How To Soften Cookie Dough? When flour and fluid get together, they make gluten. When cooks want a chewy food, gluten is their “BFF,” but gluten becomes enemy number one when they want something soft and melty, and cooks do everything they can to stop gluten from forming.
I believe we can all agree that “chewy” cookies are low on our list of “deliciousness personified.” Most of us prefer soft cookies that melt in the mouth, giving up their sugary deliciousness without seeming to be trying out for “cookie-flavored gum.”
The best way to prevent gluten from forming is to use fat to keep flour and fluid separated, and the best way to do that is to use a lot of fat to make dough.
All this sounds fabulous in theory, but the bad news is that the extra fatty dough is so soft it makes for crumbly cookies. The solution is to refrigerate the dough for a while to make it firmer, but what happens when you leave it in the fridge and the dough sets rock-hard?
Well, when that happens, you have to soften your cookie dough.
How to Soften Cookie Dough
Soften stiff cookie dough by warming it up. Warm it up quickly in a microwave or in a bowl surrounded by warm water, or warm it slowly by putting it near a gentle heat source, such as a warm kitchen or a window ledge in the early-morning sun. It is also possible to use force to soften your cookie dough by using a rolling pin to hammer it, then kneading the flattened dough.
Methods for Softening Cookie Dough
There are various methods for softening cookie dough, and you will want to use the one that best suits your current situation. For example, if you are in a hurry, you might want to use a method that delivers faster results but poorer quality cookies.
If you have plenty of time on your hands, you’ll want to choose a slower approach that guarantees better cookies. It’s really up to you to decide what to do in the circumstances.
1. Soften Cookie Dough Quickly
Here are two methods that quickly soften your cookie dough.
Use a Microwave
Set your microwave oven on “low” and hit your cookie dough with microwaves in brief, ten-second blasts. At the end of each cycle, try kneading the dough to see how pliant it is. Keep going until you are happy with the suppleness of the cookie dough.
Pro: Fast! You could be done in mere seconds, or at most a minute.
Con: Uneven warming could mean lumpy cookies. Even worse, if you’ve mixed in chocolate nuggets and other fancy treats, these could quickly melt and lose their cohesion as you knead the cookie dough.
Use Warm Water
Place your cookie dough in a thin bowl and place the bowl in a container of warm water. Ensure that the water is warm to the touch but not hot enough to scald.
Here, the idea is to warm the cookie dough as quickly as possible but not put chocolate chips and other foreign edibles in danger. (However, you might notice that some chocolate chips that make contact with the bowl might melt slightly. This is a slight nuisance but shouldn’t wreck your cookies.)
With this method, keep checking the dough every few minutes for elasticity.
Pro: Quick! Not as quick as using a microwave, but still fast enough and less likely to cause problems for your baked cookies.
Con: It’s easy to use water that is too hot or leave the cookie in one position for too long. Either of these could result in uneven cookie dough, resulting in uneven cookies and slightly damaged chocolate chips/added tasty treats.
2. Soften Cookie Dough More Slowly
Here are two methods that slowly but surely soften your cookie dough.
Place Your Cookie Dough Somewhere Warm
Put your cookie dough where it is nice and warm, like close-ish to the stove, in indirect sunlight, or simply in a warm kitchen while you get on with preparing other dishes. This is the natural way to fix hard cookie dough, and it gives the best results.
You mustn’t put the cookie dough where the heat will be too intense. Use the kind of space a mini-you would feel comfortable to lie in for two or three hours if you were trying to recover from hypothermia. Check the cookie dough after two hours and then every half hour.
Pro: Delivers the best cookies because of the slow, thorough warming.
Con: It takes a lot of time, anything from two hours or more.
Beat the Heck Out of Your Cookie Dough
A violent method for softening your stiff cookie dough is to work off some aggression and blow some steam by beating the tarnation out of it. Lay your cookie dough on a sheet or two of plastic wrapping, grab a rolling pin, and beat some pliability into it.
Be sure to use a rolling pin that can withstand the powerful blows released by your pent-up rage, grievances, and irritations.
