Cookies 101: How to Bake the BEST Cookies

If you are curious to learn how to bake cookies at home, you’re in the right place! Let’s talk about the science of baking and delve into popular ingredients, as well as tools to make cookies possible. We’re sharing all our tips and tricks for the best homemade cookies in this post, as well as our favorite cookie recipes to try.

A collage of four images of different cookies on display with the text cookie 101: the ultimate guide to baking the best cookies

One of my earliest memories is making Chocolate Chip Cookie dough with my mom and sitting on our covered porch with the bowl of cookie dough and eating it with a spoon with my mom as a storm rolled in.

I do not know how old I was.

I do not know where my little sister was. (Napping, probably.)

But I remember the sweetness of the cookie dough, the creaminess of the chocolate chips as they melted on my tongue and the quiet moments my mother and I shared together watching the sky.

Every time I bake cookies, I think about this. 

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    Why I love baking cookies:

    There’s something fun and nostalgic about the process of making cookies for me.  

    My family used to bake hundreds of cookies to share with our friends and family during the holiday season. I would be lying if I said that this tradition didn’t have a huge impact on me as a kid or that I didn’t love the process, as well as sharing our end results with the people we love.

    These days, cookie baking is something that my family members (which includes two little girls) want to help with.

    Simply put: if one of us is having a bad day, a freshly baked cookie can soothe the pain… or at least offer a bit of comfort as we navigate the ever-changing topography of this thing called life.

    Cookies are a comfort food of mine… and I like to think I’m a bit of an expert since I’ve got more than 50 cookie recipes here. (More on this in a bit.) 

    Several cut out sugar cookies on parchment with icing and sprinkles before icing

    So… why bake cookies at home?

    I think the better question is, “Why NOT bake cookies at home?”

    It’s a fun activity for people young and old. It’s also nostalgic, if you’re like me and baked cookies with your family as a kid.

    And if you didn’t bake cookies with your family or friends as a kid? That’s OK, too.

    The process of making cookie dough is soothing for me, as an adult. And I love that I have introduced this activity to my kids, because they love it. 

    Yes, it can be messy, but it’s an adventure for everyone involved.

    Pro tip!

    With older kids, you can talk about the math of recipes. We also talk about reading carefully so that we know what we’re doing, as well as reading the whole recipe before we begin.

    And if you want to learn more about baking with your kids, check out this guide for cooking and baking with kids.

    Baking cookies at home is wonderful if you like to share cookies. (As someone who loves to eat cookies, I can attest that sharing fresh baked cookies with someone is a great way to brighten their day.)

    And cookies can always be made in advance for occasions… or even just because. We keep ‘emergency cookie dough’ in our freezer that can be baked at a moment’s notice because priorities.

    a bowl of sugar cookie batter after mixing and before chilling

    Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I am no scientist. 

    HOWEVER, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my days baking cookies (and other treats) and would like to remind you: baking is a SCIENCE.

    Some things to consider:

    • Oftentimes, you cannot easily half or double a baking recipe because the quantities will be slightly off and the end result will be wonky.
    • The type of ingredients you use will impact the taste, as well as the texture, of your cookie. For example, cheaper butter will oftentimes have more water in it than higher quality European-style butter. 
    • Leaveners like baking soda and baking powder create a chemical reaction to make cookies puff up and rise. Make sure yours are fresh.

    If you’re interested in learning more about the science of baking, check out this article on Cookie Baking Chemistry from NPR.

    Ingredients to make no chill drop sugar cookies in bowls on a pink countertop with a pink striped towel

    What are the best ingredients for homemade cookies? 

    This will be dependent on what you’re baking, but I always recommend high-quality ingredients.

