What Does Ripening Cookie Dough Mean? And Should I Be Doing It?

published May 3, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman
Jacques Torres Cookies

When it comes to baking cookies, everyone has their own special trick they swear by — some people brown their butter, while others use bread flour to make them chewier. But the one technique that pops up over and over again is ripening the cookie dough — aka letting it rest in the fridge for anywhere between 30 minutes to 72 hours before baking it. While this step may seem unnecessary, it’s actually an important detail that can make a significant difference in how your cookies come out. In fact, the creator of the chocolate chip cookie herself, Ruth Wakefield, actually wrote “at Toll House, we chill this dough overnight,” in the Toll House Cook Book — a crucial step that has somehow been edited out of the current recipe.

How does something as simple as chilling cookie dough make such a big difference? And is it really worth the extra time? Here’s everything you need to know.

Credit: Charli Nowak
Jacques Torres Cookies

What Does Ripening Cookie Dough Do?

Ripening is just a fancy term for resting cookie dough in the fridge before baking it. Some recipes call for a quick chilling, while others recommend up to 72 hours of resting before baking them. This resting time does two crucial things for cookies.

First, it allows the fat in the cookies to chill and firm up. Recipes that call for chilling often contain a high percentage of fat; this is because cold fat melts slower while baking, preventing your cookies from spreading too thin.

Second, and more importantly, the resting time allows the flour to fully hydrate and soak up the liquids in the dough. Unlike other baked goods, cookie dough is relatively dry and the bulk of the liquid content comes from the eggs — and because eggs are so thick, it takes time for the flour to absorb them. A long hydration time solves this issue and gives the flour time to fully hydrate so the dough is completely moistened. Similar to the autolyse method in bread baking (where you allow the flour and water to sit undisturbed), it’s all about fully hydrating the flour. This results in cookies that brown better, bake more evenly, and have a slightly more complex flavor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

What Type of Cookies Benefit from Ripening?

Cookies that follow a standard butter + dry ingredients + eggs formula generally benefit from ripening. These can range from classic chocolate chip cookies to chewy sugar cookies. Anytime a cookie recipe relies on eggs to provide the bulk of the liquid content, resting the dough is generally a good idea. It hydrates the flour, resulting in a better texture and more consistent bake.

However, if a cookie recipe instructs you to bake them right away, it’s usually on purpose. These recipes most likely contain a lower percentage of fat and are designed to spread less. If you want to ripen a cookie dough recipe that tells you to bake them right away, just allow your ripened dough to come to room temperature before baking.

How Long Should You Ripen Your Cookie Dough?

If all you’re looking for is less spreading, a quick 30 minutes should suffice. For anti-spreading purposes, you want your dough to feel firm to the touch. This is how you know the fat has chilled and firmed up enough to prevent excess spreading.

If your goal is to significantly change the texture of your cookies and achieve a deep, golden-brown color and better flavor, 24 hours is a solid benchmark. This gives your dough enough time to fully hydrate and will result in noticeable changes. While some recipes call for up to 72 hours of resting time, I generally do not see a significant return on the time investment.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

In Conclusion: Cookie Dough + Resting Time = Better Cookies

Ripening cookie dough is one of those simple techniques that can make a significant difference. While it’s an easy step to brush off as unnecessary, don’t.

Still not sold on ripening your cookie dough? Check out our chocolate chip cookie showdown, where we put the technique to the test! We won’t spoil the results for you, but we can assure you that ripening the dough proved to be very beneficial.

Want to give it a go? Try all 72 hours in this Jacques Torres chocolate chip cookie recipe, or start with just an overnight ripening in J Kenji Lopez Alt’s cookie recipe.

Have you tried ripening your cookie dough? What do you think? Was it worth the wait?