How to keep cookies soft
There’s nothing quite like the taste of freshly-baked cookies, straight from the oven. And with so many simple and delicious recipes for home baked cookies, everyone can enjoy them at their best, while they’re still warm, soft and chewy. But if you go to the cookie jar a few days later they’re never quite the same. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for cookies to lose their moist, gooey texture and become hard and stale.
So how can you keep your cookies soft for longer? There are a few homemade remedies your grandmother might have used that work quite well, such as putting a slice of bread in with the cookies. The moisture from the bread should help keep the cookies soft, but do remember to replace it with another slice when it goes stale. Some people recommend using a slice of apple, which works in much the same way and doesn’t take up quite so much room.
If you miss the taste of warm cookies, you can always reheat them before eating. A couple of minutes in the oven should do the trick, or you could try putting them in the microwave for 15 seconds with a cup of water to help restore lost moisture. Only reheat cookies you’re about to eat right away, though, as more cooking will dry them out even more in the long term.
Of course, you can always freeze your cookies, but it actually makes more sense to freeze your dough. Make some dough according to your favourite recipe, drop some biscuit sized blobs onto a parchment lined-tray and freeze for about 30 minutes until hard, then tip into a freezer bag. This way you can make small batches of freshly-baked cookies as required and eat them right away before they go stale. Just place a few onto a baking tray and cook for 3 - 5 minutes longer than the original instructions.
Why do cookies get hard?
Some cookies go hard before their time, and there are several baking errors that could be behind this. Over-baking is perhaps the most obvious - too long in the oven and your cookies will dry out, so make sure you time it right. Overworking your dough is another common problem, causing excess gluten strands to form, and making your cookie hard and tough. Finally, watch the fat content. Butter is what causes the cookie to spread while it bakes - add too much and your cookies will be thin and brittle.
But however well you bake your cookies, they will still go hard eventually. Over time, the moisture in a cookie will evaporate into the air, causing the starches in the flour to crystallise and making it brittle and hard. This process begins as soon as the cookies are removed from the oven, which is why freshly-baked cookies are always softest.
Soft cookies: keep them sealed
The trick to keeping your cookies soft for as long as possible is to stop moisture escaping, and to do that you need to keep them sealed. Moisture evaporates when it comes into contact with air, so you need to restrict air circulation around your cookies as much as possible. Airtight containers or ziploc bags work best, but if you don’t want to part with your old cookie jar, just put a ziploc bag inside.
Let your cookies cool and then stack them, using sheets of parchment to separate them and keep them from sticking together. You can put your slice of apple or bread in with them, or, if you don’t have much room, swap the bread for slices of flour tortilla in between each cookie. Wrap your cookie stack in plastic wrap and place inside your bag or container, filling any empty space with bubble wrap to minimise airflow. Store in a cool, dry place, and most cookies should keep for up to a week. Any longer and you should transfer them to the fridge. Gluten-free cookies have a shorter shelf-life, and should be refrigerated immediately.
Another important tip is to store different types of cookies separately. With so many tempting recipes from all over the world to choose from, you may have baked several different types of cookie. Be sure to store these in separate containers to stop stronger flavours like mint contaminating all your other cookies.
Tips for making a chewier cookie
In the same way that reducing moisture loss will keep your cookies softer for longer, packing your recipe with moisture-retaining ingredients will produce a softer, chewier cookie to begin with. Try adapting your favourite cookie recipe with these tips for baking the ultimate soft cookies.
As we know, too much butter leads to flat, thin cookies, so avoid greasing your baking tray and use parchment instead. You can also stop your cookie from spreading too thin by making the butter melt more slowly. You can achieve this by chilling your dough in the fridge for an hour or so, or by replacing the butter with shortening, which naturally melts more slowly. Do your research before making the switch, though, as some cookies, like shortbread, will only work with butter.
There are other ingredients you can substitute, too. Brown sugar retains more moisture than white sugar, making it the natural choice for a chewier cookie. Some people also recommend swapping the whites of any eggs in your recipe for an extra yolk, as egg whites tend to dry out in the oven.
Of course, the best way to stop ingredients drying out in the oven, or your cookie spreading too thin while it bakes, is to keep cooking time to a minimum. Try using the lower end of the recipe’s estimated baking time, or if you’re feeling brave, you can even take them out a minute or two early, with the middle still slightly raw. The cookie will be warm when you remove it from the oven, and should continue cooking until the middle firms up. For a consistent bake, use a light coloured tray. Dark colours absorb heat, meaning your cookie will bake more quickly on the bottom than the top.
Finally, some types of cookie retain moisture better than others. If you needed another reason to bake chocolate chip cookies, the moisture from the chocolate helps to keep the cookie soft, so they are relatively long-lasting, if you can avoid the temptation of eating them all.