Back to basics: the mother cookie

basic drop cookies

What’s the most clicked-on cookie recipe on this Web site? Is it Fudge Drops, whose accompanying blog generated over 100 comments? Our version of the New York Times best Chocolate Chip Cookies? Maybe my personal favorite: Kids’ Choice Chip & Nut Oatmeal Cookies. Or the ones with the best name: Faux-Reos.

Nope, nope, and nope again. The most clicked on cookie recipe at kingarthurflour.com is (drum roll, please):

Basic Drop Cookies.

Whaaaa??? With Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Biscotti, Raspberry Lemonade Squares, and Famous Department Store Chocolate Chip Cookies out there vying for the top, how could this be? I mean, there are over 100 cookie recipes online here, with another 50+ recipes for brownies and bars, and the single most compelling one is Basic Drop Cookies?

I’m struggling to know what to make of this. Back to basics? Comfort food? Newbie cookie bakers looking for somewhere safe to start?

It could just be the power of simplicity.  How many times have I looked for a “plain” pancake recipe, or simply directions for how to boil rice? Plain pancakes can become blueberry, or chocolate chip; rice turns into biryani and paella. But you DO need a starting place.

And that’s exactly what Basic Drop Cookies are. A place to begin. Cookie Chemistry 101.

And in making this recipe, I discovered some interesting things. The original version called for butter or shortening, plus the addition of milk. I know many of you avoid shortening, and very seldom do I see milk in cookies. So I set up some experiments.

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First, butter vs. shortening. I expected the butter-based cookies (at left, above) would spread more, and they did, marginally; butter has a lower melting point than shortening. But what I didn’t expect was the pronounced difference in taste. The butter-based cookies had a much richer, deeper flavor. So taste-wise, butter is definitely better.

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Next, I tested both shortening and butter cookies made with milk, or without milk.

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Here are the butter cookies, with (left) and without (right). Milk definitely made them spread more. Again, this makes sense—more liquid, more spread. “So OK, ditch the milk,” I thought.

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Ah, but then I started adding stuff to these Basic Drop Cookies. Like, chocolate chunks and pecans and dried cranberries. And with add-ins, milk makes a positive difference—if you prefer your cookies flat, rather than mounded, as I do. The cookie on the left (above) didn’t have milk in the batter; the cookie on the right did.

My conclusion? Make cookies with butter; and add milk if you’re using extra goodies in the dough, leaving the milk out if you’ll be serving them au jus.

Who knew, after all these years in the test kitchen, I still had a lot to learn about cookies?

P.S. You’re dying to know, right?  First runner-up in the Most Clicked On Pageant: Very Lemon Cookies. Second runner-up:  “Chinese” Cookies. Fodder for future blogs, for sure.

Want to read the recipe as you follow these pictures? Here it is: Basic Drop Cookies.

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Basic drop cookies start with the basic: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla.

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Beat till everything is mixed.

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Then beat some more, till the mixture is fairly smooth; a few lumps are OK.

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Add 1 egg…

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…and beat some more. This isn’t sufficient; see the egg still showing in the batter?

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Beat till the egg disappears, then scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. This gathers into the center anything that’s stuck around the edges.

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Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

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Beat some more. Again, this isn’t sufficient.

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Scrape the bowl…

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…beat some more…

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…and continue until all evidence of unincorporated flour has disappeared.

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Now, if you’re making Basic Drop Cookies without add-ins, just go ahead and drop the dough onto baking sheets. If you’re going to add chips, nuts, ad/or dried fruit, add the milk.

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Beat till combined; you’ll notice the dough is softer.

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Add your favorites—I like BIG, assertive stuff, like whole pecan halves, dried cranberries, and chocolate chunks.

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Mix to combine.

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Next, scoop the stiff dough onto parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheets. I always use half-sheet parchment on an 18” x 13” half-sheet pan. I reuse the parchment again and again, and never have to wash the pan. Saves time in a busy kitchen. Also, I use a cookie scoop—in this case, a tablespoon scoop, as I was in a hurry, and didn’t particularly care what size the cookies turned out—which was about 2 1/2”. But I often use a teaspoon scoop, as it makes a diet- and appetite-friendly 2” cookie.

