Secrets to Perfect Cookies: My 10 Favorite Tips For Better Cookies Today

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I’m spilling the secrets on all of my favorite perfect cookie tips so you can bake better cookies starting today!

When writing The Cookie Book I had an entire section dedicated to helping you bake perfect cookies every time. Unfortunately, that section was cut by my editor (as often happens in publishing: it was either that or cut some recipes and I chose to keep the recipes!). 

I recently dug out the first draft of The Cookie Book (from 2017) and I’m finally sharing allll of my favorite secrets to perfect cookies with you.

I have baked thousands and thousands of cookies from my catering and bakery days all the way into recipe-testing The Cookie Book and, of course, for all of my cookie recipes here on DisplacedHousewife. Below are my favorite tips that churn out perfect cookies every single time.

Pictured Below: Chocolate Rye Cherry Cookies

A close up of chocolate rye cherry cookies yum

Learn All of My Favorite Cookie Tips, Tricks & Secrets

  1. About ingredients and instructions
  2. Best practices for measuring or weighing ingredients
  3. Whether you really need to bring your ingredients to room temperature
  4. When and how and if to make substitutions to your cookie recipes
  5. The two stages of making cookie dough, yep, let’s talk about it
  6. Your oven, demystified 
  7. How to shape beautiful cookies
  8. My favorite tips for making them look fabulous (I’m looking at you chocolate chip cookie)
  9. The two ways I freeze cookie dough (they’re specific!)
  10. Storing your cookies so they taste fabulous the next day (and the next!)

Pictured Below: Brown Butter Muscovado Snickerdoodles

interior view of a brown butter muscovado snickerdoodle i love these cookies

I’m also sharing some of my favorite cookie recipes, linked at the bottom of the post so you can bake better cookies asap!! So preheat those ovens and let’s bake some beautiful cookies!

*This is a fairly long post (I have so much to say about cookies!). I am mostly talking about drop cookies and not specialty or more complex cookies. Please drop cookie specific questions in the comments and I’ll respond! xo

Pictured Below: Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

A bunch of mega delish chocolate chip espresso cookies

1. Getting Started: Cookie Secrets 101

Better cookie baking starts before you turn on your oven and bringing your butter to room temperature. First, I want you to focus on the recipe ingredients and instructions:

Cookie Ingredients

When you first pick out a cookie recipe, review the ingredients and look at the details such as unsweetened coconut flakes (vs sweetened coconut) or dark chocolate chunks (vs chips). 

Additionally, note what flour is needed and make sure you have it on hand. I sometimes use bread flour in cookies (such as this cookie here; it gives them fabulous chew!) or flours other than all-purpose flour (such as dark rye flour which I love  in cookies!). 

Whether you’re new to baking or not, I don’t recommend substituting ingredients. This is especially true the first time you’re baking a recipe. The recipe author has tested the recipe with specific ingredients and quantities and that’s where you’ll find the greatest success.

Pictured Below: Five-Spice Snickerdoodles

Stacked five spice snickerdoodles with a bite out of one of them

Cookie Instructions

Read through the instructions! I’d love to scream this from the rooftops. Not just to you but to myself as well! I’ve been known to skim through instructions and it doesn’t always work out (and I hate wasting ingredients and time).

Some recipes want you to rest the dough for an hour, overnight or up to several days prior to baking. Some recipes want your browned butter to cool completely or even return to a solid state. 

Reading through the instructions will make sure you have all of the proper equipment and the timeline to get the recipe done perfectly the first time you attempt it.

Pictured Below: Chocolate Brownie Vegan Cookies

overhead shot of chocolate brownie cookies these will blow your mind

2. Measuring Cookie Ingredients

You have two ways to measure ingredients: either with cups and spoons or with a scale. If you were raised in the US, chances are that you use cups and spoons (but not always!). For the most accurate bakes possible, I recommend using a scale (I use this one!)

Tips for Using Cups & Spoons

When using cups and spoons, my biggest concern is measuring flour. I have a bunch of different cup sets (from Williams-Sonoma (these are so pretty!), Sur La Table, some are passed down from my mom and some just look pretty in photos!) and each one measures out differently. 

