Mistakes everyone makes when baking cookies

Whether you have a strong sweet tooth or not, I'd like to think there's a cookie out there to suit your palate. These handheld, portable treats are universally enjoyed by adults and children alike. I especially love the way they bring people together. From classic chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin to kicky gingersnap and sugary snickerdoodles, there's no shortage of cookie types to fit every kind of personality.

While cookies are indeed delightful to enjoy and share, they're not always as easy to make as you might think. The process requires a little more care than just mixing together ingredients and throwing a batch into the oven. Cookies are susceptible to a wide range of disasters — underbaking, burning, or spreading to name a few. Luckily, all of these issues are 100 percent avoidable! Below is a list of common cookie-baking mistakes that could occur — but probably won't if you know what to look for.

Underbeating the butter and sugar

We've all seen the phrase, "cream butter and sugar together" in recipes, but what does that actually mean, and more importantly, does it matter? As a voracious cookie maker and eater, I say absolutely! Whether you mix this base using a spatula or utilize the help of a stand mixer, let's be clear: you are not simply stirring the butter and sugar together. Creaming refers to a technique wherein you vigorously beat the two ingredients together until the mixture becomes lighter in color and fluffy in texture. Doing so naturally results in lighter, fluffier cookies as opposed to flat ones that cause despair. The creaming process should take about five minutes by machine and longer by hand.

Measuring the flour incorrectly

I'd venture to guess that about half of cookie baking fails (maybe all types of baking fails) are the result of incorrectly measuring the flour. While most home bakers use measuring cups for the job, flour is actually extremely challenging to measure by volume. Doing so often means ending up with too much flour content in your dough, rendering the baked cookies excessively doughy and out of proportion with the other ingredients. You might measure up to 2 ounces (or about ½ cup) more flour than you need because the flour gets packed in the cup when you scoop it from the bin. While the most precise way to measure flour is by weight using a scale, I understand that not everyone owns a food scale. If you don't, be sure to fluff your flour in the bin before measuring, then lightly spoon the flour into your measuring cup and scrape off any excess with the flat side of a knife so the top is leveled.

Using cold ingredients when you shouldn't

Oh, how many times I've used frigid butter to make cookies out of sheer impatience! When the recipe calls for "room temperature" or "softened" butter, take that seriously. Butter that's at the perfect temp is neither on the verge of melting nor is it firm to the touch. Overly warm butter melts immediately upon entering the oven, rendering your precious cookies flat and spread out. Adequately softened butter has some give but won't collapse when prodded. If a recipe calls for room temperature butter, eggs, or other dairy ingredients, exercise patience and wait until they get there. When combined at room temperature, these ingredients emulsify and trap air, which in turn leads to fluffy cookies and a happy you.

Not scraping the mixing bowl

The first thing I was given when I started my professional baking job years ago? A white plastic bowl scraper. Yep, it's crucial to scrape the bottom and the sides of your mixing bowl when you make cookies or anything else. Doing so prevents pockets of egg, sugar, and butter from forming throughout the dough, creating uneven cookies once they're baked. Your punishment for being too lazy to scrape? Some cookies will be atrociously flat, while others will be domed or otherwise ill-proportioned. While you don't want to overmix the dough and end up with dense cookies, be sure to mix until the dry ingredients are all incorporated, scraping the bowl often.

Forgetting to add the salt

Embrace a little bit of salt in your sweets, especially cookies. Salt has a magical way of enhancing the sweet sugar and vanilla flavors in cookies, making them sing. While most cookie recipes only call for ¼ to ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, that doesn't mean you shouldn't take extra care to add it. Neglecting it is akin to denying yourself the uniquely delicious subtlety that separates a mediocre cookie from a glorious one.

Not lining the baking sheet

When you're making pizza, you bake the pie directly on your baking sheet to ensure maximum heat contact. With cookies, it's imperative that you line the pan with either parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat. Doing so helps you to avoid the sad scenario of having to pry stuck cookies from the pan. Moreover, parchment paper leads to more evenly baked cookies and makes the cleanup process a cinch. Line, line, line.

Using a dark nonstick baking sheet

If you've ever baked a batch of cookies that appear perfect on the tops but are completely burnt on the bottoms, I feel you. Dark nonstick cookie sheets cause this excessive browning. To avoid this sorry fate, opt for a light-colored cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. If you only have darker baking sheets, use my favorite bakery trick: stack two pans and then line the top one. That extra layer between the cookies and the heat source helps to slow down the browning.

Not saving some mix-ins for the end

When you're baking cookies with add-ins such as chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, and the like, be sure to save a handful to fold into the dough at the end. Despite the best intentions, the last few cookies never seem to contain as many add-ins as earlier ones. At times I've ended up with one measly chocolate chip to a cookie. Grrr. Do yourself a favor and set aside some add-ins for those remaining balls of dough.

Overbaking cookies that are supposed to be chewy

Some cookies are meant to be crispy, and some are supposed to be chewy. Don't you just hate when those chewy snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin cookies, or gingerbread peeps end up overbaked despite your best efforts? If your heart is set on chewy cookies, do yourself a favor and underbake them. Remove them from the oven just as the edges begin to color and the centers still appear underdone. Leave them on the baking sheet to cool for 5-10 minutes before attempting to remove. The cookies will finish baking on the still-hot sheet and firm up.

Overcrowding cookies on the baking sheet

I'm here to warn you about the monstrous cookie blob. It's big, it's misshapen, and it's totally avoidable. Stagger your cookies on the baking sheet, leaving 1-2 inches between each, to prevent the cookies from spreading and baking into each other. While you may want to save some time by placing as many cookies as possible onto a single sheet, don't. After the first batch bakes, you'll get a sense of how much space is needed for the spreading.

Not baking cookies at the right temp

As a baker cursed with what might be the worst home oven (ever), I understand that baking the simplest things, ahem, cookies, can be difficult. I used to set my oven at 350 degrees, and my cookies turned out pale and flat. I turned the heat up to 375 degrees, and they became nearly burnt. Most home ovens are inaccurate and can be up to 20 degrees off the target despite what it tells you. Ugh. Liar, liar, pants on fire. The solution? Buy an inexpensive thermometer to hang off one of the racks in your oven. By doing so, you'll always know the real temperature before baking your cookies.

Not rotating the cookies during baking

Just as home oven temperature indicators are misleading, most oven temperatures vary from top to bottom and from side to side. So you want to rotate your cookie sheets halfway through to ensure an even bake. If I have two racks with two cookie sheets, I like to rotate them all the way around in addition to swapping their positions with each other.

Not cooling cookies on a wire rack

Since cookies usually don't take that long to bake, it's crucial that you remove them before they become overdone. Every minute counts a lot. That said, if you're doing laundry and leave the cookies in the oven a couple minutes too long, remove them as soon as you remember and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. By taking them off the hot pan, you effectively stop the cookies from continuing to bake outside the oven.

Using a still-hot baking sheet

If you only own one cookie sheet, it may be tempting to remove one batch of cookies from the sheet and immediately load a new batch onto it. Wait! If you add the cold dough onto the hot sheet, the butter will start to melt and lead to excessive spreading once the cookies are baked, rendering the edges overly crispy. Allow the sheet to cool before starting your second batch.

Not chilling certain types of cookie dough

Related to issues of spreading cookies, place the dough in the fridge to chill for about 15 minutes if you're working in a very hot kitchen or if the dough feels too soft to handle. By firming it up in the fridge, you prevent the butter from melting too quickly and causing the cookies to spread too much during baking.

Now think of all the cookies you can make with absolute confidence.