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If you stagger the balls of dough, you can get 15 on a sheet without them spreading and running into each other.

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Bake the cookies. See? Perfectly spaced.

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And ready to enjoy.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Basic Drop Cookies.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Nabisco Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies, 42¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS:  Enriched Flour, Soybean and/or Palm Oil, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Corn Flour, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor.

Bake at home: Basic Drop Cookies, 11¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. hsilver

    Great blog, PJ. I love the taste of your cookies, but am always disappointed when they are flat. I’m a “puffy cookie” kind of girl. Now I know what to do to make them perfect. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  2. Mike T.

    Mmmm, I love a good starting point. Have you tried adding oatmeal and cranberries… Oooh… Where’s my glass of milk… ;-)

    I have a friend that is just starting to learn to bake and I think that I’ll have her try these this weekend…

    Reply
  3. Cindy

    What would happen if you used Smart Balance baking sticks? And if you used white whole wheat flour?

    White whole wheat would be fine, Cindy. I believe Smart Balance would probably make them spread more (doesn’t Smart Balance have water in it?), and they wouldn’t taste very buttery. Give it a try, let us know – PJH

    Reply
  4. deede

    Milk instead of water–who would’ve thunk it! Great post, but it raises a question:
    In past baking, I have also been hesitant to use butter because it makes the cookies spread. So, I have used half butter and half shortening. Have you ever tried this? If so, what was the result? I like the butter flavor, but want to keep the spreading to a minimum. Thanks so much!

    This works – you just lose some of the flavor, trading it for less spread. Always a balancing act… PJH

    Reply
  5. Cindy

    Whoops… the linked recipe says exactly the opposite about milk. It says to add milk to the “au jus,” and leave it out for the “add-ons” version. Does the recipe need an edit? Thanks for catching that for us. We’ll get that corrected. Mary @ KAF

    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Jackie

    Figures that I just baked cookies before reading this post.

    I just bought these parchment sheets. How do you reuse them? Does it matter if they discolor? How do you wipe them clean- dry or with water. Do you store them separately from your unused sheets? I wipe them off with a damp cloth. Let them air dry. Then rol them up and put in the tube. They used to come in heavy tubes, I kept an old tube and keep my used ones in that, for when I don’t need a new one. Once they start discoloring I find they scorch pretty quickly. Mary @ KAF

    I actually just shake the crumbs off and leave them sitting right in my half-sheet pans. No washing, no putting away. I use them till they’re getting charred, and/or are just totally messed up with melted chocolate, etc. PJH

    Reply
  7. Bridgett

    I started reading this blog when the chocolate chip cookies was the post. And I must agree that the little bit of salt on top (as suggested) makes this my favorite Chocolate Chip cookie and I am sad that it didn’t make the list. Poor thing!
    Interesting point on the milk. I wish I had your job- experimenting with cookie baking all day. That’s the life! Being right next to the test kitchen isn’t too shabby either! Some days there are 6 pans of brownies lined up awaiting our tests and comments- which one do you like better? Why? It’s a tough life…….Mary @ KAF

    Reply
  8. Chuck

    Thanks for the information about puffy and flat. I think cranberries would be great. Would not Oatmeal, need slightly more liquid in the form of butter or sugar or a combination of both? Help! If I were adding oatmeal, I might increase the milk slightly, maybe by a teaspoon or 2. mary@ KAF

    Reply
  9. tami

    i love your blog, i am always surprised that MORe people don’t know about it, i am spreading the word. there are a lot of food blogs out there. Thanks we appreciate that! Mary @KAF

    Reply
  10. Nancy

    Thanks for a great post. It’s great to read about what works and why in baking. I’m a much better cook than a baker, so I appreciate reading about how ingredients work and how they influence a recipe.

