Cookie Baking Tips

This weekend, my son was home from college. It was too icy to go outside. I decided to bake cookies, something that I enjoy doing and that makes everyone happy. Because I have the right tools and professional experience, baking up several batches is not a chore (and cleanup is easy, everything goes in the dishwasher!) I’m a relaxed cook, but I’m fussy about the details because it’s the details that take a cookie from okay to spectacular.

My son’s favorite cookie is a spice cookie. Years ago, I found the recipe in the newspaper. I’ve changed it up a little (I use a stick of butter and 1/4 cup of oil, and half white whole wheat flour.) The first thing to know about this sort of recipe is that if the spices aren’t fresh, it won’t be right. If a sniff of your spice jars leaves you with a stale, musty impression, throw them out and start fresh! I take the extra effort to grind nutmeg using a nifty little tool (I don’t use nutmeg a lot, and so a jar of it goes pale in flavor quickly, but freshly-ground is vibrant.) I have a stand mixer, which makes easy work out of the stirring. I pay close attention to the batter. As soon as it looks smooth, I stop. This prevents over-beating and toughness in the finished product.

But, it’s the baking itself which determines whether your cookies are perfect or not. Always preheat the oven. Always try to give yourself time and attention to devote to the baking. A minute can be the difference between the right texture and under or over-baked. Since cookies are so finicky with timing, the more uniform the cookies are, the more evenly they’ll bake. I use scoops to get them all the same size.

The most essential step is follow is the one that says, “place the cookie sheet in the center rack of the oven.” It seems so time-consuming and wasteful to bake only one sheet at a time! We’ve all filled the oven up. This is what happens:

spice cookies

The cookies on the middle rack cook perfectly. The surface crackles. They spread evenly. The two cookies to the back of this photo were baked on a sheet below the others. The top baking sheet blocked the flow of heat. They took longer to bake. They didn’t crackle. They taste fine, but they miss that quality that the others have.

(Although convection ovens are supposed to solve this problem and allow you to bake with sheets on each rack, I find that the blowing air dries out the cookies. I don’t use convection for dessert baking.)

Notice that I bake on parchment paper. I buy a large flat box that lasts me years! Not only does baking on parchment ease cleanup, but the cookies brown perfectly and rarely scorch.

The baking sheets themselves make a difference. Air-cushioned baking sheets allow the cookies to bake through before the bottoms burn. For large and soft cookies, I prefer them. The sheet to the front is the cushioned pan, the one in the back is a typical aluminum sheet of metal. These were both baked at exactly the same temperature, oven position and length of time.

baking cookies

Note the that cookies in the back didn’t spread as far, and they browned up quickly. That’s good for some cookies. If you’re baking lacy cookies, a thin baking sheet is best. It’s up to what you like. In this case, they’re both delicious.

chocolate chip cookies

Do you have cookie baking questions? Ask away! I’ll answer here in the comments.


  1. Thanks so much for this blog, you solved my cookie baking problems. I need new cookie sheets, particularly the Air-cushioned baking sheet as well as parchment paper. No wonder I always hated baking cookies!

  2. Chocolate chip, my favorite, do you add pecans?

    Salivating here too. I just reached for the Girl Scout Thin Mints I have in my desk drawer.

  3. I’m feeling grumpy about your successes. I made wild rice buns yesterday that didn’t rise, and then they didn’t bake all the way through. I am going to donate them to the youth hockey league.
    (But grumpiness aside, thank you for posting the results of different baking equipment & techniques.)

  4. I always have questions Terry :) Enough to drive everyone I know nuts. I was wondering how many quarts in a stand mixer do you reccomend ? Also love the air cushioned cookie sheets, they are lighter and easier to handle than other cookie sheets and since my mother has hard time with her hands gripping and holding on to stuff these are cookie sheets she can easily use.

  5. I’ve often wondered how best to use almond meal. Trader Joe’s sells this, and I think the suggestion on the package is you can use it as a substitute for some of the flour in a recipe. It seems like there should be a recipe that this stuff is just perfect for…

    • Almond meal (simply finely ground almonds) adds flavor, protein and a bit of oiliness to a recipe. I like a few tablespoons added to a pie crust recipe. A similar small amount in cookie dough is good. However, it is not a substitute for flour as it has none of its baking properties. There’s no gluten to hold the dough together and it doesn’t absorb liquids like flour does.

      • Thank you for the tip! Mmm, just thinking about a pie crust that is golden brown and has a toasted almond scent…

  6. One evening, I spent it watching Stephen King’s movie “It”. Later in the week I dreamed of that clown coming to me as the devil. He tempted me with money, animals, and land. It didn’t work and I turned to walk away feeling very confident and proud. The clown made a noise, and as I turned and looked at him, he had a triumphant smirk on his face. I felt scared, but sure he couldn’t win. Then, he held up a large chocolate chip cookie. My soul and posture just dropped for I knew he had me. So glad bad dreams aren’t real. Cookies, especially like the one’s you make, are my weakness. Yours are seriously delicious looking.

  7. I am the cookie baking queen of our family. I so agree with you about taking time and not trying to multi-task. I also only bake a sheet at a time, on the middle rack. It goes quickly when your have other sheets ready to go. It makes a real difference. I love the airbake sheets, as well. It is Spring Break here and I am baking a large batch of cookies for my parents to keep in the freezer. They love having something to pull out when company comes. I use a recipe that won the Fort Worth Star Telegram cookie contest several years ago. T’s Toffee Temptations are a family favorite.

  8. I think having frozen cookie dough is like money in the bank. It is also a great present for busy Moms.