Chocolate chip cookies are universally loved and easy to make. Most of us, however, have probably encountered an issue while baking these delicious cookies. Maybe you like your cookies thick, but somehow end up with paper thin cookies. Or you might be wondering how to make your cookies soft, instead of crispy?
The perfect chocolate chip cookie can vary greatly from one person to another. Getting it right might take a few trials. But I thought I’d share some tips to help you get there faster! And if you’re just here to try out the recipe, then feel free to jump right ahead. I’ll be sharing a recipe adapted from my favorite chef, Philippe Conticini.
Let’s start by talking about the main ingredients in cookie dough, so you can understand better what their purpose is in the recipe. The ingredients in a chocolate chip cookie recipe can be divided into two main categories: tougheners and tenderizers.
Toughening Ingredients In Chocolate Chip Cookies
What are toughening ingredients (tougheners)?
Tougheners, also known as structure builders, provide structure to the cookie. The more tougheners there are in a recipe, the more the cookie will hold its shape and the less it will spread. It’s important not to add too much however, so you don’t end up with tough cookies.
The two main toughening ingredients found in chocolate chip cookie recipes are generally:
Cocoa powder, used in double chocolate chip cookies, is also a toughener.
Role of flour
The flour will provide structure to the cookie. Not enough flour and your cookie dough will spread out. Too much flour and your cookie will be tough, dry and thick.
Type of flour
The type of flour used is important. Most chocolate chip cookie recipes will call for all-purpose flour, which has a moderate protein content. Bread flour, with a higher protein content, is rarely used. You might recall from our previous discussions that more protein means more gluten development when water is added. While this is desirable when making bread, too much gluten formation could lead to tough and dense cookies.
Eggs play several key roles in cookie recipes.
- The egg proteins coagulate in the oven and give structure to the cookies.
- Egg yolks add richness and flavor to the cookies. They also contain emulsifiers such as lecithin (about 10%) which help bind the ingredients together.
- Whole eggs, composed primarily of water (73%), contribute to the liquid portion of the dough which is necessary for gluten formation.
- Eggs also leaven cookies. Adding a lot of eggs to a chocolate chip cookie recipe will yield a cakey texture.
When adding several eggs to cookie dough, it’s important to add them one at a time to the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Wait for the egg to be fully incorporated into the dough before adding another one. Why? Eggs, which are primarily composed of water, do not mix well with butter (80% fat). The ingredients need time to combine.
Tenderizing Ingredients In Chocolate Chip Cookies
What are tenderizing ingredients (tenderizers)?
Tenderizers act against tougheners in a recipe. They interfere with the structure formation and yield softer cookies. Adding a large amount of tenderizers will cause the cookies to spread too much. You might also notice that your cookies are too fragile and fall apart easily because not enough gluten was formed.
The main tenderizers used in cookies are:
- Fats (such as butter) and oils
- Leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda)
Chocolate chip cookies are generally sweetened with white granulated sugar and brown sugar (dark or light).
The amount of sugar used and the proportions of white sugar to brown sugar will play a role in the texture of the cookies. White sugar will yield crunchier cookies. For softer, chewier cookies, a higher amount of brown sugar is used.
Sugar also increases browning. You might find that cookies made with a very large amount of sugar brown too much.
Role of butter
Butter is used for flavor, richness and moistness. It will also yield more tender cookies. Fats weaken the structure by coating the proteins (flour and egg) and starch granules, making water less accessible to the structure builders.
When butter starts to melt in the oven, the cookie will spread. Using a different type of fat, such as margarine or shortening, with a higher melting point will decrease cookie spread. The margarine (or shortening) won’t have as much time to melt before the structure of the cookie sets, leading to thicker cookies.
Salted versus unsalted butter
It’s best to use unsalted butter and add the salt yourself. Different brands of salted butter do not necessarily contain the same amount of salt, making it difficult to get consistent results.
Salted butter might also contain more water than unsalted butter, which would lead to more gluten formation.
Softened versus melted butter
Some recipes will call for softened butter (18-19°C/65-67°F) while others will use melted and cooled butter (29-32°C/85-90°F).
Softened butter will usually be creamed. The air incorporated into the dough will yield lighter and cakier cookies. Melted butter can be used for a chewier texture or when you’d like your cookies to be thinner.
Baking soda or baking powder are generally used in cookie recipes, to help the cookie rise and spread. Chemical leaveners are considered tenderizers because they weaken the structure of the cookie as it expands in the oven.
Recipes that include baking soda, such as the one I’m sharing today, need an acidic ingredient such as brown sugar to react with.
Cookies made with baking soda will also brown more and have a porous crumb. Using a lot of baking soda can leave a chemical flavor. It will also cause cracks in the cookie, through which moisture escapes, leading to drier cookies.
Once you have all the main cookie ingredients ready, you can select the flavorings and add-ins such as vanilla extract, chocolate chips, nuts and whatever you want!
How To Get The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Texture
Crispness is related to the amount of moisture in a cookie. The lower the amount of moisture, the more crisp the cookie will be.
