Chilling Cookie Dough

Many cookie recipes ask us to chill the dough before baking. Sometimes this makes the dough easier to handle and shape. But in other cases, chilling just seems like more time to wait before we can get to our cookies. How much of a difference does it actually make? In this post, we’re exploring how the temperature of cookie dough affects its bake.

Experiment Overview

Goal: To see and taste differences in cookie spread and texture based on the dough temperature
Recipe: Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies by Handle the Heat
Method: Prepare the cookie dough. Freeze, refrigerate, or leave the cookie dough balls at room temperature. Bake the cookies.
Results: As the cookie dough became colder, we noticed
– Longer bake time
– Thicker cookie with less spread
– Softer texture
Conclusions: Colder dough remains firmer in the oven, resulting in a thicker cookie that spreads less. This affects the bake time and texture of the cookie.

Testing Method

Ingredients and Equipment

Baking the cookies

  1. Prepare the cookie dough as described in the recipe. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 60 hours.
  2. Remove dough from refrigerator until soft enough to scoop. Form 12 balls of cookie dough, each 57g. Freeze 4 balls and refrigerate 8 overnight.
  3. The next morning, remove 4 balls of cookie dough from the refrigerator and set them at room temperature (RT) for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  4. Bake 2 cookies from each temperature for 14 minutes. Bake the remaining cookies until edges are golden brown: 14 minutes for the RT dough, 16 for the refrigerator dough, and 18 for the freezer dough. Cool 5 minutes, then remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Results

To better understand some of these results, I suggest reviewing the post on how fats affect cookie spread. Essentially, butter melts and sugar dissolves in the oven, thinning the cookie dough. The dough spreads until the structural proteins from flour and egg reach high enough temperatures to solidify, which sets the final structure and shape of the cookie.

Longer bake time

If you read the methods for this experiment, you’ll notice that I baked two batches of these cookies: one where they all baked for the same amount of time, and one where they baked until they were golden brown. I had originally intended to just bake them all for the same amount of time, but as you can see below, the room-temperature (RT) cookies were getting pretty dark before the fridge and freezer doughs had fully set, and I realized it would be better to compare perfectly baked cookies from each temperature.

Cookie dough at RT browned before the dough from the fridge or freezer had set.

As the dough got colder, I had to add a couple minutes to the bake time. Cookies are done when their structure sets and they begin to brown, which occurs at a specific temperature. The colder the dough, the longer it takes to reach this temperature, the longer the bake time.

The colder the cookie dough, the longer it needed in the oven to reach the same color.

Thicker cookies with less spread

The temperature of the cookie dough also affected the cookies’ final shape. In both sets of cookies, you can see that the colder dough spread less than the warmer dough. When the RT dough enters the oven, the butter quickly melts, and the dough starts to spread. In this photo, taken about 7 minutes into the bake, you can see that the RT cookies are completely flat while the fridge and freezer cookies are still rounded because the dough in the center is still cold and solid.

The warmer the dough, the faster it spread as it baked.

The under-baked fridge and freezer cookies ended up flatter than the RT cookies because they collapsed after they came out of the oven. You can see how prominent the bumps of the chocolate chips are. Fully baked, however, the colder cookie doughs yielded thicker cookies. Because the dough spread less, it remained thicker.

Under-baked cookies collapse and flatten as they cool.
If fully cooked, cookies bake up thicker the colder their dough.

Note that the exact magnitude of the size difference will depend on other factors, such as the ratio of ingredients in your cookie dough. The miso chocolate chip cookies shown below (recipe from A Cozy Kitchen) contain half the butter of this experiment’s recipe. Because butter is one of the main ingredients that affect spread, the variation among the three cookies doesn’t seem as significant, but the differences in thickness are noticeable.

Variation in thickness and spread also depends on factors such as ingredient ratios.

Softer texture

This variation in shape and thickness translated to differences in texture, even in the perfectly baked cookies from each condition. The original recipe bakes these cookies near fridge temperatures. The fridge cookies in this experiment baked up with a crisp edge and a soft, chewy center.

In comparison, the RT cookies had an even crisper edge with a hard, chewy center. The cookie was flatter, so by the time the edges had browned, the center had overcooked a little. On the other end of the spectrum, the freezer cookies were rather soft and doughy in the center. Because they were thicker, the centers were under-baked. The edges were still crispy, but since they were thicker, there was more soft cookie at the edge.

Similarly, dough temperature changed the texture of the low-butter miso chocolate chip cookies. While the fridge cookies were soft and cakey, the RT cookies had a drier, sandier texture, and the freezer cookies were wet and gooey inside.

Conclusions

Although all three doughs produced palatable cookies in this experiment, the differences in texture were stark. Colder doughs bake up thicker, and they’re more likely to be wet and gooey in the center. Warmer doughs bake up thinner. They’re at risk for spreading and flattening excessively, but they can also make crisper cookies. Because dough temperature is so important for the shape and texture of a cookie, it’s best to follow a recipe’s instructions if you want similar results. But sometimes, we just don’t have the time. In the next post, we’ll explore if we can use what we know about oven temperature to adjust the bake of a cookie dough that’s not at the recommended temperature.



References

Corriher, S. O. Bakewise; Scribner: New York, 2008.

Figoni, P. How Baking Works, 3rd ed.; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, 2011.

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