Why do my cookies fall flat and not cook on the bottom?

Tom Smilack
  • Why do my cookies fall flat and not cook on the bottom? Tom Smilack

    I'm fairly new to baking, but I've been attempting to make cookies lately. They taste good, but come out looking like this:

    sheet of cookies just out of the oven

    The bottom looks like this:

    bottom of a cookie without any crust

    They spread out a lot in the oven (they went in as balls ~1 inch diameter and came out as flat disks ~4 or more inches across) and don't really have a crust on the bottom. I used these ingredients:

    1 stick butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1 egg
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    1/2 cup pumpkin puree
    1 1/2 cups flour
    1 tsp baking soda
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    ~1/2 - 1 cup milk chocolate chips
    

    To cream the butter with the white sugar I let it sit for about half an hour, cut it into small chunks, let it sit a little longer, and then alternated beating them with a fork and a hand mixer with beater attachments. I'm looking into getting a stand mixer. The dough for the pictured batch was chilled in the fridge overnight.

    How can I keep them from spreading out so much and develop a crust on the bottom?

    Edit: I baked them at 350F, fully preheated, for around 15 minutes on a bare cookie sheet. I peeked after about 8 minutes and then probably two more times after that before I took them out.

  • Welcome to Seasoned Advice first I will point you to an article in our blog Silpat, Parchment Paper or Plain Baking Sheet. @KatieK contrasts these cooking surfaces.Look at the instructions for time and temp. Are you thoroughly Preheating? You pictures indicate that you are using parchment, but you don't mention time/temp.

    My first inclination based on what I see is that you are baking them too long at too low a temp, and not fully preheating. If you raise the temp and shorten the time the cookie will not spread as far. With 'scoop' cookies you expect the dough to spread some, but you are getting too much spread. The higher temperature will cause the cookie to form a solid (ok, solidish, it should be soft but 'strong enough' to hold form) This will also give you better "bottoms" as they will bake faster as well.

    Another thing you might be doing is opening the oven door too often, this releases a lot more heat than you think, extending the correct baking time and slowing the process. I know it is sometimes hard to resist peeking, try to not open the door till you are at least 75% through the projected time.

  • If you want non-spreading cookies, you chose the wrong recipe.

    • use a shortening-based recipe. Shortening has very different melting qualities from butter. It stays solid for longer.
    • Use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour, it soaks up a bit more liquid so it helps reducing spread.
    • you also need a more acidic dough against spread, says Corriher (sadly, she doesn't explain why). Use a baking powder-based recipe, not baking soda.
    • With that pumpkin puree, you can also slightly increase the flour amount while keeping the rest the same.
    • chill not just the dough in a bowl, chill the baking sheet with the cookies on it. They get a bit warmer during portioning at room temperature.

    These changes will change the taste of your recipe. Baking powder will remove the typical soda-taste, and butter tastes much better than shortening. You can try it and decide if shape is that important for you, as I would always prefer butter-tasting cookies over good-looking shortening cookies. You can also try to do a compromise and mix butter and shortening in equal amounts, which will give you some reduction in spread and some butter taste.

    Temperature control is important too, but Cos Callis already covered the main points.

  • Those pictures suggest two things to me:

    1. Butter too warm. The point of letting your butter sit on the counter is to let it warm up to room temperature. But if the room is too warm, then the butter gets too melty. Aim for about 65 degrees F, a somewhat cooler room temperature. (FWIW, I never bother to cut butter into cubes for cookies - the stand mixer handles that for me.)

    2. Too much wet stuff. Try without the pumpkin puree just to see the structure of these cookies "plain". Half a cup is an awful lot of liquid for a batch of cookies.

  • To all the excellent advice already given, the best of which is that your dough is too wet, here are a couple more things to consider:

    Just because the oven knob says 350 doesn't mean that's the temperature. Actually, that was my first clue my oven was broken - my cookies spread too much and didn't brown on the bottom. If you haven't done this already, use an oven thermometer to confirm it is heating to the correct temperature.

    Your cookie sheet will affect outcome - I wanted to love my new Airbake sheets with their layer of air, but they did not allow my cookies to get a good bottom crust so I gave them away and went back to my old single-layer steel or aluminum pans.

    I always make a test batch of a couple of cookies. Based on your photo, I would have added more flour then run another test batch.

    Lastly, following a recipe exactly, especially when you're a novice, is usually your best bet. Yes, there are occasional mistakes or bad recipes but arbitrarily using off-recipe ingredients or making alterations will more likely waste your ingredients (and who wants to throw away expensive and tasty stuff like chocalate chips?)

    Best of luck with your baking - the world needs more cookies!

  • Are you at sea level?

    Try cutting both of the sugars a bit (maybe by 1tsp each) and raising the temperature by 25 deg F. If the cookies are too dry after doing that, try adding an extra egg yolk.

    Source: Cook's Illustrated

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