Let’s look at some ways to reduce moisture:
- Amount of sugar in the recipe: Adding too little sugar will yield crispy cookies. Since sugar is hygroscopic and attracts water, by minimizing the quantity of sugar, there won’t be as much water absorption. Adding too much (white) sugar can also yield crisp cookies. Since there isn’t enough moisture in the dough for all the sugar to dissolve during mixing, it will take some heat for it to dissolve. The sugar will then attract water and turn into a syrup, thinning out the cookie. When the baked cookie is taken out of the oven, some of the sugar will slowly start to recrystallize and yield a crisp crust.
- Type of sugar: For crunchier cookies, use more white sugar than brown sugar.
- Size of the cookie: Smaller cookies dry out faster than bigger cookies at the same oven temperature. If you are making cookies that are larger or smaller than what the recipe calls for, you will need to adjust the baking time/temperature to get a similar result.
- Oven temperature: Baking a cookie at a lower temperature for longer will dry it out more.
- Baking soda: Try adding a little more baking soda. Baking soda dries out cookies by creating cracks in the cookie, through which moisture escapes.
- Storage conditions: Once the cookies have cooled down completely, store them in an airtight container. It’s best to place pieces of parchment paper between the cookies. Do not store crisp cookies with soft cookies. Crisp cookies will absorb moisture and soften with time. If they soften, you can try baking them at a low temperature (150°C/300°F) for a few minutes.
If you like your cookies on the softer side, there are several things you can do to achieve this:
- Replace some of the white sugar with brown sugar: The molasses in brown sugar (dark or light) attract and retain moisture really well, yielding a soft cookie. You could also include honey, molasses or corn syrup in the recipe for a softer texture.
- Use more fat: Adding more butter to a recipe can yield a more tender cookie. Be sure to chill the dough before using it though or the cookie might spread too much and dry out faster. Oil can keep a cookie softer for longer.
- Make larger cookies: Large cookies won’t dry as quickly as small cookies and will retain a moist center if baked for the right amount of time.
- Bake less: Take the cookies out of the oven a few minutes earlier if you want them to be softer. 1 to 2 minutes can make a big difference depending on the size of the cookie and the oven temperature. You can also increase the oven temperature to 190°C (374°F) instead of 180°C (356°F) for example and bake for even less time (around 9 minutes instead of 12 for example).
- Cover well before storing: If left exposed to the air for too long, soft cookies will start to dry out. Store them in an airtight container once they have completely cooled down. Some bakers recommend adding a piece of bread to keep them softer for longer.
Chewiness is related to the moisture content in a cookie. A higher moisture dough will yield chewier cookies. If you like chewy cookies, try the following tips:
- Use brown sugar: Brown sugar, or liquid sweeteners such as molasses, honey, corn syrup, attract water during and after baking, making a cookie chewier.
- Add egg yolks: Egg yolks contain fats which will make your cookies more tender and chewier.
- Make larger cookies: Larger cookies will bake more unevenly, resulting in crisp edges and a chewy center.
- Melt the butter instead of creaming it: Butter is composed of about 15% water. If you use melted (and cooled) butter, more gluten will form as the water in the butter is more readily available. Gluten makes cookies chewier. So the more gluten is formed, the chewier the cookie.
- Use a higher protein flour: For a chewier texture, you could use a combination of all-purpose flour and a higher protein flour. Too much gluten can make your cookies tough and dense however. Mixing for longer will also lead to more gluten formation.
- Bake less: A cookie that is slightly underbaked won’t dry out as much.
Cookie Spread: How To Get Thick Or Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies
How much cookies spread during baking will depend on several factors such as: the ingredients used, whether or not you chilled the dough, the oven temperature etc.
Let’s talk about some of the ways you can influence cookie spread so you can get what you deem is the perfect cookie!
The type and quantity of sugar used
Size of the sugar crystal
Sugar attracts water (hygroscopic), which means less water is available for the structure builders (flour). Finer sugar granules will dissolve and spread much easier in the dough than larger sugar granules, getting in the way of tougheners even more.
As a result, cookies made with white granulated sugar are more likely to spread (less gluten formed) than those made with demerara or turbinado sugars for example, which have large grains.
Powdered sugar, however, decreases spread as it contains cornstarch.
Quantity of sugar used
If you ever tried decreasing the sugar quantity in a recipe, you might have noticed that the cookie didn’t spread as much. This is once again related to the hygroscopic nature of sugar. Since there is less sugar in the dough, more water is available for the flour. More gluten can be formed leading to better cookie structure and a firmer shape.
Creaming the butter and sugar
How long you cream the butter and sugar will play a role in the thickness of your cookies and how much they spread in the oven. If you mix the butter and sugar for too long, you might end up with thin cookies for the following reasons:
- Too much air incorporated: The air will expand in the oven, causing the cookies to spread.
- Overheated dough: Overmixing the butter will soften it too much and the cookies won’t hold their shape as well in the oven. Keep this in mind if you are not planning on chilling the dough before baking the cookies.
Baking soda and/or baking powder leaven the cookie and increase spread.
A little bit of baking soda in a recipe raises the pH of the dough, delaying when the structure of the cookie sets. As a result, the cookies have more time to spread.