To make it the most consistent in my recipes, 1 cup of all-purpose flour is equal to 135 grams. This is a little heavier than most online cups-to-grams calculators, but I find it to be the most accurate as you typically get more flour (accidentally) in your baked goods when using cups.

To measure flour, I like to fluff fluff fluff the flour with a spoon to lighten it (it gets compacted in the bag) and then spoon it into your cup. Once the measuring cup is full, use the back of a knife to level the top. This will give you the most accurate flour amount when using cups.

Pictured Below: Chocolate Marshmallow Sea Salt Cookies

A chocolate marshmallow cookie with a bite out of it
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Tip for Scales

Not much of a tip, but they are hella accurate. I love this one (click here). And if you’re looking to be persuaded, it makes baking way less messy (fewer things to clean – WIN).

3. Cookie Ingredient Temperatures

As soon as I start to bake, I scan the ingredient list to see what needs to be brought to room temperature. I set my eggs in a bowl of warm water to quickly come to room temperature. For butter, I’ll usually cut it into pieces (cut one stick of butter into eight equal pieces) and either set in a warmer area of the kitchen or put in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds. 

You want your finger to leave an indent in the butter when pressed, but you don’t want it melting or greasy.

Having your ingredients at the proper temperature will allow the cookie dough to have the proper consistency for perfect taste and texture, so don’t skip this step!

Pictured Below: Chocolate Strawberry Sandwich Cookies

three rows of chocolate sandwich cookies stuffed with fresh strawberry  cream

4. Substitutions and Omissions

You’re thinking, ‘I thought you said no substitutions!?’ And you’re correct…to a point. I don’t recommend changing flour types, sugar quantities, egg substitutes, etc etc as those are the ingredients that build the STRUCTURE of the cookie.

If you were building a house you wouldn’t replace wood beams with plastic straws because it would impact the structural integrity of the house. The same holds true for baking. If you start substituting ingredients that are building blocks of the cookie’s structure, you may end up with a cookie that either spreads too much or conversely, is too dense and doesn’t spread at all.

Pictured Below: Mega Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cookies

A closeup of Mega Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cookies

Where Can I Substitute Then??

With your add-ins. Add-ins won’t impact the texture or density of a cookie and they are the perfect place to get frisky. Let’s say a really delicious Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe (for instance, this one) calls for ¾ cup (110 g) dark chocolate chips. You can do an easy swap, such as replacing the dark chocolate chips with semi-sweet ones and you’d replace them 1:1.

But let’s say you have a hankering for cherry-chocolate chip cookies? Then I would include 55 g of chocolate chips and 55 g of dried tart cherries. This is just an estimate and if you didn’t have a scale handy I would probably do a heaping ⅓ cup each of the cherries and dark chocolate. 

Add-ins are a GREAT WAY to make a recipe yours and the possibilities are endless, so have fun!!! 

Pictured Below: Crème Fraîche Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A creme fraiche chocolate chip cookie broken into two halves

5. Secrets to Mixing Your Cookie Dough

I would never make a blanket statement about cookie dough such as: always mix with a light hand *OR* always make sure everything is thoroughly mixed because at different stages of mixing cookie dough you’ll need one or the other.

Stage One of Cookie Dough

In a typical cookie recipe, whether it’s one-bowl or not, you *typically* have the initial step of creaming butter and sugar. During this step of the recipe you need to mix the butter and sugar until they are light, fluffy and fabulous (as I like to say). You want the mixture to be lightened in both color and texture. 

This step takes at least 4-5 minutes and if your kitchen or ingredients are cooler, it will take longer. Never rush this step as it’s during this stage that you’re building lightness into the cookie, you’re starting to dissolve the sugar a bit and you’re creating a really light, homogenous cookie dough mixture (you’re building good structure and texture here!).

Pictured Below: Dark Chocolate Alfajores

stacks of alfajores cookies dipped in chocolate and stuffed with dulce de leche

All this said, you want to really mix the ‘dough’ at this stage (don’t use a gentle hand) and make sure you periodically scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that no bits are left behind.

You’ll want to make sure the eggs are pretty well blended as well, but not at the effort that you beat the butter and sugar together. At this point your cookie dough should look light, fluffy and almost mousse like. I always smell it at this point and dream about a fragrance that smells just like this.

