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Ask the TK: Help! My Cookies are Flat!

Dear Test Kitchens: I love to make cookies. I am experiencing a problem, though. My recipes that call for butter are turning out flat. Recipes that call for shortening or margarine retain their shape, but the ones with butter go flat. This is especially frustrating with rolled cookies. Any suggestions? --Susan Z, Augusta, MO

Dear Susan: While it’s hard to define the problem with certainty without being familiar with your troublesome cookie recipes, it sounds like it may be a fairly common issue. It likely has to do with the temperature of the butter. Butter that is too warm may cause the cookies to spread and turn out flat. Shortening is not affected by the temperature, so the cookies hold their shape.

We have a few suggestions that may help with this:

1. Make sure the butter is slightly soft to the touch, but not melting. A good rule of thumb is to cut refrigerated butter into small pieces and let it stand at room temperature until softened. This may take for 10 to 15 minutes or less, if you have a sunny, warm kitchen.

2. Chill the dough for about one hour or until it’s stiff to the touch. If preparing drop cookies, try portioning your cookies into dough balls before chilling – it’s easier than trying to handle a bowl of chilled, stiff dough. For rolled cookies, work with small portions of the chilled dough at a time so that the butter in the dough doesn’t become too soft with excessive counter time. If re-rolling dough, be sure to chill it in between.

3. Avoid putting cookie dough (chilled or not) onto a warm pan. Baking sheets should always cool off sufficiently before putting the dough on them.