    Here are some popular ones that you’ll find in various recipes:

    • Unsalted butter: This is a must-have for most cookie recipes. Purchase the unsalted variety so you can control the amount of salt that goes into the cookies. You can sometimes swap this with vegetable shortening or vegan butter if you don’t eat dairy products, though it depends on the recipe and the swap might cause the cookie to have a different texture and flavor. Purchase the highest quality butter you can afford.
    • All-purpose flour: Most cookies call for flour, and traditional AP flour is what you need for the vast majority of ’em! You may use bleached or unbleached–they’ll work the same! Most of my recipes are not gluten free, and I have not tested them with gluten free flour blends, even though I have heard of some having success with these!
    • Granulated sugar: Also known as white sugar, this is one of the most popular sweeteners to have on hand.
    • Brown sugar: Brown sugar is made sweeter with molasses. There are two varieties — dark or light brown sugar. While you can use them interchangeably, dark brown sugar has a higher molasses content and can change the texture of a cookie if there’s enough of it.
    • Eggs: These serve as a binder, as well as provide a little leavening to cookie dough. I like to use large eggs in my baking recipes. Some recipes only require an egg yolk while others involve the whole egg or just egg whites. 
    • Baking powder or baking soda: These are both leaveners, and their purpose is to cause a chemical reaction inside the cookies which makes them puff up in the oven. You’ll see one or the other in almost every cookie recipe. Make sure yours are fresh. (If they’re not, your cookies won’t rise.)
    • Oats: I keep old-fashioned rolled oats in my pantry. Quick cooking oats tend to lose their texture in a cookie dough, though there is a place for them in some cookie recipes.
    • Mix-ins: Depending on the type of cookie you’re making, you’ll need some of these. Chocolate chips, chocolate chunks and chopped chocolate are popular mix-ins, but there is a world of possibilities out there. Think sprinkles, chips, other unique flavored baking chips and more.

    The best tools to bake cookies at home

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    Much like the ingredients, the tools will be dependent on what cookie recipe you’re baking. 

    Some essential baking tools you might need include…

    • Baking sheets or sheet pans — I highly recommend using rimmed sheet pans so that the cookie dough can’t roll or fall off the sheets as you transfer them into the oven. Go for a lighter colored sheet pan, as a dark one could cause cookies to brown too much.
    • Stand mixer or hand mixer — or another electric mixer to bring your cookie dough together. This makes it easier on your arms, as well as requires less time as the electric mixer will work faster.
    • Parchment paper or silicone baking mats — to prevent the cookies from sticking to your baking pan
    • Food processor — sometimes, this will help you blend up your ingredients or smooth out your frosting recipe. You can also use this to break down oats, nuts and more…
    • Wire rack for cooling — because your cookies will continue to cook on the sheet pan, so shifting them to a cooling rack is smart to do.
    • Mixing bowl(s) — for actually mixing the cookie batter in
    • Kitchen scale — for accuracy. I started using a kitchen scale in 2020 after getting into sourdough, and it has been a game changer for accuracy in my baking and getting the recipes to turn out the same every. single. time.
    • Measuring cups and spoons — because you don’t want to eyeball ingredients!
    • Liquid measuring cup — for those liquid ingredients that you’ll need to measure.

     I talk about these more in depth, as well as recommend my favorite brands of these tools in 10 Best Baking Tools for Cookies

    A small child rolls a ball of Funfetti Cookie Dough in additional sprinkles.

    How to Bake Perfect Cookies 

    You might be wondering, “What IS the secret to a perfect cookie?”

    Well, there are several things that go into it… and it’s dependent on the recipe you’re making, but here are a few things you’ll probably have to do while baking cookies at home.

    1. Read the recipe. It sounds silly, but reading it through all the way and understanding what needs to be done when will make it harder to slip up.
    2. Cream the butter with the sugar. This is an essential to the texture of many cookies. Doing this means beating the room temperature butter with sugar (granulated, brown or a combination of both) until smooth and creamy. It introduces air into the butter while also smoothing out the texture, thanks to the granules of sugar.
    3. Add in the other wet ingredients. This will oftentimes involve pure vanilla extract and eggs. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature, too, so they can better combine with the ingredients.
    4. Add the dry ingredients. This usually includes flour, salt and leaveners. Mix these in a separate bowl to where they are combined (and to where you don’t have some massively salty bites.) These come after the rest of the wet ingredients are added. 
    5. Measure in your cookie’s mix-ins, like chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc. Stir ‘em in until just combined.
    6. Chill. Most of the time, you’ll need to do this, so cover the bowl in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge unless otherwise specified.
    7. Form the cookies. For drop cookies, you’ll need a cookie scoop. For rolled cookies, you’ll need a rolling pin. You might need a combination of the two, depending on the recipe. Shape the cookies. You can do this in the palm of your hand after you’ve scooped the cookie dough balls.
    8. Bake until golden brown and delicious.
    9. Once out of the oven and warm, add additional toppings (like chocolate chips, raisins, pretzels, etc.) directly on top of the cookies for that lovely bakery look, and gently push them back into round shapes, with either a large round cookie cutter or a drinking glass.