    Reply
  11. Kathleen

    These look absolutely delicious, to bad we can’t reach through the monitor and grab a couple. I am sure that I will be making these soon. Your blogs and pictures are so helpful. I have been baking for over fifty years and only made by first loaf of bread Tuesday and than yesterday I made my second loaf. They both came out perfect because of this blog, your recipes, tools and above average ingredients. No more store bought bread for us. My mother did not teach us to cook, we weren’t aloud to bother her when she was cooking and the only thing she taught me to make were cookies to send to my older brother who was in the Air Force at the time, so I had to depend on cookbooks and friends to learn. I only discovered King Arthur the end of December and you have a new customer for life. Thank you all so very much!

    YAY Kathleen! Thanks for the kind words, and BAKE ON. PJH

    Reply
  12. Angelina

    Hi PJ, another interesting blog to read. Thanks for doing the experiment. So are the cookies (with add-ons) on the chewy side???

    No, Angelina, they’re on the crunchy side, actually – a bit of chew in the very center, but pretty crunchy overall. PJH

    Reply
  13. Sherry

    PJ:

    If the dough was chilled before baking, wouldn’t that keep the butter based cookies from spreading so much? It seems to work well for me, as I always use butter in cookies. Thanks, Sherry

    Yes, Sherry, you could try this – there’ll come a point when they may suddenly spread, but go ahead. OR just leave out the milk, as indicated… PJH

    Reply
  14. Anna

    Oooo, a delicious classic. I don’t think I’ve ever met a KA cookie recipe (or any KA recipe for that matter) that I didn’t like. I just started my own blog called Blue Plate Special that will focus on food and fitness from the college student’s perspective, so don’t be surprised if some of your recipes surface in my baking endeavors. I’ll be sure to give KA a shout-out!

    If I recall from an older post about pound cake, you hail from Hingham? So do I! It’s a lovely town.

    Hey, good luck with the new blog, Anna – I’ll check it out. And link-backs are always welcome!

    Yes, I graduated from HHS in 1971, WAAYYYY before your time, I’m sure. Lived on Crow Point, back when it was the “Irish ghetto,” in one of those big ol’ summer houses overlooking the harbor, just up from the yacht club. Lovely place. We still moor our boat in Hull… PJH

    Reply
  15. Frank

    Thanks for doing the experimenting for us PJ!

    I noticed that the recipe calls for one egg but the blog shows 2 – did you make a double batch? (Doesn’t look like it as there was only one stick of butter…)

    I did my own cookie experiment last night, based on your suggestions to use parchment paper to bake just about everything. I’ve been baking my favorite chocolate chip cookies for years on standard dark cookie sheets. They are all butter, no shortening.
    - The half sheet/parchment cookies spread much more than the dark cookie sheet batch and did not brown much on the bottom.
    - The dark cookie sheets absorb more radiant heat in the oven and cook the bottoms of the cookies faster, limiting the spread. This also results in crispy edges/bottoms, chewy centers, a “taller” cookie (my preference) with limited spread in an all-butter cookie. There may be slightly more cleanup involved, but good non-stick cookie sheets result in almost no residue.

    Sharp eyes, Frank – the recipe is correct. I do the blog pictures over the course of many experiments, so sometimes an earlier version slips in…

    And thanks for the info. about parchment and dark cookie sheets and spread! Great experiment. I’m going to keep tha tin mind. I prefer flatter, more “spready” cookies, so I guess I prefer parchment. But Halley, our Web projects director, likes taler cookies. I’ll have to let her know about this- PJH

    Reply
  16. DJ

    Since I am a little sensitive to sugar, I would like to bake these cookies with half the sugar specified. Would I need to make other modifications to compensate for the less sugar?
    This is the perfect question to ask one of our Bakers (800-827-6836) or through our On-line Chat that can be accessed through our website. I’ve looked for substitutions for sugar and find some recipes include some honey or liquid sugar (not possible for many cookie recipes) and one even suggested adding instant pudding mix (more sugar in a different form?). Chat with a Baker as suggested above if you’d like to continue with this quest. Irene at KAF

    Reply
  17. Stacie

    Thanks for the great post. I have been “playing” with cookie ingredients for some time – it is nice to know I was getting it right. Having kids with food allergies I have had to learn to bake without eggs and cows milk. I would love to see more posts like this – only perhaps try to leave out some of the highly allergic items from your basic recipes. Thanks!