Pictured Below: Toasted Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toasted Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies with melty chocolate

Stage Two of Cookie Dough

Here is where you’re going to want to shift gears and handle your dough with a lighter hand. This is when you’re adding in your flour(s), leavening (baking powder and soda) and add-ins (chocolate chips, coconut, toffee, cherries, raisins, nuts, etc). 

You want to fold in the ingredients at this stage as gently as possible so that you don’t end up with a tough, dense cookie. If you mix your flour too much you’ll activate the gluten which will lead to said dense cookie. So just think: use a very gentle touch and mix your cookie dough during stage two in as few strokes as possible.

One last cookie tip. If your cookie recipe has add-ins, add them when there are still some bits of visible flour in your dough; this will keep you from overmixing!

Pictured Below: Chewy Chocolate Cookies

chocolate cookies with a smear of vanilla frosting and sprinkled with pretty blue sprinkles

6. Know Your Oven

Our ovens aren’t as foolproof as they’d like us to believe. When your oven says that it’s pre-heated and reached the desired temperature, it rarely is. To add to this, ovens typically run either hot or cold by several degrees. I highly recommend an oven thermometer so that you know exactly what temperature you’re baking at. This is my favorite oven thermometer (I like to put one at the front and back of my oven).

Additionally, most every oven has hot and cool spots. Typically they’re hotter in the back and cooler towards the front. They may also have hotter sides as well. To bake my cookies as evenly as possible, I often bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven (certain recipes specify other positions in the oven such as the top third; always default to the recipe author’s instructions). But generally, the center of the oven it is for me!

I rarely put two baking sheets in at the same time. If I’m pressed for time I will, and then I rotate midway through the bake time, top to bottom and front to back to bake the cookies as evenly as possible. Rotate cookies quickly so you don’t let out too much heat.

Pictured Below: Gianduja Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

A big giant gianduja stuffed chocolate chip cookie that's broken in half

7. Pretty Cookies Secrets

If I’m going to enjoy a sweet treat I want it to look beautiful, don’t you!? 

To make the prettiest cookies possible, I follow the below rolling and nudging instructions (under cookie tip 8. Shaping Cookies, see below), and I also look at how the add-ins look on the top of the cookies. 

I’m thinking specifically about chocolate chip cookies (see these olive oil, brown butter and one-bowl chocolate chip cookie recipes). I love chopping up my favorite candy bars and using them in place of chocolate chips or chunks. Not only does it look mega delicious, it also tastes delicious.

If I’m going to use chips (which I also love), these callets are my favorites! They are delicious and have a beautiful, glossy sheen. 

Whatever chocolate I use, I like to place some additional pieces or chips (or callets) on top of the dough ball pre-bake so you can see the chocolate over the surface of the cookie before you take a bite.

8. Shaping Cookies

Here my favorite tips for rolling and shaping beautiful, round cookies:

Cookie Scoops + Rolls

When portioning out cookie dough I tend to scoop out dough with a cookie scoop (these is my favorite 1 1/2-tablespoon scoop, 2-tablespoon scoop and 3-tablespoon scoop) and then I like to gently roll the cookie dough into a ball. Finally, I add any add-ins, so you get a hint of what flavors you’re going to taste in the cookie.

Parchment vs Silpat

I am a parchment paper woman! It makes release and clean-up super easy and I love the way cookies spread over parchment.

I reserve silpat use for when I’m baking macarons (here’s one of my favorite macaron recipes!).

Pictured Below: Hot Chocolate Macarons

A bowl filled with Hot Chocolate Macarons

Perfectly Round Cookies!

Cookies can often lose their shape while baking. If you live for perfectly round cookies (hi, that’s me!), use the edge of a spatula (I prefer this small one as it’s easy to control) and I nudge them back to shape as soon as they come out of the oven.

You have to move pretty fast as the cookies set quickly once out of the oven.

I’m not a fan of using a round cookie cutter to make my cookies round post-bake. I never have one by the oven and if I do, it’s often not the correct size. Even if it is the correct size, I’ll accidentally cut off a bit of the cookie while trying to make it round and it honestly just feels like unnecessary work (which is not my jam). 

