Why don't my cookies flatten?
I have baked Betty Crocker's Giant Honey and Oat Cookies three or four times now, and every time, my cookies do not spread out, I just get thick cookies. Is there something I am doing wrong? As far as I can tell, I am following the recipe exactly. Does it have something to do with my oven? With my technique?
There are a few things I can think of. The first is, are you sure your oven is at the right temperature? Although your oven may beep that it's preheated, without checking it with an oven or infrared thermometer you can't be sure that it's actually at the temperature you need - and even if it is at that temperature where the sensor is, it might not be the same temperature elsewhere in the oven. Try moving the rack you're using one or two levels closer to or further from the element and see if it makes a difference (further will probably be better if you're trying to increase spread). My oven has a 50-75°F range from the top rack to the bottom - a major difference when it comes to baking! Understanding my oven's temperature range changed my baking outcomes significantly.
Second, are you letting the dough come to room temperature before baking? I've found that the colder my dough, the less spread I get.
On Betty Crocker's site, there is an FAQ and under "Why don't my cookies spread", they recommend using an aluminum sheet - the darker the cookie sheet, apparently, the less spread you will get. I haven't tested this personally, but I trust the source :) I get good spread on my silpat baking sheets, for what it's worth.
The only other thing I can think of is your butter, is it truly softened, or is it a hard block, or is it melted? I'm not an experienced enough baker to explain the science behind the differences as they relate to baking, but I do know that those three options will produce significantly different results. I believe that if your butter is too cold, they won't spread as much as they could - but hopefully someone can chime in and confirm or deny that.
Oh, and I asked a friend of mine who's a baker - she said that it's possible that your baking soda is old, and that could cause it, but I don't know from first hand experience if that's possible or not. I trust her judgment though, as she's my go-to with baking questions and she's never led me astray.
If the butter is too cold, won't it melt in the oven, so 'problem solved'? (And kinda the same question about the dough temperature)
I think with baking something like this, considering the cookies are in the oven for only 11 minutes, the dough and butter temperature will make a big difference. Yes, eventually the butter will melt even if it's cold, but if it starts melting at "minute 1" vs if it starts melting at "minute 6", this will make a big difference in the final result. It's kind of like putting a steak into a warm pan vs a hot pan, yes you will eventually get a hot steak, but the result will be very different. But, as I said, I'm more of a cook - I'm still learning how to bake, mostly thanks to this site :)
@stephenmcdonald - if your butter is too cold it won't spread much, and it also won't cream well. It should be around 70 degrees F to start creaming.
@Mien: It's not just the time; if the butter is too cold, it won't cream properly. Huge problem in doughs and beaten batters.
The dark pans cause problems because they get hotter. When the dough starts to spread, the heat of the pan can be high enough to cause them to set up. (Oh and +1 for "butter too cold" which was my thought).
The temperature (and amount) of the butter is the most important variable in my experience. If you use melted butter, the cookies will be very flat. If you use cold butter (or thoroughly chill your dough after mixing), the cookies won't spread out as much. If you use more butter, you'll also get more spread.