    It’s great that our customer/bakers can have a place to share their recipe adjustments to meet family health needs. This information is helpful to all bakers! Irene at KAF

    Reply
  18. Carson

    I’ve struggled making cookies–too soft, too dry, too sweet…..Just about gave up. But your recipe came to the rescue and have rekindled my desire to bake cookies for my family. Your research is also great–keep it coming!

    Reply
  19. Elizabeth

    I noticed there is no creaming of butter/sugar sooooo can I use the food processor for mixing ?

    Thanks, love your blog…..

    Elizabeth

    Sure, Elizabeth – go for it. Should be fine – PJH

    Reply
  20. Bonnie Franciosi

    I love to bake and have experimented with baking recipes. If you want more of a chewy cookie rather than a crunchy one, there are several things you can do. In general, butter makes a cookie harder than shortening, but of course there is a great loss of flavor. If cookies call for 1 egg, use 2 yolks instead. If it calls for 2 eggs, use four yolks or 1 egg and 2 yolks. The lecithin and fat in yolks soften cookies, where as the protein in the whites creates crunch. If the above solutions aren’t appealing, try cream of tartar. I would start with 1/4 teaspoons in the recipe and see what happens. If not soft enough, try 1/2 teaspoon. Personally, I like chewy cookies. These tips have worked for me. Let me know if they work for you. Thanks.

    All good suggestions, Bonnie, thanks. I love how much this community, as a group, is able to help one another… I’m always learning something new! PJH

    Reply
  21. Anita

    That was a very interesting post. One of the last comments asked if the cookies were chewy and you said not.

    Would the shortening make it chewy?

    I love making cookies but my husband only likes them fresh from the oven. I discovered if I made the entire batch then formed and froze them, he could take 6 out when needed and bake them in a small oven. This way they were freshly baked whenever he wanted them, and neither of us would over eat.

    Always a good idea, Anita, to freeze dough, and bake as needed. You can even do this in a toaster oven. Shortening won’t make cookies chewy, no. You could try simply baking for a shorter amount of time – thats usually a good trick. Bake ONE test cookie first, let it cool, and see if it’s the chewiness you like. Other than that, you can try subbing some corn syrup for some of the sugar – couple of tablespoons, maybe? Or honey, or molasses, or maple syrup… Have fun! PJH

    Reply
  22. Candace

    Hi PJ. I am a constant reader of your blog and a constant baker, but right now am confined away from my kitchen due to foot surgery. So I am baking vicariously! I have 4 Silpat baking mats and use them on my half sheets. Do they have any influence on the way cookies spread or brown? I noticed that some of the many kinds of cookies I made at Christmas didn’t “behave” as they had in the past. Thanks! Oh – I’ve been using The mats for years so maybe it’s other factors or do the mats age?

    Hi Candace – I’ve found the cookies on silpat mats don’t get quite as much heat on their bottoms, so they bronw less, and spread less. Frankly, I don’t like to use silpats for cookies – I prefer parchment… But if you’ve been using them for years, they must work OK for you, huh? I don’t believe their behavior changes with age… PJH

    Reply
  23. Nicole

    just wonderful to learn the extra and special lessons about adding milk or not; can I use canola oil in lieu of butter and if I do do you know what will happen to the cookie

    thanks so very much in advance
    Nicole

    http://www.recipecarousel.com

    Haven’t tried canola oil, Nicole. Beware, some folks don’t like the flavor of canola when it’s baked – it’s kind of “off.” I’m assuming the cookies will spread more, but beyond that – not sure. Give it a try, let us know – PJH

    Reply
  24. Lee

    Faux-reos – love the name. I have been searching for a way to make the filling without shortening at all. Can you do these cookies next? I’d like to see experiments with butter and coconut oil maybe?

