How to Make Soft or Crispy Cookies

A close-up of fresh baked gingersnap cookies

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There are two schools of thought when it comes to cookies—soft or crispy. Some people like them soft, fluffy, and chewy, while others prefer them thin, crispy, and crunchy.

There is a surprising amount of science in the art of baking cookies. By tweaking a few ingredients, you can determine the texture, shape, and color of your favorite cookie recipes.

How to Make Brown, Thin, and Crispy Cookies

Sometimes a flat, crispy cookie is desired. Gingersnaps are a classic crispy cookie, and some people prefer chocolate chip cookies with a crunch. The trick to a thin crispy cookie is using ingredients that allow the cookie to "spread" during baking.

Use the following ingredient suggestions to make sure your cookies come out crispy and delicious every time.

  • Flour: All-purpose flour has a higher protein content than some other flours. When used in cookies, it creates a darker brown, crispy cookie, thanks to the Maillard reaction.
  • Fat: Butter has a low melting temperature. This allows a cookie to spread much more during baking than other solid fats, such as shortening. Butter also contains protein, which aids in browning and crisping. For flat and brown cookies, butter is the best choice.
  • Sugar: Using white sugar or corn syrup in a cookie produces a crisp end product. Corn syrup also browns more readily than some other sugars.
  • Egg: Recipes without egg will yield a flatter, crisper cookie with more spread. Eggs provide moisture for steam which leavens the cookie dough. The protein in egg provides body and structure to maintain that loft as well. Cookies without eggs will be flatter, thinner, and crisper than their egg containing counterparts.

Soft, Fluffy, and Light Cookies

If you like your cookies more cake-like in texture, be sure to choose these ingredients. Oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies are often enjoyed for their fluffy, soft texture and utilize these ingredients to create that. Here's how to produce these sort of cookies.

  • Flour: Cake flour has a lower protein content and is more acidic than all-purpose flour. It also browns less easily and creates more steam for a leavening. The cookie rises, and the resulting texture is fluffier.
  • Fat: Shortening has a high melting point, stays solid longer during the baking process, and therefore prevents the cookie from spreading. A cookie that spreads less during baking will be thicker, softer, and chewier, even without any extra rise from leavening.
  • Sugar: Using brown sugar, which is more acidic and hydrophilic, retains moisture during baking. This creates a softer, moister end product. When used with egg, the acidic pH of the brown sugar will help denature (solidify) the egg faster and prevent spreading.
  • Egg: Including egg in a cookie recipe provides moisture for steam and structure for thickness. An increased amount of steam helps leaven the cookie dough and create a soft, moist end product. Eggs solidify when baked which provides structure and prevents the cookie from deflating or becoming flat after cooling.
The Spruce / Adrian Mangel.

Go Out and Bake

That's the science in the way the cookie crumbles or doesn't. Give one of these suggestions a try and see if it makes a difference in your recipe. If it's only a slight improvement, add another element in the next batch. Soon enough, you'll have your ideal cookie and be able to replicate it every time!