Baking Frequently Asked Questions
Should I use salted or unsalted butter? What kind of flour do I need? What does milk do and can I substitute it, or even omit it? How do I measure flour? Baking soda or baking powder? Over-mixing, what?
Frequently asked questions (and answers)
Use unsalted butter when baking cookies. Salt is a crucial ingredient in cookie recipes and you want to be able to control how much of it is in the cookies. With salted butter, that’s really hard to do. All the recipes on this site will use unsalted butter, unless otherwise noted, very specifically.
I recommend unbleached all purpose flour for the majority of the cookie recipes on this site. There are a few that are made with or contain some white whole wheat flour, but it will be noted in the recipe card if so.
The best way to cream butter and sugar is with an electric mixer, either handheld model or a stand mixer. You want to make sure you cream the butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes and don’t forget to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Not creaming the butter long enough will result in flatter cookies that aren’t light and fluffy.
The longer you cream the butter and sugar, the more air you introduce into the dough, making them lighter and fluffier. Less creaming will produce a dense, chewier cookie (and they’ll also spread less).
Milk does a variety of things in a cookie recipe, everything from moistening dry ingredients, to adding flavor, sweetening, and softening the texture of the cookies. If it’s listed in the ingredients, there’s a reason for it and I wouldn’t recommend omitting it, unless you have an allergy. In that case, you could substitute for a non-dairy milk.
The most accurate way to measure ingredients is to weigh them in grams with a food scale. If you want to keep it simple and use measuring cups and spoons, see the tips below.
When measuring flour, fluff (stir) the flour in the canister before spooning it into the measuring up and then, using the back side of a knife, gently scrape off the excess for a level scoop.
For sugar and other dry ingredients, the dip, scoop, and level method works great. Make sure to scrape off your measuring spoons too, unless a heaping spoonful is specified.
To measure wet ingredients, pour them carefully into the measuring cup or spoon, but not directly over the top of your mixing bowl. This will help avoid over-pouring.
The recipe will always specify which one to use (or both). Make sure to follow the recipe exactly.
Baking soda will help cookies spread and is used to create a dense, chewy texture in cookies. It also helps enhance the flavor of the cookie as well as increase the browning of the cookies.
Baking powder helps the cookies rise and adds to the light, fluffy texture of the cookies. It also enhances the flavor of cookies.
You’ll hear me refer to this often, because it’s something I struggle with. My attention to detail wants me to completely mix every ingredient and in baking, this isn’t a good thing.
You want to stir the dough just enough to incorporate the ingredient, but not so much that you whip additional air into the batter, which can create cookies that are tough, gummy, or way too chewy. Simply put, outside of creaming the butter and sugar, you don’t want to stir it too much.
The short answer here is no. If the recipe calls for melted butter, you can absolutely use the microwave, but if the recipe calls for room temperature butter, it’s best to do it the old-fashioned way and let it sit out for 1-2 hours before baking. The ideal consistency is soft, but not melted, and even in temperature throughout. The microwave will overheat and melt some of the butter.
Cookies do best on a shiny, light colored, aluminum baking sheet lined with parchment paper (for easy cleanup and nonstick baking). Avoid dark colored or insulated pans. They cause uneven baking and the cookies can be excessively brown. These are the only pans I use.
If you only have dark colored baking sheets, adjust your temperature down by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and lessen the total baking time by a few minutes, if needed. Keep a close eye on the cookies the last 4-5 minutes to gauge doneness.
You can use either one. If you have a convection oven (fan-forced), the general rule of thumb is to lower your temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, keep in mind that because of the increased air circulation, convection baked recipes tend to bake in less time, so keep a really close eye on the cookies for doneness and browning.
This usually happens when there’s too much flour in the dough. If you have this problem chronically, it might be worth investing in an inexpensive food scale and weighing out your flour; you’re likely over-measuring, that’s all.
Most recipes on this site will have a conversion for cups and grams, just click the metric button at the top of the recipe card to get the gram equivalent.
This could be because your butter is too warm (or is partially melted) or from not using enough flour in the dough (again, it’s important to weigh flour for accuracy).
Cookies can also fall flat if your oven is too hot. This causes the butter to melt too quickly and will cause spreading and thin cookies. Investing in an oven thermometer is a good idea.
Always cool your baking sheets fully in between batches too. A warm (or hot) baking sheet will cause the butter to melt too quickly; the cookies will spread prematurely and be thin.
It’s also important to remember that cookies with all white sugar or more white sugar than brown sugar will usually spread more and be thinner than cookies with a higher brown sugar content. So, some cookies will always bake up thinner than others based on the ingredients.
I live in Arizona, so I have no experience baking at high altitude. You might find this article helpful.
Most cookie doughs will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for several weeks. If you do freeze the dough, thaw it out in the refrigerator overnight prior to baking.
Fully cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week in a cool, dry place or frozen for several months, which will keep them almost as fresh as the day they were baked. Make sure to express as much air as possible from the freezer bag or container before freezing the cookies. A single cookie will thaw in 20-ish minutes on the counter.
Still have a question?
If you have a question that’s not listed here, leave it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them all. Don’t miss these helpful baking tips too.
Kristine is a self-taught cookie baker and photographer. She's passionate about finding time for everything and making baking, crafting and homemaking simple. More...