    How do I make sure my cookies keep their shape? 

    Once the cookies are out of the oven, you can take a large round cookie cutter (or a glass) and gently circle them while still warm to make them perfectly circular. 

    You can see how that works here.

    Cookies stacked in a Christmas cookie tin

    Tools for sharing cookies

    We talk about this more in-depth in my post about How to make a Cookie Gift Box, but here are some of my favorite items to use while sharing cookies.

    You could send guests home with boxes of cookies at a Gingerbread House Party, too.

    If you’re curious about the Best Christmas Cookies to Gift, check out my post!

    A tray of cookies with chocolate crinkles, potato chip cookies, chocolte chip cookies, sugar cookies and more

    Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips and Tricks

    If you’re hosting a cookie exchange party or a cookie decorating party, it’s always fun to send friends and family home with some cookies!

    Here are a few things you can do to make entertaining with cookies even easier:

    • Make your cookies in advance… many cookie recipes freeze well. (Learn how to freeze cookie dough here.)
    • Don’t make them all… you’re allowed to support your favorite local bakeries by purchasing some of their cookies and sharing those, too.
    • All you need are one larger/spotlight cookie recipe, 2-4 easier cookie recipes (or homemade treat recipes), then a handful of individually-wrapped candies to fill in the holes of any cookie platter or gift box
    Three scoops of ginger snap cookie dough in a bowl of granulated sugar
    Gingersnap Cookies before baking

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Why are my cookies flat? 

    I have two questions for you: Did you chill the cookie dough? Is your leavener fresh? Chilling your cookie dough helps the cookies not spread too quickly in the oven. If your leavener is old, it might not cause the chemical reaction to help the cookies puff up, leaving them flat and sad. 

    Why do I have to chill cookie batter? 

    It all goes back to the science and the end result is the best flavor. The chill helps the fat used in the cookies to cool off, as well as the egg to hydrate the flour. The chill ensures that your cookies hold their shape for longer in the oven, creating fluffier, picture perfect (or closer to picture perfect) cookies that don’t spread too much or crisp up too quickly while baking.  Tessa Arias talks about this in her #1 reason to chill cookie dough post.

    How do you make cookies all the same size?

    A cookie scoop! A spring-loaded cookie scoop is amazing for portioning everything out perfectly, as well as keeping the shape of the cookies good.

    Can you freeze cookies? 

    You sure can! You can freeze already baked cookies (without frosting) or cookie dough before you bake it. 

    Can you freeze cookie dough? 

    Yes! I wrote an entire post about it, but you can freeze cookie dough. Drop cookie dough is excellent for freezing.

    What are your best homemade cookie shortcuts? 

    Make the dough early and freeze it… or let it chill in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

    How do you make perfect cookie frosting?

    That depends on your cookies. Some cookies, like Gingerbread, need royal icing for that traditional look. Other cookies, like Tea Cakes, benefit from an Easy Sugar Cookie Icing. Others, like Pumpkin Drop Cookies, need a Cream Cheese Icing or Brown Butter Frosting.

    Close up of snickerdoodle cookies stacked in a bowl
    • Follow the recipe. And read it at least once before beginning to make the cookie dough. This will ensure you know where you’re going, what kind of time you need, what tools you’ll need to have on hand and more. Preparation is key.
    • Room temperature ingredients are important… unless otherwise noted. If you’re curious as to what room temperature butter is and what it does, check out “What does Room Temperature Butter Really Mean?”
    • Invest in a kitchen scaleIf you’re obsessed with accuracy and want to ensure that your cookies are as good as they can get, I really recommend purchasing a kitchen scale and weighing your ingredients instead of measuring with cups. I know, I know. Us Americans get crotchety about this, but this singular tool transformed my baking, and it can transform yours, too.

    bake better cookies!

    download our holiday cookie cheat sheet to build the perfect cookie platter this season. you’ll also get our best cookie recipes, baking tips, tricks and more!

