Basics of baking Cookies with troubleshooting and FAQs

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Cookies or biscuits? The most common question comes to everyone’s mind, when we talk about cookies/biscuits, is what’s the difference between the two?

Well, if you are not in US, then there’s not much difference. Cookies are a type of biscuit but in US, biscuit is a very different bake than cookies.

To understand we can say, biscuit is a flat, brittle cake. It’s primary ingredients are flour, sugar and fat, and it can be crisp, crumbly or chewy. It may contain flavours, nuts or chocolates but not so much to affect its shape. A cookie is a type of biscuit that’s chewy mostly (though I like to make crispy cookies and not chewy).

The ideal biscuit can be of any shape but if cut as round it should all be uniformly round. If cut as square, they should all be square. They should not  spread  excessively in the oven while baking. On the other hand cookies do spread while baking to achieve the chewiness. 

This is more like you ask the difference between Prawn and shrimp, aubergine or eggplant, zucchini or courgette, the list goes on…

Though there’s a slight difference between the two everywhere, in US biscuit is a complete different bake. A biscuit in UK, is a small baked goods that can be called ‘cookies’ if sweet or ‘crackers’ if salty. However, in US, a biscuit is a savoury bread which is somewhat similar to Scottish/Irish scones.

Am I confusing you?? Well as far as you enjoy your biscuits and cookies the way you like, and you are not in America, there’s not much difference  😉

There’s a lot more to discuss about biscuits and cookies but I will focus on the basics of baking cookies here.

  1. The first step is usually preheating the oven in most of the cases. We need our oven to be set at required temperature so that as soon as our bake is in, it gets the right temperature to bake. Sometimes dough has to rest for a while before baking. In that case preheat the oven 10-15 minutes before the resting time gets over.
  2. Line a large baking tray with baking paper or baking parchment. This is done to avoid the sticking of biscuit/cookies to the tray. When we make biscuit or cookies, there’s minimal gluten formation (a gluten is a type of protein that gets formed after kneading the dough as in case of bread) that leads the starch to stick to anything. To avoid this disaster, lining a cookie sheet is important. However, in case of silicon mat you don’t need any parchment paper.
  3. Squashing the butter and mixing with sugar.  Weigh the butter and sugar in a bowl and mix them together until they are combined and smooth. The mixture shouldn’t be light and fluffy like we do for cakes. This step is not like ‘creaming’ in cake making. We just have to combine the ingredients so that sugar dissolves in butter. We don’t have to beat in loads of air that will lead to crack or spongy biscuits.
  4. Just combining the other ingredients. Add the flour and other flavouring agent and mix with a spoon. Then try to combine everything together with light hands. Be gentle as much as possible. Do not put pressure or knead the dough. Kneading is required in bread making not here. Try to work on biscuit or cookie dough as little as possible. At this stage you can keep your dough refrigerated for 2-3 days to improve the texture and develop the flavour though it’s not mandatory.
  5. Shape your biscuit/cookies as desired. Biscuits are usually cut with cookie cutters. Flatten the dough by rolling out and then cut into desired shape. Do not forget to sprinkle little flour on the surface before rolling to avoid the sticking. If making cookies, you can shape them with your hands too. This is the point where we can see the difference between the biscuit and cookies. Biscuits are usually rolled and cut as they don’t usually spread while baking because of minimal gluten formation and no addition of raising agents (baking soda). Yes, there’s no need to add raising agent to a biscuit dough. However, you may add a little raising agent in cookie dough as we like cookies to spread (most of the time).
  6. Chill. If making biscuits, chill them now for atleast 15-20 minutes. It will firm up the biscuits and hence the shape will be retained while baking. This step can be skipped while cookie making. Though you can follow this step if you don’t want your cookies to spread much.
  7. Bake. This is the most essential part of biscuits/cookies making. The texture depends a lot on the oven temperature and for how long you have baked. For a shortbread style biscuits, where you want a pale colour but crisp bake, you need to bake on lower temperature like 160 degrees C. Baking time depends on the thickness of biscuit too. If a biscuit is thick then it may need longer time to bake. For a snappy or chewy biscuits/cookies, bake at higher temperature. High temperature dries out the outer surface quickly making them caramelised and giving that chew texture. However, you need to be very careful while baking at high temperature as it won’t take long to make them bitter.
  8. Always leave to cool on the tray or cooling rack. They have to reach to room temperature before storing otherwise the steam can lead to the condensation and they can become soft.