The spatula gets the job done, I always have one at the ready and it doesn’t need to be of varying sizes for different cookies. This spatula is my favorite for cookie nudging (I love the confetti on it), try it! 

Pictured Below: Toasted Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toasted Oat Chocolate Chip Cookie dough balls

9. Freezing Cookie Dough 

You can either freeze actual dough balls or you can freeze a big lump of dough. Here’s how and why I do it two different ways:

Cookie Dough Balls

If I plan on eating the cookies over the next couple of weeks I will freeze them as dough balls. To do this, prepare your dough balls up until just prior to baking, place them in a single layer, not touching, on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for several hours. Once frozen, pop into a resealable plastic bag.

When baking, you can bake them straight from the freezer to the oven, you’ll just need to tack on an extra couple of minutes to the bake time. When baked this way, I’ve found it yields a puffier cookie with a less done center. If that’s your jam, go forth and prosper.

If you want a thinner cookie, let your frozen cookie dough sit at room temperature while the oven pre-heats. If you pop the dough into the oven when it’s closer to room temperature the cookie dough will spread more.

Pictured Below: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

a hand grabbing a brown butter muscovado chocolate chip cookie
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Letting dough rest in the fridge and even the freezer allows the flour to absorb any extra moisture. It also gives the butter a chance to get back to its solid form. Both of these reasons are why dough that isn’t baked immediately will often result in a puffier cookie. 

The time that the dough spends resting (or aging) draws out lots of delicious flavor. If you have the time, the inclination or just like to have cookies on demand (yes), this time delay will reward you!

Picture Below: Dulce de Leche Baci Kisses

Four baci cookies stuffed with dulce de leche buttercream i die

Cookie Dough

When I don’t want to eat the cookie dough pretty quickly or if I want to mix it up to a month (or so) prior to serving, I will save the dough as a large mass. This will protect it from freezer burn and keep it fresher, longer.

To do this, lay down some plastic wrap and dump the cookie dough on top. Shape into a flat rectangle and wrap tightly. Then I wrap in a layer of foil AND THEN I stash them in a resealable, freezer-safe bag.

When ready to use, bring out of the freezer and let come closer to room temperature on the counter. Unwrap, portion out the dough balls and pick up where you left off (and bake as normal).

Pictured Below: Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Cookies

a bunch of chocolate caramel pretzel cookies

10. Favorite Storing Cookies Tips

I love storing my cookies in a lidded pedestal (here are two of my favorites here and here) at room temperature. If it has a pretty good seal (minimal air going in and out), that’s all I do. During the drier winter months (hi California), I’ll add a ramekin with some water in it to keep the cookies moist.

I only store cookies in the fridge if they’re filled with something perishable (say a cream-cheese filling). If that’s the case, make sure they are wrapped tightly as the refrigerator can be very dehydrating to baked goods.

Pictured Below: Chocolate Orange Truffle Cookies

a hand grabbing a chocolate orange truffle cookie

I thought this was going to be a short post lol, but I have so much to say about cookies (which is why I wrote an entire book devoted to them!). I have more tips, but I’m thinking I’ll need to create a Part Two soon. If I’ve left anything out, please leave it below and I’ll cover it next time or in the comments.

This is primarily geared towards classic, drop cookies. If you have cookie-specific questions, again, drop it below and we’ll chat about it! This post was year’s in the making and I’m finally excited to share my favorite secrets to perfect cookies!

Have fun and as always, shoot any questions to me in the comments below and I’ll get back to you! xo

Pictured Below: Classic Oatmeal Cookies

A close up of a classic oatmeal cookie

5 Comments

  • Kathy October 1, 2022 at 11:20 PM

    I love all these tips for better cookies. Thank you so much for sharing! I can’t wait to dig in to some of these recipes.

    Reply
  • Morgan September 12, 2022 at 7:20 PM

    Your cookies are simply THE. BEST!!!! And i love all of your tips…they really do help (below) average bakers like me make delicious treats!!!!! XOXO

    Reply
    • Rebecca Firth September 12, 2022 at 7:57 PM

      You’re the best!! Thank you Morgan!!! xox

      Reply
  • Sally September 12, 2022 at 6:01 PM

    Your knowledge is awesome! Thank you for sharing. I can’t wait to use your tips.

    Reply

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