providing the dough is soft enough to scoop in the first place. Alternatively, rolling your cookie dough into a sausage-shape and slicing will give you perfect rounds for that shop-bought look but with a homemade taste!
Birthday Cake Cookies Video
For a perfect cookie every time, these vanilla-filled Birthday Cake Cookies from our Life is Sweet cookbook will get the party started:
A few final cookie making tips…
- Always line your trays with baking paper. It will make cleaning up a lot quicker and can help prevent burnt cookie bottoms. Reusable baking liners are also a handy investment if you make cookies often.
- If the recipe states to add the eggs one at a time, this is for the good of the cookie! Adding eggs into a mixture gradually gives the yolks the opportunity to mingle and emulsify properly with the high fat butter and sugar mixture.
- Space out your cookie dough at least 2 inches apart to allow room for them to spread when in the oven, or you’ll end up with one giant monster cookie.
- If you’re making thumbprint cookies with a topping you can use your thumb or a mini scoop to make the indentation.
- If you don’t have a food portioner to divide out your mixture, an ice cream scoop can be a good compromise.
- If your cookies are burning or baking too fast, check your oven temperature using an oven thermometer before baking. Always preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes to allow the temperature to stabilise.
- Turning the tray around in the oven can help if you find the cookies at the back of the oven brown a bit faster. Cookies bake quickly due to their size, so check back about halfway through the cooking time to see if you need to rotate the tray.
- Give your cookies a few minutes to rest in their trays before turning out onto a wire rack. This will prevent cookie breakage while they are still warm and soft from the oven.
- Good quality vanilla extract can really make a difference to the flavour of a simple cookie, so always use the best you can afford.
- Add nuts into the cookie mixture last to keep them crunchier and prevent them from absorbing moisture.
- If you choose to chill your cookie dough, speed up the process by wrapping it cling film and putting it in the freezer for twenty minutes to half an hour. Freeze your leftover cookie dough and you can enjoy freshly baked homemade cookies for up to three months. Just remember to thaw the dough out first before baking. Hooray!
- Always let your cookies cool completely before storing in a tin. Store your cookies with squares of baking paper between them and they will stay crisper for longer (this is also a nice touch if you’re giving your cookies away as a gift).
- If your cookies have gone a little hard in the tin while stored, you can pop them in a hot oven for a few minutes to refresh them and bring back their chewiness. Allow them to cool before serving.
And of course, don't forget to eat your cookies *immediately*... that’s our only rule!
Happy baking! x