Pro: works like a charm on large portions of cookie dough that would otherwise take yonks to soften.
Con(s): takes a lot of effort, nor is it rapid. If your cookie dough has chocolate chips and/or other treats, these can be easily damaged by blows you rain down on them.
The Way the Cookie Crumbles
Too much fat in your cookie dough will make the dough very soft and crumbly–crumbly in a soft, crummy way. True, a lot of fat will prevent gluten formation, but the end result will be unpalatable.
Another way to prevent gluten formation is to use less fluid, meaning that the flour in your mix has less liquid with which to interact.
The trouble is, there is an optimum flour-fluid mix, and going much below the required amount of fluid will lead to dry cookie dough, which will inevitably give you a dry, crumbly cookie, the exact type of cookie that folks passionately hate to eat.
Of course, dry cookie dough isn’t always the cook’s fault for mixing the wrong portions. Cookie dough often dries out when left in a fridge to chill. The culprit here is the direct exposure of the dough to the dry, cold fridge air.
Happily, the solution is simple–just wrap your cookie dough in a thin sheet of clear plastic before you put it into the fridge. The plastic will slow down fluid loss and keep your cookie dough relatively moist.
Why Refrigerate Cookie Dough?
You are probably asking yourself why anyone in their right mind would refrigerate cookie dough, seeing how it apparently causes so much trouble and bruhaha by leading to either hard-as-rock or dry-as-the-Sahara dough.
As you probably know, fresh cookie dough made with the generous proportion of fat required to stave off the formation of gluten and ensure your final effort is soft and melting rather than crumbly and chewy, unfortunately, doesn’t readily lend itself to being shaped, cut, or physically manipulated. The solution is refrigeration.
When cold, fat adheres more to fluid, and fat molecules also cling to one another as if, poetically speaking, they clump together for warmth. (Okay, that’s fanciful nonsense, but it’s a romantic notion, even though saying it aloud would give science-minded individuals the heejie-beejies.)
Anyway, the upshot of longer fat chains and less mobile fluid is firmer cookie dough, and that is why the standard advice is to chill your cookie dough in the fridge for about an hour to make it easier to work with.
By the way, here’s a little tip for you. Always–and I mean, always–form your cookie dough into small balls before wrapping them in clear plastic and refrigerating it.
A sphere is the smallest surface area for any mass, so your cookie dough will stand the best chance of warming up evenly instead of in splotches. If your cookie dough is too soft to form into balls, make it into disks instead.
Chilling Cookie Dough–When “Enough” Becomes “Too Much”
By its very term, “too much” of anything is problematic, and “too much” chilling is bad for cookie dough in that the cookie dough gets increasingly harder the longer it is left in the fridge.
About an hour in the fridge will turn cookie dough from too soft to handle to just about right. After an hour and a half, the cookie dough becomes more difficult to manipulate.
By the time cookie dough has been in the fridge for five or six hours, it becomes as hard as rock and even difficult to cut, never mind bending into exciting shapes.
Afterword: How to Soften Cookie Dough
Cookie dough gets hard when it is left too long in a fridge, yet, cookie dough often requires refrigeration to make it hard enough to work into desired shapes.
Ironically, the cure for cookie dough that is too soft can overcompensate and make it too hard. Since cold is the cause of stiff cookie dough, warmth is its cure. Provide cold, stiff cookie dough with sufficient warmth, and it will soften accordingly.
Frequently Asked Questions on How to Soften Cookie Dough
What is the Fastest Way of Softening Cookie Dough?
If you are in a hurry to soften your cookie dough, your best bet is to use the microwave. Set the power to “low” and microwave cookie dough in 10-second increments, checking after each interval if cookie and soft and pliable enough. You want to microwave until it’s just soft enough to work with.
Is it Bad to Leave My Cookie Dough In the Fridge?
Refrigerating cookie dough is a step most cooks recommend primarily to make your dough easier to work with and to develop flavors in the cookie dough. If leaving for longer or baking for another day, make sure your cookie dough is wrapped properly to prevent unnecessary exposure that may cause it to dry out too much in the fridge.
Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)
Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.