    Lee, considering the availability of trans-fat free shortening, I’m wondering why you don’t like to use it? At any rate, I’d just go ahead and substitute butter – slightly different flavor, slightly softer/less stable, but should be fine. PJH

    Reply
  25. jacquie

    i like to bake w/ whole wheat flour. how do you think these cookies would do with all or part of the white flour replaced by the whole wheat?
    or the white whole wheat. is there a rule of thumb to use when making
    that subsition? i would think it might not be a 1:1 switch.

    Jacquie, read the baker’s tip on the right-hand side of the recipe – it suggests a whole wheat substitution. You could definitely make these qith 100% white whole wheat; I think 100% traditional whole wheat would be a bit of a taste challenge… PJH

    Reply
  26. cindy leigh

    These look so good!
    I like cookies that we used to get from a bakery. The sugar cookies were not chewy. They had the texture of shortbread, but had “crackles” on top sort of similar to the cookies on the right in your first photo. (they had other varieties too, chocolate chip, etc, and they all had that shortbread texture)
    Does this recipe replicate that? If not, any ideas?
    Thanks!

    Cindy, go ahead and try these, then let me know if it replicates your memories – that’s part of the adventure, seeing how close you can come to those sweet memories… PJH

    Reply
  27. AJ

    Hi! Since I am essentially one-handed I use butter and oleo
    or preformed blocks of shortening. I usually get the butter flavored shortening and most times it works well to replace
    a butter/shortening mix. I also make sure that any oleo I
    buy has NO water in it…my kids were astonished with
    that so many have water! I’m going to add this recipe to my other “basic” recipes, believe me, everyone should have them!

    Reply
  28. Diana Fumarolo

    Chocolate Cookies
    I have found that if you use butter or margarine in your cookie dough, it helps to add an extra 1/2C of flour to keep them from going flat. The cookie will be higher and softer.
    If you prefer a crunchy cookie then do not add the extra flour.

    Reply
  29. Philip C

    Now, I am really confused. The blog shows add two eggs but the recipe clearly says just 1 egg. I used just one egg plus milk and chocolate but my cookies spread more than what you show above. What did I do wrong?

    Sorry, Philip, the 2 eggs was an earlier version that slipped in there by mistake. Follow the recipe: it’s 1 egg. PJH

    Reply
  30. Julie

    Thanks for the great post. I read and try most of your recipes I find on the blog (the panetonne is still my favorite so far) but what I find most interesting as someone who works in the SEO / Website optimization field, is the part about this cookie being the most clicked on. Could it be because you are ranking on page one in Google for the phrase “Basic Drop Cookie” could it be because you have a link on the side of some page promoting it since it is a basic recipe people would be interested in? Or maybe it is something else?

    Julie, I’ve passed your comment along to our Web techs… thanks. PJH

    Reply
  31. Gayle Cameron

    Now I know what my 4 yr old granddaughter and I will be baking this weekend!

    Thanks for the great research and tips!

    Reply
  32. Jill

    You saved the day. I just baked 10 dozen cookies for take out baggies for the teacher’s luncheon. With one day to bake, I made four varieties of drop cookies from this basic recipe. The basic + add-ins formula is so liberating. I don’t know why I was always so fearful to experiment.

    The kids got into it too.

    Reply
  33. Charles

    When you use nuts in the cookies, pecans, walnuts, etc. do you roast the nuts before you put them into the batter? Or will the 375 degrees for 12+ or – minutes while baking the cookie dough roast the nuts?

    Charles, if you like the nuts roasted, then roast first (350°F for about 10 minutes); only the tops of the ones sticking out will get roasted while the cookies are baking. And roasting nuts certainly brings out their flavor, so good idea- PJH

    Reply
  34. Elizabeth

    I have some candid/crystalized ginger from KA and now alas, I can’t find the cookie recipe using this kind of ginger…

    Please tell me where it is posted… went to recipes and back thru previous posts but it seems to have disappeared… Thanks, Elizabeth

    Please searcH on crystallized ginger at kingarthurflour.com/recipes, you’ll find a stash – PJH

    Reply
  35. Elizabeth

    Thanks to Charles and PJ for that question and answer…. I wondered about that for (years?)…..

