Why Cookies Do What They Do

I learned a lot when I was in culinary school and this is one thing I learned that was some of the best information when it came to why cookies do what they do. Cookies come in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes, flavors, and textures, Characteristics that are desirable in some types aren’t desirable in others. We want a cookie to be crisp, others to be soft. We want some to hold their shape, others to spread during baking. In order to produce the right characteristics we want and to correct faults, it is useful to know what causes the basic traits of cookies.


Cookies are crisp if they are low in moisture. The flowing factors contribute to crispness:

  • Low proportion of liquid in the mix. Most crisp cookies are made from stiff dough.
  • High sugar and fat content. A large proportion of theses ingredients make it possible to mix workable dough with low moisture content.
  • Baking long enough to evaporate most of the moisture.
  • Small size or thin shape, so the cookie dries faster during baking.
  • Proper storage. Crisp cookies can become soft if they absorb moisture.


Softness is the opposite of crispness, so it has the opposite causes as follows:

  • High proportion of liquid in the mix.
  • Low sugar or fat.
  • Honey, molasses or corn syrup included in the formulas. These sugars are hygroscopic, which means they readily absorb moisture from the air or from their surroundings.
  • Under baking.
  • Large size or thick shapes, so they retain more moisture.
  • Proper storage. Soft cookies can become stale and dry if not tightly covered or wrapped.


Moisture is necessary for chewiness, but other factors are also important. In other words, all chewy cookies are soft, but not all soft cookies are chewy. The following are factors contribute to chewiness:

  • High sugar and liquid content, but low fat content.
  • High proportion of eggs.
  • Strong flour or gluten development during mixing.


Spread is desirable in some cookies, while other must hold their shape. Several factors contribute to spread or lack of it.

  • High sugar content increases spread. Coarse granulated sugar increase spread while fine sugars or confectioners sugar reduces spread.
  • High baking soda or baking ammonia content encourages spread.
  • The creaming together of fat and sugar contributes to leavening by incorporating air. Creaming a mixture until light increases spread. Blending fat and sugar just paste (without creaming in a lot of air) reduces spread.
  • Low oven temperature increases spread. High temperature decreases spread because the cookies set up before it has a chance to spread to much.
  • A slack batter, that is one with a high liquid content spread more than stiff dough.
  • Strong flour or activation of gluten decrease spread.
  • Cookies spread more if baked on a heavily greased pan.

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