What's Wrong With My Cookies? A Troubleshooting Guide

Are your homemade cookies lacking in some way? Here's how to fix that.

overhead shot glass jar with chocolate chip cookies

Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura


More than anything during the holidays, I enjoy baking cookies, specifically chocolate chip cookies. It's something my mom and I do together to relax, to escape the pressures of shopping and entertaining.

But every now and then, our chatty nature gets the best of us and when we pull out a batch of cookies from the oven, we can't help but gasp. What's wrong with these cookies?

It happens to all of us. With bakers of all experience levels in mind, my mom and I decided to experiment. We intentionally mucked up the cookie dough in a few different ways to see what would happen and if we could fix the problem. First, we didn't add enough flour; then, we added too much flour; with the rest of the dough, we added a couple extra eggs. But before I go too far down that road, let me share the recipe.

We used a simple, standard Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which calls for:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

As the recipe requires, we mixed the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then combined them and added about one cup of semisweet chocolate chips. We baked on the second rack from the top at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes for all of the cookies.

Before we even put the cookies on the sheet, we could tell what was wrong. It's all in the mixer.

cookie dough issues

That's right—just by looking at the way your dough sticks to the mixer you can tell whether you have too much flour, not enough flour, or too many eggs. In this case you can counter the imbalance straight away, adding more wet ingredients or more flour until you get the consistency you want.

Even transferring the dough to the cookie sheet made the errors visible. Dough with not enough flour was sticky and hard to transfer. Dough that had too many eggs was runny and spread out on the pan. Dough with too much flour was like glue—we were able to roll into a ball and it stayed in exactly the same shape throughout its time in the oven.

As much as it pained us to move forward, we went ahead and baked the "problem cookies" to show what they look like when they come out of the oven.

Not Enough Flour

Flat and crispy problem cookies
Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

If your cookies are flat, brown, crispy, and possibly even a bit lacy around the edges, that means you need to add flour to your dough for the next batch. Our cookies were brittle and greasy and cooked much faster than the other dough balls on the sheet.

Though the culprit is usually a flour deficit, butter could also be to blame for this problem. Adding too soft or slightly melted butter to the dough can also result in flat cookies. Many bakers—my mom and myself included—heat the butter to soften it. Warming the butter too long in a microwave can cause it to start melting, so if you notice a little puddle around your sticks of butter, it's best to wait for it to cool off a bit. Avoid the microwave completely if possible by cutting butter into small pieces and letting them sit for 30 minutes. If you're in a rush, try grating cold butter with a cheese grater into the bowl. It softens quickly.

Scooping dough onto a warm pan can also cause the cookies to spread more; so for the second batch and beyond, my mom and I usually stick the dough in the fridge until it's time to load up the next cookie sheet.

The easy fix here is to add more flour to the dough, little by little, until it sticks well to the mixer.

Be sure you're using a thick, good quality baking sheet, too, as thin dark ones promote browning and will cause cookies to bake faster and burn more easily. Use parchment paper to avoid over-greasing the pan. If there's a surplus of cooking spray, it can cause cookies to spread too much.

Too Much Flour

biscuit cookies too much flour
Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

If your cookies come out looking more like biscuits, you've likely added too much flour. Our cookies didn't expand much from the rolled-up balls we put on the baking sheet. They also didn't brown as well as the other cookies. It doesn't take much—in this case, my mom and I added just 3/4 cup extra flour to the dough. The cookies tasted good, but were dry and definitely crumbly.

To make the cookies more tender, Betty Crocker suggests adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of softened butter, or 1/4 cup of sugar, to the batter.

Too Many Eggs

cookies with too many eggs / cake texture
Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura

If your cookies come out flat on top, with a cake-like texture, you've added too many eggs. In this case, my mom and I added two extra eggs. Adding extra eggs is not a common issue, but we were curious. The results looked presentable, though the chocolate chips were lost a bit in the dough. Biting into the cookie, however, we could tell a big difference. Yuck. They were gummy and lost much of their sweetness.

Saving cookies from too many eggs isn't as straightforward as saving it from too much or too little flour. It takes a little finagling. Add some flour and maybe a little bit more sugar.

What my mom and I ended up doing was going with the egg-induced texture to create something entirely different. We added more flour, more sugar, chopped nuts, and baked the dough in a greased 9"x12" pan. Voilà, blondies!

Finding Your Perfect Cookie

the perfect chocolate chip cookie overhead shot
Treehugger / Alexandra Cristina Nakamura 

I wouldn't dare presume to define the perfect cookie. It's different for every person. I personally like them the way my mom makes them, chewy in the middle and crispy on the edges, a little flat but not brittle. They hold up well when sealed in an airtight container and freeze beautifully. These are made by following the recipe above, only the butter is perhaps a little softer than called for.

Some folks want their cookies to be a bit fluffier, a tad taller. In that case, adding a sprinkling of extra flour and chilling the dough can help achieve that goal.

If you like chewy cookies, chill the dough before forming into balls and baking, them remove from oven just before they look completely done. (The tops should not be wet.) One person I know swears by sticking the entire baking sheet into the freezer immediately to stop any baking from residual pan heat, but you can also just transfer them to a wire rack to start cooling right away.

The Role of Each Ingredient

As a bonus, I did a little research to find out just what role each ingredient plays in chocolate chip cookies, so you can adjust your recipe however you feel like experimenting.

Flour adds fluff and texture to the cookies. Adding too little flour can cause cookies to be flat, greasy, and crispy. Most recipes assume you'll use all-purpose, but if you want a lighter, crumblier cookie texture, choose one with a lower protein content such as cake-and-pastry flour.

Baking soda helps cookies spread outward and upward while cooking. Adding too little can cause flat, lumpy cookies. Adding too much can lend a bitter taste to the cookies.

Salt enhances the flavors and balances the ingredients. Forgetting salt can result in overly sweet cookies. Adding too much salt can result in an awful taste.

Butter is an emulsifier and it makes cookies tender. It also adds in the crispy-around-the-edges element. Adding too much butter can cause the cookies to be flat and greasy. Adding too little butter can cause the cookies to be tough and crumbly. You should use unsalted butter to control the salt content, but if you only have salted on hand, reduce the amount of added salt accordingly.

Sugar sweetens the cookies and makes them an enticing golden brown. Adding too little sugar can affect the taste and texture of cookies. Adding too much can cause them to be brittle. Take your time creaming the sugar and butter together at the beginning. Many bakers underestimate the amount of time required to blend the two ingredients thoroughly, as this is rarely specified in a recipe, and it has a significant effect on the end result. Aim for 2 minutes to start.

Brown sugar adds a beautiful color as well as a more complex flavor. They'll also make cookies chewier, softer, and thicker than white sugar. Adding too much can result in dark brown cookies. Adding too little results in paler cookies.

Eggs bind the ingredients and make for moist, chewy cookies. Adding too many eggs can result in gummy, cake-like cookies. Adding too few eggs can result in dry, crumbly cookies. Beat each one in separately and thoroughly. If you run out of eggs while baking and find that you need more, you can add 1/4 cup vegetable oil for each egg required. Another vegan substitute is to mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed in 3 tbsp water and soak for five minutes until it thickens.

Chocolate chips are the star of the recipe. Adding too many can result in thin, overcooked cookies. Adding too few is just plain sad. Experiment with blending different kinds of chips for variety; butterscotch, salted caramel, white chocolate, and milk chocolate are always popular.

For an unexpectedly amusing video about the chemical reactions that take place during cookie baking, check out the TedEd video below on the chemistry of cookies.