Patience isn’t really my strong suit. I’m the type of person who asks, “Are we there yet?” on road trips (yes, even as an adult). I’m all about instant gratification, so when I get to the step in my favorite sugar cookie recipe that requires chilling cookie dough—instructing me to wait three whole hours before baking my cookies—a little voice in my head screams, “Skip it!”
Unfortunately, my love of food science trumps my impatience, and I learned all about why this step is so important in culinary school. While it’s not the end of the world if you don’t chill your cookie dough, it does make a huge difference in the end result of your cookie—despite being the step most people forget while making cookies.
What does chilling cookie dough do?
There’s actually a scientific reason for chilling your cookie dough, and it has to do with two components: fats and liquids. First, chilling the dough allows the butter, shortening, cream cheese, and other fats to solidify. Why is that important? Well, for the same reason that you want to keep your pie dough cool: If the fats melt too quickly, the dough will expand rapidly in the oven. That over-expanded dough loses its perfect texture. In the case of pie, the crust won’t be light and flaky. For cookies, they’ll spread out too quickly, tasting doughy and soft instead of full-bodied and chewy.
The second component in this equation is liquids. As the dough sits, the sugar absorbs the liquid from the other ingredients. That allows the dough to dry out a bit, preventing spread while creating the right conditions for a crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside cookie. In addition to a seriously improved texture, this dryer dough also creates the perfect conditions for the flour to break down into simple carbohydrates, creating additional sugars and enhancing the cookie’s flavor.
So, if you can’t wait the entire time requested by your cookie recipe, at least try to chill your dough for at least 30 minutes. It’ll be worth it! Next, learn about 12 other baking mistakes you didn’t realize you were making.