The Cure for Common Cookie Problems

What makes cookies crumble, lack color, go limp, and stick to the pan? Shirley Corriher, author of BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes, diagnoses these common cookie cooking problems and provides the cures so your next batch will come out just right.

PITIFULLY PALE COOKIESBROWNING
“My cookies taste good, but they are pale and unappetizing.” Three ingredients determine color: the amount of a specific type sugar (reducing sugar), the amount of protein, and the acidity.

More Reducing Sugar
Using even a small amount of corn syrup (glucose), which is a reducing sugar, is a major browning enhancer. Adding 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of corn syrup to your cookie dough will dramatically increase browning. That is, as long as the cookies are not strongly acidic. Too much acidity prevents browning.

Less Acidity
Baking powder contains baking soda and enough acid or acids to neutralize the baking soda, therefore baking powder does not influence the color of cookies. Baking soda by itself is alkaline and is a major contributor to browning.

Some cookie recipes that contain acidic ingredients like brown sugar may contain baking soda—not for leavening, but to reduce the acidity and improve browning.

Color At a Glance
What to Do for More Color:
Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of light corn syrup.
Why: Reducing sugars enhance browning.

What to Do for More Color: Use unbleached or all-purpose bread flour.
Why:
Protein enhances browning.

What to Do for More Color: Use an egg.
Why:
Protein enhances browning.

What to Do for More Color: Use baking soda.
Why:
Baking soda neutralizes acidity, and enhances the browning.

LIMP COOKIES
“My cookies are crisp and perfect the day I make them, but the next day they are soft and limp.” If your recipe calls for brown sugar, molasses, or honey, they all contain some fructose, a sugar that is hygroscopic (absorbs water out of air). Honey contains 42% fructose and baked goods made with honey keep well. They stay soft and don’t dry out easily. Some cookie recipes with part brown sugar stay firm for a day or so, but if you want really crisp cookies stick with plain granulated sugar.

STICKING
Some recipes say to bake on an ungreased pan to limit spread. This is a bad idea. It doesn’t limit spread, and the cookies can stick as if they were cemented to the pan.

I love the Reynolds Release foil. It is a miracle for cookies. It is aluminum foil with a nonstick coating on one side. (This stuff is great and is pretty widely available.) Just twist a cookie and lift off. I like it even better than parchment, because sometimes cookies can stick to even parchment. You can slide the foil off the cookie sheet and onto the cooling rack. Your pan is free for the next batch.

You can already have the next batch on foil. Cool the hot pan by running cold water over it, dry, and slide the foil with your next batch onto it. No more washing dirty cookie pans.

In the past I used parchment, but it I did not have it I always sprayed the pan with nonstick cooking spray or a nonstick cooking spray with flour such as Baker’s Joy.

Without Release foil or parchment, there is an ideal time to remove cookies from the baking sheet. If you try to remove them immediately after they come out of the oven, they come apart, but if you wait 1 to 2 minutes, they will lift off the pan easily. If you wait longer, they may be “glued” to the pan. You can reheat the cookies for a couple of minutes, then remove them.

You can get cookies that are “glued” to the pan off by reheating for a couple of minutes.

OVERBAKING
Overcooked cookies can be rock hard. Since cookies require a short baking time, some as short as 6 minutes, and for most 10 to 12 minutes, 1 minute more or less can make a world of difference. Take cookies out of the oven when they just start to brown around the outer edge. Don’t wait for the center to brown.

Other Cookie Problems at a Glance
Problem:
Crumbling
What to Do: Stir 1 tablespoon (15 ml) water into the flour before you mix it with other ingredients.

Problem: Lighter, shiny separated crust (“meringue”)
What to Do: Stir just enough to incorporate each egg. Keep any beating to a minimum once eggs are added.

Problem: Cookies are pale
What to Do: Add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) light corn syrup. Use baking soda. Use a higher-protein flour like unbleached or all-purpose bread flour.

Problem: Cookies are limp
What to Do: Use granulated sugar only, no honey.

Problem: Cookies stick to pan
What to Do: Use Release foil (foil with a nonstick coating).

Problem: Cookies are overbaked
What to Do: Do not wait for cookies to brown. Remove from the oven when the edges start to brown.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shirley O. Corriher, author of BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes (Copyright © 2008 by Confident Cooking, Inc.), has a B.A. in chemistry from Vanderbilt University, where she was also a biochemist at the medical school. She has problem-solved for everyone from Julia Child to Procter & Gamble and Pillsbury. She has taught and lectured throughout the world. She has long been a writer– authoring a regular syndicated column in The Los Angeles Times Syndicate’s Great Chefs series as well as technical articles in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Her first book, Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking is a bestseller and won a James Beard Award for excellence. Shirley has received many awards, including the Best Cooking Teacher of the Year in Bon Appetit’s “Best of the Best” Annual Food and Entertaining Awards in 2001. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Arch.

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