Were you looking forward to a batch of freshly baked homemade cookies only to be disappointed to see your cookie dough is dry and crumbly instead of soft and malleable?
Don't go ahead and bake dry dough you will end up with dry crumbly cookies.
There are several easy solutions you can try to fix dry crumbly dough so that you end up with perfect cookies.
What Makes Cookie Dough Dry and Crumbly?
There are a few reasons your cookie dough may me dry and crumbly. Figuring out what caused the problem will tell you the best way to fix it.
Cookie dough is created by combining the correct ratios or liquid, sugar, fat, and dry ingredients. When one of these ratios is off that can create problems. Many people say cooking is an art but baking is a science.
Not Enough Liquid
Double check the measurements of your wet ingredients such as milk, water, eggs, sugar (yes when making cookies sugar is considered a liquid ingredient), and vanilla extract. If one of these ingredients is measured incorrectly or omitted the results will be dry cookie dough.
Not Enough Fat
One common reason your cookie dough may be dry is there wasn't enough fat added. Perhaps the recipe didn't call for enough fat or it was measured incorrectly.
Fat plays an important role in baking. It adds richness, flavor, moisture, creates tenderness, and also helps with leavening. In cookie dough, the most common sources of fat are butter, margarine, shorting, lard, bacon grease, vegetable oil, and egg yolks.
The fat in a recipe creates a smooth pliable dough and helps the dry ingredients bind together.
Adding too Much of the Dry Ingredients
Adding too much flour, even as little as an extra ¼ cup can create crumbly dry dough. If you increase the amount of dry ingredients in a recipe, then you must also increase the amount of fat and liquid.
Common dry ingredients include flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cocoa powder.
One of the most accurate ways to measure ingredients for baking is to use weight measurements and a kitchen scale. Measuring your ingredients can help you to avoid all three of the problems mentioned above.
A kitchen scale also reduces the number of dishes you will need to wash because you are measuring each ingredient directly from the container into the mixing bowl without the use of measuring cups.
This scale from OXO is the one I use after it was recommended by Alton Brown. What makes this scale great is the display pulls out to make viewing measurements easier when using a large bowl.
Substitutions Were Made
Seemingly simple substitutions can create problems with a recipe. Remember baking is a science and small changes to a recipe can have a big effect.
For example, margarine contains more water and less fat than butter. So if you substitute margarine in a recipe that calls for butter you will be adding more water and less fat than is called for in the recipe.
Also, pay attention to what type of dairy is used in a recipe. Heavy cream contains significantly more fat than skim milk.
Pay attention to what type of flour the recipe calls for. Different flours contain different amounts of protein which will affect the texture of your cookie dough.
Use the correct size of eggs. Most supermarkets sell medium, large, extra large, and jumbo eggs. Each egg size contains a different amount of fat and liquid. If a recipe calls for 2 large eggs but you used medium eggs instead there will not be enough fat or liquid added to the recipe.
When flour and liquid mix together they form strands of gluten. The more you mix the dough the more gluten formation there is. This is why most bread recipes call for several minutes of kneading to help form gluten and create structure.
But too much gluten in cookie dough will result in tough cookies.
Dried Out During Storage
Most cookie doughs need to be refrigerated for a few hours before baking. Refrigerating cookie dough helps the flour to fully hydrate and the fat to firm up which keeps the cookies from spreading too much when they are baked.
While some time spent in the refrigerator is generally good for cookie dough the refrigerator is a very dry place as the cool air constantly circulates to keep things cold. This constantly circulating air can also dry out cookie dough if it is stored improperly or for too long.
When refrigerating cookie dough, store it in an airtight container or wrap it securely in plastic wrap or wax paper.
How to Rehydrate Dry Cookie Dough
Now that we have covered some of the reasons your cookie dough may be dry, how do you fix it? Follow one or more of the tips listed below to hydrate your cookie dough. If you know the reason your cookie dough is dry start with the corresponding fix mentioned below.
If you don't know why your cookie dough is dry I recommend starting with adding additional liquid. If that doesn't help follow the list below in order to make tweaks to your dough until it reaches the correct consistency.
Add Additional Liquid
If you have added too little liquid or too much dry ingredients adding extra liquid can help to soften cookie dough. Possible liquids to add include egg whites, water, milk, and extracts.
When choosing which type of liquid to add choose one that was already used in the recipe to avoid altering the taste of the cookie dough.
Add additional liquid a little bit at a time mixing the dough in between each addition. Start by adding a teaspoon of liquid at a time until your cookie dough reaches the desired consistency.
This fix will also work well if your dough was the right consistency but dried out in the fridge.
Add Additional Fat
Adding additional fat will also help to soften your cookie dough. Add the fat in small amounts being careful to not add too much fat. Too much fat will create greasy flat cookies that spread when they are baked.
Each kind of fat has a different composition with different amounts of water content. It is important to stick with the same fat that was used in the recipe.
Adding melted butter or shortening will make them easier to incorporate and give you the best results.
Slowly add the same type of fat that was used in the recipe one tablespoon at a time kneading the dough by hand in between each addition.
Mix Dough by Hand
Since overmixing can also create dry tough dough it is important to mix the dough by hand after each addition. Your hands are much gentler than using a mixer.
Mixing by hand also warms the dough and melts some of the fat which will help to hydrate the dough. Hand mixing also helps you to feel the texture of the dough so that you know when you have added enough additional liquid and/or fat.
Let the Dough Rest at Room Temperature
If you think over-mixing was the problem allow the dough to rest at room temperature. As the dough rests the strands of gluten relax creating a more pliable dough.
Let the dough rest for one hour then scoop the dough directly onto a cookie sheet without mixing it again and place it in the oven to bake.
Note: If you are sure that you have measured all of the ingredients correctly, but the texture of your cookie dough is still incorrect, it may be the recipe. Recipe creators are human too and sometimes mistakes happen.
Homemade cookie dough doesn't have any preservatives so it shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator for more than three days.
Unbaked cookie dough balls can be frozen for up to 3 months. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once frozen, remove from the baking sheet and place in a zip-top bag. Label with the date and contents.
When you are ready to bake cookies, remove the cookie balls from the freezer, let them sit at room temperature while the oven preheats, and then bake. You may need to add a minute or two to the baking time.
Perhaps you baked your cookies too long or they have gone stale from being stored improperly or for too long.
Place a slice of bread in an airtight container and layer the dry cookies on top. Let the cookies sit overnight. They will absorb moisture from the bread and soften.
Homemade cookies can be stored at room temperature for two to three weeks or for two months in the refrigerator. Freshly baked cookies can be frozen for eight to twelve months.
If all of this discussion of cookies has made you hungry I have several recipes for delicious cookies that I am sure you will love.
More Kitchen Tips
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