Is there anything sadder than biting into a cookie and finding it hard and crumbly, when—just the day before—they were soft and chewy?
Granted, as a life event, it's probably not that bad. But on the scale of cookie-related misfortunes, it ranks pretty high.
So, is there a way to keep cookies soft and chewy? And what makes a cookie soft and chewy to begin with? For starters, let's take a look at what makes a cookie lose its softness.
Why Do Cookies Get Hard?
Like all baked treats, cookies are subject to getting stale. Over time, the moisture in the cookies evaporates, leaving them stiff and crumbly. It's the same thing that happens to breads, muffins, and other baked goods. The longer they sit, the more stale they become.
Thus, the best, most foolproof way to prevent cookies from going stale is to eat them the day they were baked. Seriously! You can make a batch of cookie dough and refrigerate or freeze it, then just bake however many you plan to serve that day. Stale cookie problem solved.
But suppose you have more cookies than you and your household can eat in one day. Or maybe you're sending some cookies through the mail and they won't arrive for a few days. What can you do?
Keep Them Sealed
The key to keeping cookies fresh and soft is to seal them in an airtight container, like a resealable freezer bag. And here's a nifty little trick: add a piece of bread to the bag.
You might think that the bread trick works because the cookies absorb moisture from the bread. But what's actually happening is that the extra moisture from the bread creates a humidity level inside the bag that slows down the moisture loss from the cookies.
It's like going out on a hot, humid day. The extra humidity in the air makes you feel hotter because you can't perspire fast enough to cool yourself down. It's the same with the bag of cookies. The air inside the bag is already so saturated that there's no room to add more. So the moisture in the cookies stays in the cookies.
Some folks recommend using flour tortillas, especially if you're shipping your cookies in a round tin. The tortilla works the same way as the bread, but since they're round and flat, you can stack the cookies with a tortilla between each layer.
Tips for Making a Chewier Cookie
Now, let's take a look at a few ideas for making chewier cookies to begin with. You'll notice that what they all have in common is that they all involve adding more moisture to the cookies.
Use brown sugar: This works because there's more moisture in brown sugar than in white sugar. Of course, this won't work if you're making sugar cookies, because brown sugar will produce brown cookies. But if you don't mind a darker color with other cookies, swap out some white sugar for brown. Alternately, you can add a tablespoon of molasses to the dough.
Use bread flour: The idea here is that since bread flour absorbs more liquid and contains more gluten than all-purpose flour, it would make a more elastic (i.e. chewy) dough. This all makes sense, except that the way gluten is developed is through kneading. When you bite into that chewy pizza crust made from bread flour, that dough was kneaded for a very long time.
But with cookies, there's no kneading happening at all. You just mix the ingredients until they're combined and that's that. So while it's true that bread dough contains more gluten, it's unlikely that bread flour alone is going to contribute much additional chewiness to a cookie.
Use melted butter: Why? A chewy cookie is not just a moist cookie, it's also a dense cookie. And creaming the butter mixes in air, which makes it airy, but not necessarily chewy. Melted butter is impossible to cream, so there's no extra air added to the dough. That makes the cookies dense and thus chewy.
Play with your eggs: If you're doing a melted butter cookie and the recipe calls for two whole eggs, try using one whole egg and one egg yolk. In other words, leave out an egg white, making up the extra liquid by adding two tablespoons of milk. This will yield a chewy cookie.
On the other hand, if you're creaming your butter, you might be better off using all egg whites and no yolks.
As a general rule, if you're using the melted butter method, extra egg yolks produce chewier cookies and extra egg whites make them cakey. If you're creaming your butter, do the opposite: extra egg whites make them chewy, but yolks make them cakey.