What's Wrong With My Cookies? A Troubleshooting Guide

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 and crispy, 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 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. 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.

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 in a greased 9x12 pan. Voila! 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.

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.

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.

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.

Brown sugar adds a beautiful color as well as a more complex flavor. 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. 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.

Chocolate chips are the star of the recipe. Adding too many can result in thin, overcooked cookies. Adding too few is just plain sad.

Blogger and cookbook author Tessa Arias conducted an even more detailed study in her journey to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie. See her cookie comparisons and the winning adjusted recipe on her blog Handle the Heat. And 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.