So you’ve been searching for the perfect sugar cookie recipe and finally found it. You invited your friends over for a movie night only to feel disappointed after taking the cookies out of the oven.
You mixed the dough, chilled it, and did everything right, but still, the cookies looked nothing like pictures. What went wrong?
Well, sugar cookies can be finicky, and it’s difficult to make perfect cookies from the first time.
Not to worry! I’m here to help.
In this guide, I’ll delve into some of the most common sugar cookie problems. I’ll share some sugar cookie troubleshooting tips so that your next batch comes out perfect.
Sugar cookies can be hard to bake correctly – what with all the processes involved, including mixing, cooling, baking, and chilling.
No matter which sugar cookie recipe you follow, some mistakes are difficult to avoid. Here are the most common sugar cookie problems:
- Crumbly cookies
- Sugar sprinkles not sticking to the dough
Luckily, all these problems can be easily solved if you follow the tips and tricks below!
Not chilling the dough properly is one of the most common sugar cookie problems. It’s an essential step as it helps solidify the fats in the dough so the cookies hold their shape better when baked.
However, many bakers skip this step when they realize they don’t have enough time to chill the dough properly. This is a huge mistake that makes the dough too hard to spread.
If you want to reduce the chill time in your recipe, you can freeze the dough instead of cooling it in the refrigerator.
After mixing the dough properly, scope it into balls and let it freeze for around 15 minutes. Then, take the dough out of the freezer, roll the cookies out, and bake them according to your recipe.
This can significantly cut down the recommended chill time from one or two hours to only 15 minutes.
Adding sugar sprinkles is an easy way to decorate your sugar cookies and add more flavor. However, they come with their downsides, as they usually don’t stick well.
Sometimes, you even end up with more sugar on the baking sheet than on the cookies themselves.
The key to sticking sugar to sugar cookies is to apply sugar sprinkles before baking. The dough should be slightly tacky for the sprinkles to stick well.
There are a few ways to go about this, but the most popular one is to brush the tops of your cookies with milk, water, or a beaten egg to dampen the dough slightly.
This not only allows the sugar sprinkles to stick better but also preserves the appearance of your cookies so that they don’t change after baking.
Another helpful tip is to use a folded paper and channel the sugar sprinkles through it rather than spreading them with your hand. This reduces the mess and waste associated with applying sprinkles with your hand.
After adding the decorations, press down gently but firmly with your finger to embed the sugar sprinkles. Remember not to press too hard that you squish the dough out of shape.
You might only need to press harder if you’re using large nonpareils, as they need to be anchored into the dough so they don’t fall off during baking.
If your sugar cookies fall apart when you try to move them from the baking sheet, don’t worry!
Sugar cookies fall apart for various reasons, including:
If your sugar cookies are crumbly, you probably have been too generous with the flour. Flour absorbs moisture, so when adding excess flour, cookies become dry and crumbly instead of soft and damp.
Baking is an art of precision; you should be as accurate as possible when measuring your ingredients. If you’re sure you’ve added the right amounts of ingredients but still have crumbly cookies, then it’s probably a measuring problem.
It would be best to avoid scooping the flour directly with a measuring cup as it’s inaccurate. Using a digital scale to measure the weight instead of volume is your best bet.
If that’s unavailable, opt for the spoon and level method to measure flour and other ingredients.
Ingredients like fat, butter, and shortening are essential to preserve softness and yield tender cookies. They moist the dough and allow the ingredients to firmly bind together.
If you don’t use the correct amount of fat, your cookies will likely fall apart. So make sure you measure the fat ingredients correctly and that the ingredients are at room temperature before mixing.
Mixing is a crucial part of baking, and beginners usually under or overmix their dough.
Undermixing often yields crumbly cookies as the ingredients don’t blend well together.
On the other hand, if you overmix your cookie dough, it develops more gluten and starch, which yields hard cookies.
