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How to Avoid Flat Chocolate Chip Cookies

As I meander along on this quest of finding my inner cook, I have been pleasantly surprised at the meals that I have been able to create.  However, a few days ago I encountered my first real disappointment.

Trying to do a Good Deed

To thank a neighbor for helping me out in a tough situation, I decided to bake some chocolate chip cookies to take over; it was the least that I could do.  I looked up a few recipes, and for basic cookies most were very similar.  I ended up just using the recipe on the bag of chocolate chips.  I followed all of the directions and didn’t miss any ingredients.  But to my dismay, when I took the first batch out of the oven they looked more like sorry pancakes than the delicious chocolate chip cookies I was anticipating.

No Blue Ribbon Today

The instructions explicitly said not to grease the pan, and removing them was a nightmare.   They folded up and left most of the bottom of the cookies on the tray or my spatula.  Doing my best to salvage them, I tried to move the pieces to the cooling racks but they continued to fall apart.  Wondering if I should just cut my losses at that point I tried one to see how horrible they were.  They actually tasted good, but they looked atrocious.

Hoping to rescue the final few batches I tried different sizes of dough, slightly different cooking times, various racks in the oven, and letting them cool longer.  Still coming out flat and unable to neatly get them off the pans, I broke the rules and sprayed one of the cookie sheets out of desperation before dropping on the final few dollops of dough.  Watching them bake they seemed to improve, they were actually rising, but instantly the edges were brown.  I guess they knew what they were talking about; greasing the pan had made the edges practically burnt and the bottoms crispy, not the lumpy pancakes of before but still unappealing.

What Went Wrong?

After finishing the 5 or so batches, I was able to pick out a dozen that, although would not have won any prizes, looked decent.   At least the main objective was accomplished; I was able to take a thank you card and some homemade cookies to the neighbor.  He was very pleased, so it was well worth the effort.  Back at our place, I began to try and figure out where I went wrong.  After asking friends, family, and inquiring online we narrowed it down to a few possibilities:

  • The butter was too soft
  • There was not enough flour (this should be weighed not measured by volume for precision)
  • The baking soda might be old
  • The dough needed to be refrigerated before cooking and in between batches

Not a Total Loss

I will definitely agree the butter could have been a culprit right off the bat.  The directions called for softened butter, but mine was apparently too soft.  If the dough is not firm or slightly runny it will spread and the cookies will not be able to form a strong base while baking.  This made perfect sense in my situation.   From now on, I will be much more vigilant about the butter and take the time to refrigerate the mix before baking and in between batches.

The flour is an option too, I was trying to be careful, but using a measuring cup is not as precise as weighing out the portions.  Knowing this, next time if I have corrected other problems and am still left with less than perfect cookies, I may try adding a bit more flour after the first batch comes out of the oven.   And to be proactive, avoiding the baking soda issue altogether, I will just retire the rest of this box for cleaning purposes and splurge on a new one next time I’m in the baking aisle.

One of the reasons I have found that I enjoy cooking is because it is scientifically based; there are direct results from the ingredients added.  This failed batch of chocolate chip cookies was a great opportunity for me to learn more about why certain mixtures behave the way they do.  Uncovering the logic behind it all makes one a better cook in the future to make quick substitution and help rescue failing dishes.  Of course to be truly scientific with this recipe I need to try it again, only correcting one of the issues; for me chilling the dough would be a great place to start.

As a relative beginner on this path, I can use all of the help I can get.  Do you agree or disagree with the possible problems; have you encountered the frustration of flat cookies in the past and what did you do to correct it?  Also, if you have a no-fail, fabulous chocolate chip cookie recipe you think I need to try, send it over.  I’ll give it a go and let you know the results.  Feel free to comment below or send me an email.  I enjoy learning and any tips are much appreciated.

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3 comments

  1. Cindy

    My grandmother always said that Parkway margarine was for eating and Blue Bonnet was for baking. Not sure if there is a difference in the chemical ratio, but I do try to use Blue Bonnet for baking.

    1. Lisa H.

      I was told the same thing about Parkway and Blue Bonnet by a college roommate who made the best chocolate chip cookies. She had learned this trick from her grandma also. As I was reading your post, I immediately thought “Her baking soda is old.” So, there you have it. : )

  2. Sarah

    Thanks for the hint, and I like that it’s easy to remember “Blue Bonnet for baking.” Good to know; and if it’s from your grandma, then there has to be some truth behind it. Grandmas always know best 🙂

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