Chilling cookie dough before baking solidifies the fat in the cookies. As the cookies bake, the fat in the chilled cookie dough takes longer to melt than room-temperature fat. And the longer the fat remains solid, the less cookies spread.
“When your dough is refrigerated, the butter hardens. So when you bake them, they spread less and hold their shape better,” adds Epperson. “Which means a better likelihood of a soft, chewy cookie in the center.” So chilling the dough before baking means fluffier cookies with better consistency.
As a general rule of thumb, you should refrigerate cookie dough for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. More than that and you won’t see a noticeable difference in the final product, says Haught Brown.
How to Soften Chilled Cookie Dough
- Merrill recommends putting dough near a warm stove, and pounding it with a rolling pin once it starts to soften.
- Trena cuts the dough into smaller pieces using a pastry cutter, figuring that they will come to room temperature faster.
Anytime a cookie recipe relies on eggs to provide the bulk of the liquid content, resting the dough is generally a good idea. It hydrates the flour, resulting in a better texture and more consistent bake. However, if a cookie recipe instructs you to bake them right away, it’s usually on purpose.
It is best to chill dough in the refrigerator for the entire recommended amount of time. However, if you are in a hurry, placing the dough in the freezer for one-fourth of the recommended refrigerator time will work, too.
Store dough in an air tight container for 24 hours in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a medium cookie scoop place cookie dough on an ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
So when a dough is too firm, letting it warm up a bit is the obvious and correct choice. But if you use your microwave, you could easily warm it up too much – making the dough hard to handle and you might have to cool it again.
Speed Things Up with Your Freezer
Most recipes recommend chilling cookie dough for several hours in the refrigerator, but the good news is that you can use your freezer in a pinch. Better Homes and Gardens says that you can freeze cookie dough for one-fourth of the recommended refrigeration time with good results.