    Like Charles, I too thought maybe the nuts were toasted during cooking…Now I know…. BTW, I never mentioned that I am your biggest fan PJ…..HUGE…. :-) Elizabeth

    AWWWW, Elizabeth. (BLUSH). Thank you- I love how we can all bond online like this. PJH

    Reply
  36. Charles

    The cookie recipes for the Chocolate Chip and Basic Drop Cookies make too many cookies. Can I cut the recipe in one half, or can I freeze the dough I don’t use?

    Charles, with 1 egg, it’s a pain to cut the recipe in half. Best bet? Make the entire recipe, put the unbaked dough balls close together on a baking sheet, and freeze. When frozen, throw them in a plastic bag and store in the freezer. When you want to bake cookies, take out just how many you want to bake, put on the baking sheet, and bake – give them an extra minute or so due to being frozen. Sound good? – PJH

    Reply
  37. Charles

    PJ, thanks for your help. I did the Chocolate Chip Cookies and the Basic Drop Cookies. The Chocolate Chip are too sweet, and the Basic Drop are not sweet enough. Is there a scientific formula for increasing or decreasing the sugar? Plus should the change be in the white sugar or the brown sugar? My first batch of CCC had white chocolate chips and the next batch will have brown chocolate chips, will this change the sweetness?

    Charles, try these with the dark chocolate chips. White chocolate chips are unbearably sweet, in my book. To me, they’re nothing more than balls of cloying sugar, so of course they would make your cookie way too sweet.

    You can decrease sugar tablespoon by tablespoon – try cutting back by 2 tablespoons, see what happens. Cookies will be taller (they’ll spread less). Also, if you go too far, they start to lose flavor; sugar is a flavor enhancer, just like salt. I think your main issue was using those icky white chips… Try again with semisweet or bittersweet (not milk chocolate) chips. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  38. Julie

    For those who like chewy cookies, I’ll share a tip I learned from a professional baker last summer. Take your cookies out of the oven when they have puffed up and are almost done, but before they collapse on their own. Immediately DROP the pan on the counter top from several inches above the surface. The cookies will collapse immediately, and stay softer and chewy. If you bake them on parchment (like the pros) leave them on the parchment to cool, which also helps keep them more moist. You can also leave the parchment on the pan to cool, as the pros do. On heavyweight professional pans the heat of the pan cooks the cookie about 10% more after removing from the oven, but since it is collapsed, it stays chewy.

    Reply
  39. Bill C

    When I made these cookies they were pale, soft mounds rather than the cookies shown above. Suggestions? Thanks.

    Bill, did you use large eggs? Your large eggs should weigh about 1 3/4 ounces (about 50g) out of the shell. Did you use enough sugar? Did you use King Arthur all-purpose flour? There are lots of things that control spread; these are the first that come to mind… PJH

    Reply
  40. Bill C

    Hi PJH,

    Yes to all, I followed the recipe to the letter. My thinking is the milk caused the cookie to form more gluten which stopped the spreading. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t brown as nicely as non-milked added cookies. The interiors were cake-like rather than crisp. Thanks.

    Well, the milk would make them less crisp and more cake-like, due to the protein. Did you do a side-by-side, milk vs. non-milk? Because I’d think the sugar in milk would make them brown more, not less. Maybe it’s where you had them in the oven? Wish I was there with you – these things are hard to diagnose from afar… PJH

    Reply
  41. Leigh

    I used an egg substitute and added in some hazelnut flour for a portion of the regular flour. First batch burned and didn’t spread, second batch spread too much but since I decreased the time, didn’t burn. Hmm, gonna have to keep playing with oven temp and timing. Tasted good in the end though!

    Keep trying, Leigh – I’m glad the “goofs” are tasty! PJH

    Reply

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