Can You Help Me Troubleshoot Oatmeal Cookies?

updated May 1, 2019
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Q: I love soft, chewy oatmeal cookies, but I’ve never managed to get them right. I blame it on the fact that they never spread. I’ve tried using different recipes; regular butter, fat-reduced butter, and margarine; sugar, stevia, and a 50-50 combination, and its always the same.

I’m left with the heap or ball of dough I placed on the baking sheet. And because of this, I felt the need to bake them a little longer so they weren’t completely raw anymore. The last batch I made was super-soft indeed, but kind of cakey (I baked them until lightly browned as the recipe suggested). I’m wondering what’s wrong: Is German baking soda that different from the American baking soda? Do I use the wrong settings when preheating my oven (heat from top and bottom or convection)? Do I need to perform a special dance that I don’t know about yet?

I’m really counting on your advice, as I’m not satisfied with just tasty cookies (and they always are!) — I want them to melt in my mouth. Please help, all of you skilled Kitchn readers, and thank you so much in advance!

Sent by Nicole

Editor: Nicole, let’s tackle this cookie conundrum bit by bit. First, on the spreading, or in your case … lack of it. Cookies tend to spread when there’s excess fat, too much sugar, or when the dough is already warm going into the oven. It seems like you’ve been making plenty of adjustments to the original recipe and may have thrown off the proper ratios. Start from square one without changing a thing. Who knows, that might get you back to the cookie you’re dreaming of. If not, try adjusting one factor at a time. Only one. Alter too many things and you’ll never know what variable is affecting the outcome.

Generally, there are some cookie best practices you can follow that should help produce a more desirable result.

  1. Don’t put the dough onto a warm cookie sheet. If you’re making batches of cookies, either wait for the pan to cool entirely or use different pans between batches.
  2. Get an oven thermometer and bake according to the recommended bake time. Cookies continue to cook after they’re pulled from the oven. No need to leave them in the oven until they are set up; they’ll be harder than a brick once they cool.
  3. Unless specified, don’t leave the cookies on the baking sheet. They’ll continue to cook there as well. Transfer them to a wire rack to allow for circulation.

Any thoughts to add, Kitchn readers?