Making cookies is a treat during the holidays. It spoils the festive mood if your dough turns out so dry and crumbly that you can’t roll it out. Is there any way to fix dry cookie dough?
Fix dry cookie dough by identifying the cause; if the dough lacks fat, add more fat. If the dough lacks liquid, add more liquid. If the dough has too much flour or dried out in the fridge, work in the remaining liquids and add more. If the dough is overmixed, let it rest until workable.
It’s hard to roll or pat out dry, crumbly cookie dough that refuses to hold together. Throwing out a batch of cookie dough is a waste of time and ingredients. Is there a solution to dry cookie dough?
5 Ways to Fix Dry Cookie Dough
Fortunately, we’ve got five reasons your cookie dough is dry, and five ways to fix it and transform it into a pliable dough that makes delicious cookies.
1. Dry Cookie Dough Has Too Little Fat
The first reason cookie dough is dry is that there is not enough fat in it.
at is an essential ingredient in cookies as it binds the ingredients and makes the dough soft and moist. The fat also coats the flour, preventing it from absorbing water and creating stretchy gluten (great in bread, but not in crisp cookies). Fat, especially butter, also creates that rich, decadent cookie flavor.
The dough may lack fat because:
- The recipe is flawed: there may be an error or misprint in the original.
- You measured incorrectly: your scale is set in ounces when the recipe is in grams, or your scale is broken.
- You used the wrong kind of fat: you substituted margarine, which is only 35% fat, for butter, which is 85% fat.
Fix #1: Add Fat
If your dough is too dry because of a lack of fat, you need to add more fat to soften and bind the dough.
Begin by adding one teaspoon of the fat you used (e.g. butter, oil, or margarine) and knead it in with your hands to prevent overmixing. Add teaspoons of fat until the dough reaches the right consistency.
However, take care when adding fat to dough: too much fat in cookie dough changes the cookies’ texture, causing them to puddle and spread in the oven.
2. Dry Cookie Dough Doesn’t Have Enough Liquid
Another reason your cookie dough may be dry is that there is too little liquid to bind the dough. Cookie recipes often include milk, eggs, or buttermilk to enrich the dough and vanilla or other essence for flavor.
Your dough might not have enough liquid because:
- The recipe is flawed.
- You measured incorrectly: you added one egg when the dough needed two, or confused liquid ounces and milliliters.
- You substituted the flour: coconut flour, for example, absorbs more liquid than regular flour, so you’ll need to add more liquid to avoid a dryer dough.
Fix #2: Add Liquid
The solution to dry dough can be to add a little more liquid.
Add a teaspoon of the liquid used in the recipe and gently knead the dough to moisten. Keep adding a teaspoon at a time until the dough is pliable. Use your hands to avoid overmixing.
Use a plain-flavored liquid, like milk or egg whites, rather than flavored extracts so that the taste of the dough doesn’t change.
If you have to add a quarter of a cup of liquid or more to make the dough workable, there is a problem with the recipe or your measurement of other ingredients. The cookies may not be a success.
More Cookie Tips
3. Dry Cookie Dough Has Too Much Flour
A third cause of dry dough is adding too much of the dry ingredients (usually flour, but also baking powder, salt, oatmeal, etc.).
Dry ingredients are critical to the structure of the cookies, making them thick and chewy. Without flour, cookies would be flat and shapless. With too much flour, the cookies end up dense, doughy, and solid.
Your dough may have too much flour because:
- There are errors in the recipe.
- You measured incorrectly: guesstimating dry ingredients is risky, as even one-quarter cup overmeasured will influence the dough’s texture. Invest in a set of accurate measuring cupes. To measure flour correctly, spoon it into the correct size measuring cup. Once the cup is full, carefully level off the flour with the flat side of a knife.
Fix #3: Use Your Hands
If you think your dough is crumbly and not coming together because there’s too much flour, the first step is to ensure that you have thoroughly combined the wet and dry ingredients.
If you’re using an electric mixer, it’s easy to miss butter on the base of the mixing bowl. Carefully scrape up any ingredients stuck to the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula. Your problem here is undermixing, which leads to dry dough with pockets of moisture and inconsistently baked cookies.
Use your hands to gently work the cookie dough, kneading and pressing to work the fats and liquids into the flour. You’ll often find that the dough comes together and smooths out.
It’s best to use your hands if the cookies need to be rolled into balls, as you can scoop dough and press it together.
If the dough is still too dry, take a look at Fixes 1 and 2, adding fats and liquid.
4. Dry Cookie Dough Is Overmixed
Another reason your cookie dough may be dry and tough is that it is overmixed.
Overmixing dough means that you mixed the ingredients for too long. What happens is that the flour develops too much gluten, an elastic-like protein that creates structure and height in baked goods. That structure is lovely in a ciabatta loaf but not in a tender cookie.
The main reason people mix the dough for too long is because they’ve used a standing mixer.
Stop mixing when you can’t see streaks of flour in the dough anymore.
Fix #4: Rest The Dough
Fortunately, the tough gluten developed by overmixing can be tamed. The best solution is to rest your cookie dough so that the gluten relaxes and softens.
Letting the dough rest in the refrigerator is an excellent idea even if it’s not dry. As the dough rests, the ingredients cool, the gluten relaxes, and the flour absorbs liquid. The cookie dough’s flavor intensifies, and the texture softens.
Leave the cookie dough for at least half an hour or even overnight.
Once you remove the cool cookie dough from the fridge, it will be soft and easier to work with.
5. Dry Cookie Dough Is Dried Out
This may sound repetitive, but hear me out:
The fifth cause of dry cookie dough is leaving the dough exposed in the fridge so that it dries out.
Cold air circulating in the fridge will dehydrate the dough through evaporation.
Ensure that you wrap dough tightly before refrigerating.
Never leave cookie dough in the refrigerator for longer than three days as the raw ingredients will spoil.
Fix #5: Bring The Dough To Room Temperature
If your cookie dough has hardened in the fridge, try letting it come to room temperature and see if it softens.
Another option is to turn to Fixes 1 and 2, adding a little fat or liquid to the dough and kneading it in.
However, if the dough has completely dried out in the fridge, you will have to discard it.
More Questions About Dry Cookie Dough
Why is my cookie dough cracking?
Cracking dough is another symptom of one of the problems we talked about earlier – not having enough fat. If your dough is cracked, go back to that section to understand what you can do to solve the problem.
Can I add milk to cookie dough?
Yes, if you discover that your cookie dough doesn’t have enough liquid, milk is a great liquid to add. You can use dairy or non-dairy milks. Just remember, if you have to add more than 1/4 cup of liquid, your cookies probably won’t turn out right and you may have to start over.
How do you fix dry vegan cookie dough?
Vegan cookies can be even more tricky to make because you have less ingredients to work with. However, the concept is basically the same, because all cookies need a combination of flour, fat, and sugar to “work.” Go back through the steps and see if you might be missing fat or liquid. If you come to the conclusion that you are, just use the vegan alternatives to fix the dry dough.
How do you fix dry gluten-free cookie dough?
Now, gluten free cookies are a whole OTHER ball game, even besides vegan! It is not uncommon for gluten free cookies to turn out dry or spread a whole lot when baking. If you need help with this, definitely check out these tips for gluten free cookies.
Dry cookie dough is a problem that we may all face at one time or another. While it isn’t an ideal situation to be in, there is often a remedy to the situation! Liquid or fat can be added to help the dryness, or sometimes the dough simply needs some more working with the hands.
However, if your dough is dry because it’s been sitting in the fridge too long, you may not be able to fix it. Keep all these things in mind next time when you make cookies…and hopefully you’ll never face the same struggle again!