Temperature of the oven and the dough
Chilling the dough and shaping it into balls
Cookie dough that hasn’t been chilled will spread more than cold cookie dough. If you like thicker cookies, don’t skip the chilling step. Once the dough is cold, you can portion it and roll it into balls. The ball will slowly start to spread in the oven but the center is more likely to remain relatively puffy, yielding a thickish cookie.
Baking in a preheated oven
Baking cookies in a low oven temperature will lead to thin cookies since the outside of the cookie won’t set as quickly. To reduce spread, make sure the oven is properly hot before you place the cookies in.
Type of flour used
Chocolate chip cookie recipes generally call for all-purpose flour. Using flour with a lower protein content will increase cookie spread since less gluten will form.
Let’s quickly summarize all the points!
- Chill the dough then shape it into (tall) balls.
- Use sugar with a larger crystal size.
- Decrease the amount of sugar: Try using a little less sugar, if you think the cookie will be sweet enough for your taste.
- Avoid creaming/mixing for too long.
- Use less chemical leavening: Try decreasing the amount of baking soda for example by about 1 g (0.04 oz.).
- Make larger cookies: Large cookies won’t thin out as much as smaller cookies. But don’t skip the chilling step!
- Use a cold baking sheet: Don’t place the cookie dough balls on a hot baking sheet. If you are making several batches, wash the hot baking sheet with cold water and dry it before using it again.
- Add a little more flour: Or replace part of the flour with one that has a higher protein content.
- Increase the temperature by about 10°C (50°F). You can bake the cookies at 190°C (374°F) for example instead of 180°C (356°F). I wouldn’t recommend going higher than this so you don’t end up with burnt cookies!
- Use melted butter: By skipping the creaming step, you won’t incorporate as much air into the dough and the cookies will be flatter.
- Add a little bit of liquid: A runnier dough will spread more easily in the oven.
- Use finer sugar: Smaller sugar granules will dissolve more easily in the dough and reduce structure formation. Don’t use powdered sugar though as it contains cornstarch, which decreases spread.
- Use more sugar: Try adding a little more sugar if you think the cookies won’t end being cloyingly sweet.
- Make smaller cookies: Smaller cookies will bake faster. They will spread and dry out more than larger cookies.
- Add a little bit more baking soda: Baking soda weakens gluten. A weaker structure will lead to more cookie spread.
- Use flour with a lower protein content: The cookies will have less structure since less gluten can be formed.
- Bake at a lower temperature: The cookies will have more time to spread before the structure sets.
Now that we know how to get the texture we love, it’s time to make some cookies!
Making Chocolate Chip Cookies, Step-by-Step
- Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugars (white and brown) on medium-low speed until combined, about 2 minutes. You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. I mixed with a spatula and whisk in the pictures but I got quickly tired and wouldn’t recommend it!
- Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.
Run out: Don’t forget to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl occasionally so that all the ingredients are evenly combined. If you don’t, you might have cookies with run out. The butter-sugar mixture which wasn’t properly incorporated into the dough will melt and create a thin, irregular layer around the baked cookie.
- Beat in the egg, oil and vanilla extract (if using), mixing well between each addition.
- Add half of the flour mixture and mix briefly on low speed. I mix with a spatula a little before turning the mixer on so I don’t get flour everywhere!
- Add the remaining flour and mix again. Stop just before the flour has been fully incorporated, to avoid overmixing.
- Continue mixing with a spatula then fold in the chocolate chips/chunks. Don’t overmix or your cookies will be tough. Mix just until combined. Optional: Save a few chocolate chips so you can place them on top of the cookie balls just before baking them.
- Cover well and chill for at least 30 minutes (ideally 3 hours) and up to 2 days. The flavor and texture of the cookies will improve with chilling. If you bake the cookies straight away they might spread too much.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside while you shape the dough.
- Take the cookie dough out of the refrigerator. Using a tablespoon or an ice cream scoop, take out about 35 g (1.2 oz.) of dough and roll into a ball. If you find that the dough is too firm, let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before shaping it.
- Place the cookie dough balls on the baking sheet, spacing them about 7.5 cm (3 inches) apart. It’s best to stagger the cookies, to make sure they don’t stick to each other at all. I would recommend placing 3 cookies in the first and third row and 2 in the middle row, so 8 cookies in total. Optional: Press a few chocolate chips/chunks on top of the cookie balls before baking, if desired.
- Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven for about 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are set and lightly golden brown. The center of the cookie will still be quite soft. Don’t overbake them so they don’t end up dry. It’s best to bake one batch at a time, on the middle shelf of the oven.
- Let the cookies cool down a little on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. The cookies will be very soft and fragile when you take them out of the oven. They will firm up as they cool down.
And that’s it! I really hope you’ll manage to make what you consider the perfect chocolate chip cookies!
You Might Also Like
America’s Test Kitchen (2017). The perfect cookie: Your ultimate guide to foolproof cookies, brownies & bars. America’s Test Kitchen.
McGee, H. (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner.
Suas, M. (2008). Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach (1st ed.). Delmar Cengage Learning