Although every cookie has similar basic ingredients, including butter (or another fat), sugar, eggs, and flour, the method for making cookie dough can vary per recipe. We'll show you the six most important steps common to most cookie dough recipes. Use these tips and you'll have cookie sucess every time! You'll learn how to look at an ingredients list to see if it will result in a cookie type that you love. If thin and crispy cookies are your favorite, chances are the recipe is made with all or mostly butter for the fat. If soft and cakelike is what you're looking for, the recipe probably uses all or mostly shortening. Be sure to check out the videos below that will show you how to shape your dough and change the stir-ins to make every cookie your own.
Room-temperature butter and margarine combine more easily and thoroughly with the other ingredients in the dough. Allowing the butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes will bring it to the right consistency for mixing. It should be soft enough that you can make an indentation with your finger, but not to the point that it has started to melt. Do this whenever a recipe calls for softened butter or margarine. To speed the process, cut the cold butter into pieces.
Tip: Butter is best for baking cookies, but you can substitute margarine as long as it contains at least 80 percent vegetable oil. If the oil content doesn't appear on the label, check the calorie count. Margarines that have 100 calories or more per tablespoon contain 80 percent vegetable oil. Do not use products labeled vegetable oil spread, light or reduced-fat margarine, or diet spread.
Beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer until it is smooth. This ensures that the butter is sufficiently softened and mixes completely with the other ingredients, which eliminates lumps of fat in the dough.
Tip: The kind of fat used in a recipe can help to make a cookie thin and crispy or soft and cakelike. Think about what kind of cookie you want when you choose the recipe. See our video below that explains exactly what fat you need to make the perfect cookie for you.
Beat in the sugar, baking powder and/or baking soda, and salt until the dry ingredients are combined with the butter. Continue to beat until the mixture lightens in color and consistency. This process is called creaming. Creaming incorporates tiny air bubbles into the dough, helping to make the cookies light and tender when you bite into them. Scrape the side of the bowl as needed to make the mixture uniform. When all the ingredients are well combined, stop mixing! Overmixing can pop all the air bubbles you worked so hard to create, making the cookies denser.
Beat in the eggs. If the recipe calls for more than one, add eggs one at a time, and beat on medium speed after each addition until all of the streaks of egg have disappeared.
Tip: Many baked-good recipes call for eggs at room temperature just like the butter. If you're relying on eggs for some leavening in your baking recipes, eggs will incorporate more air into your batter if they are not refrigerator-cold. Let eggs stand on the counter for 30 minutes before using them.
Beat in as much flour as you can with the electric mixer. Some handheld mixers begin to strain when the dough becomes too stiff (you'll hear the motor slowing and working harder). Don't burn out the mixer; switch to a wooden spoon.
If you are using a stand mixer, you should be able to mix all of the flour in. Stop the mixer every now and then to scrape down the sides of the bowl. You should also be able to use the stand mixer to beat in oats, nuts, or chocolate pieces just until combined.
If you are using a handheld mixer, you likely will need to stir in the last of the flour with a wooden spoon or heavy-duty scraper. Stir in a little flour at a time. It keeps the flour from puffing out of the bowl in a cloud and making a mess. This also prevents pockets of flour from forming in the dough. Stir just until all of the flour is incorporated. If you overmix the cookie dough, the finished cookies may be tough. Stir in any remaining ingredients such as oats, nuts, or chocolate pieces.
Follow the baking directions with the recipe to bake the cookies to perfection.
Or try one of our classic cookie recipes: