The secret to perfectly browned cookies

Four cookies.

Same batch of dough. Same baking temperature. Same baking time.

So, looking at their bottoms – why did they brown so very differently?

The answer?

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It’s all in the pan.

Shown above are four “colors” of pan. All are made from aluminum, yet their surfaces are very different.

Left to right, we have a shiny-surface pan; a light-gray baking sheet; one of our dark-gray KAF cookie pans; and my grandmother’s inexpensive old aluminum pan, blackened from years of use.

I’ve noticed that occasionally my cookie baking times differ a lot from what the recipe calls for. This doesn’t seem to happen with King Arthur recipes; it’s more with those I get from a friend, or out of a magazine.

At first I thought it might be my oven temperature. So I bought two different oven thermometers, stuck them in the oven side by side, and compared their readings to the temperature at which I’d set my oven.

All three agreed, at least within 10° or so.

So… what else?

I always use a half-sheet pan, lined with parchment, to bake cookies.

What would happen if I switched pans?

And while I’m at it, is there a difference in browning when you use parchment, vs. none?

Let’s put these questions to the test.

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Here’s my old, dark cookie sheet. I lined half of it with parchment, and greased the other half. I repeated this process with all four pans.

Next, I whipped up a batch of Buttery Snickerdoodle dough. I wanted to use a light-colored sugar cookie, in order to be able to see nuances of color.

I preheated the oven to 375°F – a typical cookie-baking temperature – and set a rack in the center.

One by one, I baked each pan of cookies for 10 minutes, checking my two thermometers to make sure the temperature didn’t waver.

The result?

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A vast difference in the finished cookies.

At left is the cookie baked on the shiny pan lined with parchment; at right, the cookie baked on the old, dark pan, without parchment.

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And here’s the complete result of the 10-minute bake, with “no parchment” cookies on the left, “parchment” on the right.

Top to bottom, you see cookies from the dark pan; the dark-gray pan; the half-sheet pan, and the shiny pan.

The half-sheet pan browned cookies just the way I like – with a slight degree of caramelization, which increases their flavor.

You may be thinking, “Well, that’s a bummer; all I have is my old, dark cookie pans.” Or maybe you invested in nice, shiny stainless steel.

Fear not; you don’t need new pans, simply an awareness of how your baking time might vary from that stated in the recipe.

Using the same batch of cookie dough and same oven settings, I followed the same process again – four pans, half parchment/half greased. But this time, I paid attention to the cookies as they baked, and removed them from the oven when I judged they were done.

The result?

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It’s possible to get perfectly browned cookies using any type of pan, and using/not using parchment. You simply have to adjust your baking time.

Pictured above (top to bottom) are cookies baked on an old, dark pan; a dark-gray pan; a half-sheet pan; and a shiny pan.

The time range (e.g., 11 to 13 minutes) refers to whether or not the cookie was baked without parchment (e.g., 11 minutes) or with parchment (e.g., 13 minutes).

Look at the difference in baking times! Depending on the pan you use, compared to the pan the recipe developer used, you might bake a cookie only half as long as the recipe directs.

So, here are my takeaways:

•An independent oven thermometer (or two) will help you verify how accurate your oven temperature is. Oven temperature is an important starting place; don’t blindly trust the manufacturer’s settings. And on that subject, I’ve never yet met an oven that was actually up to temperature when it claims it is; all of us in the King Arthur test kitchen know to give the oven at least another 10 minutes after it says, “I’m ready!”

•When trying a new recipe, do a test bake first. Line half of the pan you’ll use with parchment; grease the other half. Drop two balls of cookie dough onto the parchment side, two onto the greased side. Bake the cookies; remove them from the oven when they seem done, rather than going strictly by the time given in the recipe. Note on the recipe how long they baked; this is YOUR bake time, using your oven and your pans.

•Cookie recipes on our King Arthur Flour recipe site are developed using half-sheet pans or our KAF cookie sheets, lined with parchment. If your cookie sheets are darker or lighter, you may have to adjust your baking time.

Yes, all of this takes a bit of thought. But isn’t it worth it?

You want to treat your family and friends to cookies that are perfectly baked, right?

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Clockwise from top left: dark pan, dark-gray pan, shiny pan, half-sheet pan.

Both top…

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…and bottom!

 

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Bernice P

    My cookie recipe says to bake them at 375. However, if using a dark or non stick pan to bake them at 350. My pans are light grey non stick USA pans. I use parchment paper to bake. Does using the parchment change what temp I should use. My inclination is to bake them at 350 but than am not sure if I should bake them at 375 since I have the parchment paper. Please advise. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Bernice, parchment paper tends to help cookies brown perfectly and prevents them from burning. It provides a bit of extra insulation, which makes us think your cookies will bake well at 375*F (plus the fact that the USA pans are light in color). The best part about baking cookies is that it’s easy to bake a test batch with just one or two cookies before committing to one temperature for all the cookies. Give it a try and see how you like it, knowing that 350*F is an option if your cookies brown too readily. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Laura

    Thanks for the great article.

    I’ve had a weird frustration today – I made cookie dough with a recipe I’ve used before and it was enough for 4 batches in the oven. I baked all 4 at the same temperature, on the same pan (cooled completely and cleaned between each batch), and for the same amount of time. The over was pre-heated well before the first batch.

    The first two batches came out perfectly browned. The last two batches ended up slightly burnt and burnt respectively.

    Any ideas why that might have happened?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Laura, it sounds like your oven runs through cycles, as most do these days. Depending on what kind of oven you’re using (gas or electric), these cycles can sometimes be quite pronounced. The best thing you can do as the baker in these situations is to check each batch about 3-5 minutes early if you know your oven tends to run through these hot spurts. You’ll also get a better sense of how your oven operates the more you use it — now you know you should really watch those subsequent batches closely. Other factors that may have been at play here are how long the batter rested at room temperature and how much it warmed up during that period. If your kitchen is quite warm, you might consider chilling the cookie dough in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. Also, if you have two baking sheets that you can rotate between, that’s ideal — that way one can cool completely while the other bakes. Even if it’s still a bit warm, it could change the final result of your cookies. We hope these tips help get you on track for the next bake! Kye@KAF

  3. Kathleen Bergey

    for over 40 years I’ve baked at sea level altitude. i just moved to an altitude of 7200 feet. I’m overwelmed with adjusting my old baking habits and very flustered trying to redo my old Christmas cookies. I’d so appreciate some help!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kathleen, baking at high altitude can definitely be a challenge and often requires making a number of changes (including decreasing baking temp, leavener, rising time, etc.). Since we aren’t at altitude here in Vermont, we aren’t able to provide tested adjustments for all of our products and recipes, but we do have a very handy guide to help you think through what adjustments you may want to make. Mollie@KAF

  4. Connie Hoffman

    Wow, I have been baking for a while and was not aware of stoneware cooking sheets. Thanks so much for the great advice. We visited the KAF store in Vermont and I loved the samples. I was surprized how great the boxed mixes were. I usually shun those and make my baked goods from scratch. I bought several and my hubbie kept adding things to the basket. I wish I had bought my cooking sheet while I was there. Anybody traveling to Vermont, this is a must stop for bakers!!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for coming to see us, Connie. I am pleased you enjoyed your visit and are loving the mixes. I also like to bake from scratch but the convenience of a mix can’t be beat! Elisabeth@KAF

  5. Toni

    Can you tell me what makes a cookie more “soft and chewy” vs hard and crumbly? Same basic ingredients, is it the ratio?? More sugar?? mpre butter/shortening??

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Toni, butter plays a big role in why a cookie can be soft vs. crumbly. If it’s too soft, or the dough is too warm, the cookies can spread as they bake, making them crispy and thin. Over-creaming the butter and sugar can cause the same results. So make sure that your butter is soft, but not runny or melted. And make sure to keep an eye on your creaming. Sticking the dough in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes or so will help keep them soft and moist. I hope this helps! Bryanna@KAF

    1. Susan Reid

      That depends partly on the kind of cookie you’re baking and how you like them. If you’re a crispy cookie person, convection (reduced temperature, 25 degrees) is worth going for. If you’re a crispy edge, bendy/chewy middle person, then a still oven is better. Susan

  6. ann

    Hint: the racks in your oven are adjustable! I’ve moved a lot in my adult life, so even though I love my cookie sheets, the oven can be a crap shoot. Once I’ve cooked/baked a few items with a thermometer inside, I’ve got a pretty good idea about how it cooks and just move the racks up or down accordingly for bread, casseroles, cookies, etc. No burned bottoms.

    Reply

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