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      Curious about the recipes I bake the most from my site? Here are my top 10, which are loved throughout the holiday season and beyond!

      Classic Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies on a pan with a glass of milk and pecan pieces

      Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

      Classic Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies are gooey on the inside with a slight crunch to the exterior! The ultimate cookie, studded with bittersweet chocolate chips and pecans, is easy to make, bake and also freeze for later.

      Three tall stacks of round Chocolate Sugar Cookies on a white plate on a pink surface

      Chocolate Sugar Cookies

      These Chocolate Sugar Cookies are a delicious spin on a classic cookie. A regular sugar cookie is great, but these chocolate ones are something special! You’ll love making and eating these delicious chocolate sugar cookie cutouts. 

      Stacked crinkle cookies on a sheet pan with other cookies

      Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

      Chocolate Crinkle Cookies are a classic cookie for a reason. Rolled in powdered sugar, these fudgy chocolate cookies melt in your mouth. They’re perfect for holiday gatherings, cookie swaps, cookie gift boxes and more. What’s not to love about this chocolate cookie recipe?

      M&M Cookies sit on a black plate next to glasses of milk on a pink countertop

      M&M Sugar Cookies

      Sweet, fluffy and chock full of milk chocolate M&M’s, these sugar cookies are the ultimate treat and great for sharing. Use holiday M&Ms to make these a dessert for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Christmas and more!

      Decorated All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are laid out on parchment paper to dry after icing and decorating

      All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies

      Soft sugar cookies are the best thing to make for any holiday celebration. These traditional Southern Tea Cakes are the perfect not-too-sweet-but-so-delicious cookies. Whether you’re hosting a cookie decorating party or baking for any holiday, All-Butter Tea Cake Cookies are a family favorite.

      Close up of a stack of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

      Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

      The perfect combination of sweet, salty and chewy, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies are simply the best! Easily made at home and perfect for sharing (or storing in the freezer), these homemade cookies are comforting, gooey and utterly scrumptious.

      Close up of snickerdoodle cookies stacked in a bowl

      Classic Snickerdoodle Cookies

      Soft and fluffy Snickerdoodle Cookies are full of comfort and deliciousness. Covered in cinnamon sugar, no one can resist these sweet, flavorful cookies.

      Gingersnap cookies cooling on a wire rack

      Gingersnap Cookies

      These Gingersnap Cookies are the perfect balance of sugar, spice and everything nice. With both fresh and ground ginger, these cookies aren’t too spicy and just sweet enough.

      Three Potato Chip Cookies stacked on top of each other, served on a red napkin with milk in background

      Potato Chip Cookies

      Sweet and salty Potato Chip Cookies are perfect for sharing, whether you’re baking them for the holidays or any given week. Made with just a few simple ingredients and easily made dairy free and vegan, too, these soft and buttery cookies are topped with powdered sugar for a little sweetness like a snowball cookie.

      A rectangular platter stacked high with Drop Sugar Cookies on a pink countertop

      Drop Sugar Cookies

      Want to make the easiest sugar cookies this season? These Drop Sugar Cookies are crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside — each bite is bursting with vanilla flavors. This cookie dough doesn’t need a chill, so these cookies are made and baked within 30 minutes!

      Overhead image of Funfetti Cookies, including one bitten into cookie.

      Funfetti Cookies

      Inspired by the favorite childhood boxed birthday cake, these Confetti Cookies are slightly chewy, soft and chock full of rainbow sprinkles. Perfect for birthday parties, graduations, baby showers, tailgates and more, Funfetti Cookies are a delicious treat to serve for any occasion.

      A woman with dark curly hair wearing a black tank top in front of a white wall

      About the Author:

      Erin Parker is a Southern gal living in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She started The Speckled Palate to share what she was cooking as a newlywed… and over the years, it’s evolved to capture her love for hosting. Specifically, the EASIEST, lowest key entertaining because everyone deserves to see their people and connect over good food. Learn more about her

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