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I have baked Betty Crocker's Giant Honey and Oat Cookies three or four times now, and every time, my cookies do not spread out, I just get thick cookies. Is there something I am doing wrong? As far as I can tell, I am following the recipe exactly. Does it have something to do with my oven? With my technique?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are a few things I can think of. The first is, are you sure your oven is at the right temperature? Although your oven may beep that it's preheated, without checking it with an oven or infrared thermometer you can't be sure that it's actually at the temperature you need - and even if it is at that temperature where the sensor is, it might not be the same temperature elsewhere in the oven. Try moving the rack you're using one or two levels closer to or further from the element and see if it makes a difference (further will probably be better if you're trying to increase spread). My oven has a 50-75°F range from the top rack to the bottom - a major difference when it comes to baking! Understanding my oven's temperature range changed my baking outcomes significantly.

Second, are you letting the dough come to room temperature before baking? I've found that the colder my dough, the less spread I get.

On Betty Crocker's site, there is an FAQ and under "Why don't my cookies spread", they recommend using an aluminum sheet - the darker the cookie sheet, apparently, the less spread you will get. I haven't tested this personally, but I trust the source :) I get good spread on my silpat baking sheets, for what it's worth.

The only other thing I can think of is your butter, is it truly softened, or is it a hard block, or is it melted? I'm not an experienced enough baker to explain the science behind the differences as they relate to baking, but I do know that those three options will produce significantly different results. I believe that if your butter is too cold, they won't spread as much as they could - but hopefully someone can chime in and confirm or deny that.

Oh, and I asked a friend of mine who's a baker - she said that it's possible that your baking soda is old, and that could cause it, but I don't know from first hand experience if that's possible or not. I trust her judgment though, as she's my go-to with baking questions and she's never led me astray.

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If the butter is too cold, won't it melt in the oven, so 'problem solved'? (And kinda the same question about the dough temperature) –  Mien Feb 17 '11 at 20:11
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I think with baking something like this, considering the cookies are in the oven for only 11 minutes, the dough and butter temperature will make a big difference. Yes, eventually the butter will melt even if it's cold, but if it starts melting at "minute 1" vs if it starts melting at "minute 6", this will make a big difference in the final result. It's kind of like putting a steak into a warm pan vs a hot pan, yes you will eventually get a hot steak, but the result will be very different. But, as I said, I'm more of a cook - I'm still learning how to bake, mostly thanks to this site :) –  stephennmcdonald Feb 17 '11 at 20:14
    
Ah yes, you're correct. I didn't watch the time carefully :) –  Mien Feb 17 '11 at 20:29
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@Mien: It's not just the time; if the butter is too cold, it won't cream properly. Huge problem in doughs and beaten batters. –  Aaronut Feb 17 '11 at 23:21
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The dark pans cause problems because they get hotter. When the dough starts to spread, the heat of the pan can be high enough to cause them to set up. (Oh and +1 for "butter too cold" which was my thought). –  Satanicpuppy Feb 18 '11 at 14:42
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From looking at that recipe, those cookies look like they are designed to not spread out. Why do I say that? There is a lot of structure in the beginning - the egg whites and butter are beaten together with the sugar and honey for a strong structure made by a hybrid of the creaming method (beating butter with sugar) and the foaming method (beating eggs with sugar) used in cake baking. There are no egg yolks, and the fat content isn't that high. Fat helps cookies spread. So I'd say your cookies are quite possibly doing what they are intended to do.

What you want to do is learn how the various components of your cookie affect its texture - the amount of fat (butter and eggs), the amount of sugar, the method you use to create it, and the temperature all affect your cookies. You can learn a lot about cookie texture through the questions and answers on this site.

  • This answer links to a Good Eats episode that talks about three different kinds of chocolate chip cookies, including a soft and thick one.
  • The question that sparked the above answer has two answers referencing a Cooks Illustrated recipe, their Thick and Chewy cookie. To get a thick and chewy cookie they melt the butter, add an extra egg yolk, and up the sugar. A softer, cakier cookie is made by using the creaming method (creaming about 70 degree F butter and sugar).
  • This answer points you to Michael Ruhlmann's book Ratio, which in the ratio for cookies discusses the varying effects of sugar and fat on your cookies
  • This question talks about what makes cookies hold their shape versus spread. One answer suggests the book Bakewise for a comprehensive discussion of gluten content, fat, etc. and how they work in making baked goods.
  • This answer about how to make cookies without creaming them describes cookies made with melted butter as "pancake cookies" that spread everywhere

As a note, remember that there is also a difference between the temperature your butter is when you make the cookies (especially if you are trying the creaming method versus using melted butter) and the temperature it is at when you cook them.

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GREAT answer! I fully support the "accepted" checkmark being moved over to this one :) I'm glad to see you point to Ratio, I got that as a holiday gift this year and haven't started reading it yet (I got about 8 cooking-related books and can't decide where to start) - Ratio just got bumped to the top of the pile. –  stephennmcdonald Feb 17 '11 at 20:55
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There are three possible explanations:

  • You preheat your oven too hot (I don't think this is the case here).
  • You use too many dough for one cookie (I suggest you use a little less, and try to 'press' it, if the dough doesn't spread out by itself, you have to do it.
  • Something else (I have no idea)
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I just finished a batch of oatmeal cookies in which I substituted Olivio for about 3/4 of the butter, and used only 1/4 the amount of butter (1 cup total). I also substituted Truvia baking blend for the white sugar, and my cookies never flattened. They taste ok, but are still about 1" round. Could be either or both of these, not sure, but I've baked various breads (banana, etc.) with Truvia before without a problem. So, I think it may be the fat substitute (not enough fat in Olivio). I've emailed Olivio to find out if and how it can be used in baking cookies.

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