Why are my cookies flat?

I used this recipeto bake cookies on three separate occasions. On the first occasion they turned out beautifully, chewy and firm without being hard, but the last two they turned out flat. The balls of dough would kind of ooze out in the oven and come out rather uninspiring.

I’m not quite sure what has gone wrong. I know that I pretty much melted the butter the first time around because at the time I didn’t have a mixer and trying to cream butter and sugar with a fork is difficult. (Can’t remember what I did the second time.) The third time around, I tried putting in more baking soda, but since then the Internet has informed me that probably worsened the problem. But I put in the normal amount the second time and they were still flat.

Is it possible my baking soda has gone bad?

Try putting the normal amount of baking soda into a small amount of very hot water to make a solution. Add it slowly to the mix, stirring small amounts in at a time. You may need to stir up the hot water between additions.
This will help distribute the baking soda more evenly.

I don’t know the answer, but I assure you it’s one my grandmother NEVER found.
I loved and adored her cookING, but her cookIES were just…dayummmm. FLAT! No matter what kind she made, they were FLAT! And very wide…

Try weighing the ingredients (especially the flour) instead of measuring it. Play with the weight until you get a batch that comes out like you want it to, then stick with that weight for all future batches. This also works for breads. Cookie dough also benefits from sitting in the refrigerator (covered) for a day or so. It helps the flour absorb the available moisture so you get those tiny little explosions when you bake the cookies.

Mix 1/2 tsp of the baking soda with a tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar. If it bubbles, the baking soda should still be usable.

Baking powder can lose potency with age, but baking soda generally doesn’t.

A couple of things can cause cookies to be flat. One is that they don’t rise - the leavening doesn’t work. The other is that they spread too much. The first problem (not rising) can be caused by the leavening agent (baking soda in this case) being poorly distributed. The recipe says to stir the baking soda into the flour using a spatula. This isn’t likely to work well - try strring vigrously with a wire whisk.

Eggs are also a leavening agent. The recipe doesn’t specify what size of egg to use. Most cookbooks tune their recipes for large eggs. Is it possible that you’ve used different-sized eggs on your different attempts?

I notice that the detailed instructions for the recipe say to chill the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking. This step is omitted from the summary at the end. This will definitely make a difference - unchilled dough will spread more.

Warm baking sheets can also cause cookies to spread too much. So can low-fat margarine (you wouldn’t use this in cookies, would you?).

God no, I use only butter. :smiley:

I guess I’ll test my baking soda and try to distribute it more evenly. It’s particularly frustrating because I DID get it right the first time and I have no idea what I’ve done differently since.

I suppose I could try using another egg. I’ve seen others suggest more flour as well.

Why does more baking soda result in flatter cookies though? It doesn’t make much sense in my head.

Melted butter versus cold or room-temperature butter makes a huge difference in the flat/fluffiness of the cookies. I don’t know the food science behind that, but it was one of the first things I learned when I was a wee goddess and figured I could make cookies faster if I just melted the butter instead of waiting for it to come to room temperature so I could cream it properly.

Check out the Good Eats section of the food network website (Or just google “good eats chips sister martha”) for recipes that include flat, crisp cookies, fluffy, cake-like cookies, and chewy cookies. The episode may be viewable online, and in it he explains the science behind each type.

Dangit, now I want cookies.

Definitely chill the dough well before baking; that will retard a lot of the spreading.

Re: dough chilling. One thing that will help here is if you form the cookies prior to chilling. This is an old trick for spritz cookies that helps them retain their pressed shapes. Also, a chilled ball of dough can be a bitch to work with.

I would recommend chilling the dough and then making it into balls, then freezing the balls for about 30 minutes before baking. It helps them keep their shape.

Another idea is to substitute shortening (e.g. Crisco) for some or all of the butter. It has less flavor than butter, though. You might try using butter-flavored shortening.

As **robby **said, try substituting Crisco for the butter.

Chocolate chip cookies made with butter = flat and scorched.

Chocolate chip cookies made with shortening = chunky and golden.

I’d vote on the baking soda being too old. It does have an expiration date.

I recently made oatmeal cookies with the recipe on the Quaker Oats box. I didn’t have baking soda so I used baking powder instead. It was dated 2002 but they still came out alright. It was the first time I ever used organic butter for cookies. Always used Crisco before (as did my mother) but I saw a Dr. Oz on TV talking about transfats… Yeah, butter is still a fat but IMHO it’s more natural than manufactured. Anyway, the cookies came out great–crispy (just the way I like them) and not flat.

P.S. I :heart: the Pioneer Woman…

Last time I had this trouble, it was a bad batch of baking powder to blame. If there’s none in your recipe…I got no help. :wink:

Did you use brown sugar? Baking soda needs an acid to react with in order to leaven. Brown sugar is slightly acidic. Regular sugar, as far as I know, is not. So if your sugar isn’t providing enough acid, you might want to add some cream of tartar or baking powder to help it leaven. Also, the points about the butter are correct. You don’t want the butter to melt when you’re creaming it. Creaming the butter creates tiny air bubbles, too. If it melts, you lose these. Baking soda itself should not go bad or lose potency.

Another option that may seem ridiculous, but… all butter is not created equal. Did you change brands of butter between your first batch and the later ones?

My vote is on the cookie dough for the flat batches being under-chilled. The longer you chill the dough, the fluffier the cookies… some of the more hardcore chefs will apparently chill their cookie dough for days to get maximum lift.

I remember seeing a photo at one point that compare the cookie height based on different refrigeration times, ranging from none to 5 days, but I can’t seem to find it. :frowning: It must have been in a magazine rather than online. The point is, the stack of cookies baked right away was really short because the cookies were flat, while the five-day stack was nearly triple the height.

(I did find this awesome NYT article on all the tricks the pros use for making their ultimate chocolate chip cookies, though… the recipe in that article is from Jacques Torres, who waits 3 days to bake his dough)

Some of this has been covered before, but…

Make sure the butter is room temperature before creaming, and don’t heat it up in the microwave.

Make sure your leavening is still good, as the above suggestions. You *might *want to try using baking powder instead of baking soda, but I make no promises, that is a significant alteration.

Make sure everything is thoroughly mixed.

On the other hand, don’t over mix the dough. You want to mix it just enough to get the job done and no more.

Chill dough thoroughly prior to cooking.