To avoid these problems, you should mix the ingredients only until the ingredients come together. Avoid mixing too long, and follow your recipe for the proper mixing techniques.
Notice the difference between stirring, beating, and mixing too. Different ingredients may demand specific blending techniques, so using the right method is crucial.
If you bake your cookies at a higher temperature or for too long, they can easily become dry and crumbly. The general rule of thumb is to leave your cookies in the oven until the edges develop a golden hue.
This usually takes anywhere between 9 to 10 minutes, depending on the temperature, oven type, and other factors.
To ensure you don’t over bake your cookies, precisely follow the recommended baking time and temperature in your recipe. You can also check out the cookies periodically during baking to see the color of the edges.
Cookies not keeping their shape after baking is a common issue that faces everyone, even experienced bakers.
No matter which recipe you use, there’s always a chance your cookies spread and lose detail.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks to help preserve the shape of your cookies and prevent them from spreading.
Different cookie recipes often recommend various temperatures. Moreover, every oven is different, so you might find it challenging to adjust the right temperature to bake cookies properly.
For example, if your oven isn’t hot enough, the cookies won’t set properly and will have more time to spread and lose shape. The same issue happens when you don’t let your dough chill before the baking step, causing the fat to melt quickly and cookies not keeping shape.
I strongly suggest you use an oven-safe thermometer to make sure you’re baking your cookies at the right temperature.
Also, remember that opening your oven too many times to check on the cookies during baking leads to heat loss and spreading cookies. So don’t overdo it.
If this doesn’t solve your problem, you can try to elevate the temperature of your oven to around 10 degrees more than the recommended temperature in your recipe. You might need to adjust different temperatures until you figure out the right one because every oven is different.
As I mentioned, your dough should be cool enough before you put it in the oven. You don’t want anything to soften the dough prematurely.
Butter is one crucial ingredient when it comes to softness. When you cream the butter to mix it with other ingredients, you need it to be softened but not melted.
Melted butter incorporates too much air into the dough, resulting in the spreading of cookies.
I know that overcrowding your baking sheets may significantly cut down the overall baking time. But trust me, it’s never the right approach.
When you overcrowd the baking sheets, cookies compete for space, spread, and lose shape.
That’s why you should place the cookies one or two inches apart so that the heat can circulate evenly around them.
You might be tempted to use your brand-new baking sheets for holiday baking. They’re nice and shiny, and you think they’ll yield perfect cookies.
Surprisingly, though, new sheets don’t heat up quickly as they reflect a lot of heat. Additionally, they’re usually slippery, resulting in out-of-shape cookies.
Thick baking sheets typically do a better job of preserving the shape of your cookies. On top of that, you can line your baking sheets with parchment or silpat to create a surface for your cookies to cling to.
Generally speaking, cookies develop bubbles when they spread. So if your cookies have bubbles, you’re probably not baking at the right temperature, undermixing your dough, or overcrowding the baking sheets.
Undermixing butter is the most common cause of bubbles, as unincorporated butter can easily create steam and bubbles. You should always mix your dough until the blobs of butter disappear, but not any longer than that to avoid having hard cookies.
Most sugar cookie recipes recommend baking the cookies until a light brown color develops at the bottom. The edges should be slightly firm, and the center may still be a bit undone but don’t worry; cookies continue to cook for a few minutes before they cool down.
If you take the cookies out of the oven just before the outside starts to brown and the edges show no resistance, you’ll get soft and chewy cookies.
If you wait for the edges to become slightly golden, your cookies will have crispy edges and a soft center. If you bake the cookies until their whole outside turns golden brown, you’ll end up with crunchy cookies.
Now you have all the tips and tricks to end all your sugar cookie woes and end up with a perfect melt-in-your-hands batch!
You’ve learned to chill the dough, stick sugar sprinkles, and prevent hollow and crumbly cookies.
So grab your baking tools, follow our tips, and you’ll make Instagram-worthy sugar cookies at a glance!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.