Read the tips and tricks on storing cookies given in this post  – Eggless Orange Cookies

Some more cookies recipe here :

Homemade Digestive biscuits,

Nutty & Fruity Biscotti

Aussies traditional Anzac biscuits

Hearty and healthy Oats and Almond cookies


Chocolate rosette cookies

Salted cookies with carom and onion seeds

Coca Cristina or Valencian almond cookies

Spicy Spinach crackers – (baked masala palak mathari)

Mocha finger cookies dipped in chocolate

Super crunchy eggless wholewheat rusks

Cheddar & Poppy seeds CRACKERS

Toasted Almond crescent cookies

Special Tips : 
  • The type of flour and sugar used in the cookie will have a great effect on final product. So always select the fresh and finer ingredients.
  • Cookie dough with higher amount of sugar and butter spreads more resulting in thinner and crunchier cookies.
  • The finer the sugar texture, the finer will be cookies texture. If you use powdered sugar or sugar with very light texture, then the cookies will have more smooth texture.
Troubleshooting : 

The cookie dough cracks when rolling it.

Solution : Try covering the dough with cling film and gathering everything together. If it doesn’t work then sprinkle a little milk just to combine them together. If the dough seems too cold then you can leave it on room temperature until softened.

Why is shortbread hard and snappy?

Solution : The most common reason for this is baking for too long at too high temperature.Turn down your oven temperature a bit for better result next time. Also, remember not to work too much on dough.

Why my cookies are soft and pale?

Solution : The answer is they are under baked. They are not baked for enough time and still contain moisture that makes them soft after cooling down. If they look dark but soft then turn down your oven temperature and bake for longer time. Check your baking tray isn’t be too thick. This can also lead to soft bottom. If you have not cooled down them properly before storing then it can become soft too. In such cases, bake them again at 150 C for 5-10 minutes.

Why my cookies go flat and spread out too much?

Solution : There are a couple of reasons. If you over cream butter and sugar then they will spread out. If there’s too much butter in the recipe then also cookies spread out and go flat. Too much sugar also helps in spreading. Make sure you read the recipe correctly and use proper amount. Also chill your dough before baking. Make sure you don’t place your cookie on hot or warm baking trays.

Why my cookies are not chewy?

Solution : Less butter, less sugar, less temperature. Add a little more butter or sugar next time. Check the correct temperature. Higher fat higher temperature yields chewy cookies.

The cookies brown too much at the bottom.

Solution. Bake them at higher rack. It usually happens when heating element of the oven is at the bottom. If you use foil paper instead of baking parchment then also cookies brown quickly at the bottom. Use double baking paper in such cases. Also lower the oven temperature a bit.

At what rack should I bake my cookies?

Solution : Cookies are baked mostly on the middle rack of the oven.

The cookies are hard after cooling down.

Solution : Cookies are over baked. Take out the cookies out of the oven according to specified time in the recipe. The cookie may look soft when they are done but it will firm up after cooling down.

Why are my biscuits or cookies tough? 

Solution : First reason could be improper measurement and addition of extra flour. It can also be due to over working of the dough. Next time remember to follow the recipe to the T and handle the dough with TLC.

FAQs :

What is the difference between shortbread and cookies?

Answer : shortbread are types of biscuit that’s made with 1 part sugar, 2 part butter and 3 part flour. No raising agents or eggs are used. While in cookies eggs and raising agents can be used. Shortbread is baked at lower temperature to avoid browning while cookies are baked on higher temperature and can be darker compared to shortbread. shortbread are buttery and crumbly while cookies can be chewy.

What is the difference between butter cookies and Shortbread?

Answer : The main difference is in the amount of sugar used in both the recipes. Butter cookies are sweeter than the shortbread. A shortbread is a very basic type of biscuit that uses fixed ratio of butter:sugar:flour. However, butter cookies uses more sugar and sometimes eggs too in the recipe. Shortbread will never have egg in it. Butter is the dominant flavour in shortbread while in butter cookies sweetness takes the after taste. 

Difference between baking powder and baking soda

Answer : They both are leavening agent/raising agent but chemically different.

Baking soda

  • It has sodium bicarbonate.
  • It requires an acidic ingredient to get activated.
  • can not be substituted for baking powder.
  • Baking soda can be used for other purpose like cleaning.
  • It can last long.

Baking powder

  • It has 1 part of baking soda, 1 part of corn starch and 2 parts of cream of tartar.
  • It already has acid in it.
  • It can be substituted for baking soda.
  • Baking powder is used only in baking.
  • Once opened, baking powder should be used within 6 months.