Welcome to the second installment of The Great Cookie Experiment.

The 1st round, talking about butter temperature, is here. It’s close to being life changing so go on and read it if you haven’t already.

Today, we are delving into the swirling issue of whether chocolate chip cookie dough should be chilled prior to baking. There are several very, very popular cookie recipes (the NY Times one comes to mind) that have taken the chocolate chip cookie world by storm insisting that cookie dough should be refrigerated for 24/36 hours before baking. Supposedly it develops flavor and helps with texture. Many, many of you asked about this in the comments of the first post (I’ve cataloged all your questions and they are on the short list of upcoming cookie experiments!).

So what’s a girl to do when she sets out on The Great Cookie Experiment? Chill some dough already!

Let’s start with the assumption that I am using the same basic cookie dough I used in the first round of tests with butter temperature (recipe located here). It is a classic, simple cookie dough recipe calling for room temperature butter. For the experiment I’m showing you today, I used perfectly cool room temperature butter.

I divided the dough into three sections. One luscious triangle of cookie dough to be baked right away. The second to be refrigerated for 24 hours and the third to be refrigerated for 48 hours (this 36 hour nonsense was for the birds because I was not going to get up at 3 a.m. to bake cookies; sorry).
dough in 3 pieces

Here’s a lineup of the baked cookies. All very pretty, I must say. Each cookie, regardless of chilling time, was baked for the same exact amount of time (11 minutes in my oven) and was measured at about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough per cookie. Let’s delve deeper into the results of each one, okie doke?
cookies in a line with writing

This lovie cookie was baked right away. It was as I knew it would be. Soft and chewy and held it’s shape perfectly. It’s the type of cookie I’ve eaten hundreds of over the years since I rarely, rarely chill chocolate chip cookie dough. That requires planning ahead and when I want cookies, I want cookies.
baked right away

Here’s the beaut that was chilled for 24 hours prior to baking. The cookie itself didn’t brown quite as much as the other two, regardless of the same baking time, but it was very soft and while the first cookie had a slight cakey texture, this second 24-hour cookie was a bit more buttery tasting. The dough, itself, could not be scooped out with a cookie scoop, thanks to the chilling, which was a point against chilling in my book, since I love my cookie scoop like a sixth child. I had to dig out the cookie dough from the bowl, eyeball the size and roll it between my palms. It was a bit harder to get a perfect circle of dough before baking because the dough was stiff. However, I must say that it was super convenient to wake up in the morning and have cookie dough at my beck and call in the refrigerator (not to eat for breakfast, silly!) so that we could have warm, baked cookies before 9 a.m. Ok, so we may or may not have sampled a few for breakfast.
24 hour cookie

Now for the 48-hour cookie. Same notes as above about the chilled dough. Hard to scoop and roll into balls but lovely having cookie dough all made. This cookie confused and befuddled me. It was baked for the same amount of time as the other two, you can even see the lovely golden notes on it’s exterior, but the cookie itself was doughy. Almost greasy. I even added a minute onto the other cookies in this batch and it was the same result.
48 hour cookie

As for texture and flavor, I have to be honest (I never claimed to have a refined palate), I didn’t notice a huge difference in flavor. The 24-hour cookie was more buttery tasting (not greasy, just delicious buttery flavor) but other than that, there wasn’t a huge standout. Texture? You can see from the picture below that they all look pretty similar; however, the cookie baked instantly, like I noted above, was a tad bit cakier in texture. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it had I not tasted it side-by-side with the other cookies (yeah, that job was a real bummer, let me tell you) but yep, it was cakier and less buttery. The 48-hour cookie was too greasy for my liking. Of course that didn’t stop me from taste testing a bite from each cookie in the batch just to be sure. I am a very thorough scientist.
stacked cookies

Conclusion: Here’s what I learned and how I feel. About cookies. This is deep and important so hold on to your seats. Chilling the dough didn’t convince me that I should do it each and every time I make cookies. The thousands of batches of cookies I’ve made over the years have been delicious without chilling and I didn’t notice a remarkable change in taste and texture because of the chilling. Here’s the kicker for me - I rarely plan ahead 24 or 48 hours for cookies. So I already knew that chilling the dough would be a tough sell for me. Chocolate chip cookies in my house are pure pleasure…totally fun…and usually are a spontaneous venture. No one is going to wait 24 hours for cookies in this land. However, the convenience of chilled cookie dough ready-to-be-baked cannot be understated. In that vein, chilling is a great idea. But because that 48-hour cookie didn’t fare so well, in my opinion, I will make sure I only chill for upwards of 24 hours. And, if you are making chocolate chip cookies for an event or to serve to company or to give to someone that has the.most.refined.palate.in.the.universe, then for goodness sakes, think about chilling the dough for a day. Otherwise, you can always roll the dough into balls and freeze (similar to this method/gift idea).

A few disclaimers: This chilling experiment only applies to the basic cookie dough recipe I used. For other recipes that require or state strongly to chill the dough – well, you might want to heed that especially if it helps the cookies not spread or fall flat. However, I will admit that I am a bit rebellious and have been known to bake cookies right away even though the recipe says to chill. No judging, please. Conversely, I have chilled dough (for a recent Salted Peanut Butter Cup Dark Chocolate Cookie that asked for it to be done) and the results were phenomenal. Whose to say they wouldn’t have been great without the chilling? I didn’t have time to test it out; all I’m encouraging you to do is use your best judgment. Also, I didn’t include this in the experiment because it made no difference, but I chilled a portion of the dough for just an hour or two and those cookies were identical to the “baked immediately” cookies. Just an FYI.

And that’s a wrap! Stay tuned to the next installment of The Great Cookie Experiment (most likely related to baking pans and what to line the pan with…exciting stuff, eh?)!

57 Responses to The Great Cookie Experiment: Chilling the Dough {Does It Make a Difference?}

  1. Kim in MD says:

    Yes- this is VERY exciting stuff for me! Actually, it’s very fascinating! I would have guessed that the cookies that were refrigerated for 48 hours would taste the most complex. I love food science! Mel- when I make cookie dough that requires refrigeration, I scoop the dough immediately after making the dough and stack the cookie balls in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers. This avoids the “hard to scoop” hassle of dealing with cold, hard cookie dough.

  2. bluebaker says:

    Hi Mel- Thanks for all your scientific studies.I am also interested in just what happens and why things affect texture, taste, etc. (luv Alton Brown, btw). When I make alot of cookies for an event or Christmas, etc, I try to plan one day to make all the doughs, then the next day to do assembly line kind of baking.
    When I see all those premade chemically rolls of cookie dough in the store, I wonder how long they’ve been sitting there. some of them have long expire dates.
    Thre is just nothing like homemade. :).

  3. Terry A. says:

    That would explain why all the commercial doughs from the refrigerated section of the grocery store always taste greasy!

    Thanks for the experiment. I am a bake-immediately girl myself.

  4. Danielle says:

    Interesting! The only time I appreciate having to chill dough is at Christmastime, when I can make all my dough one day, and then bake the next. With chocolate chip cookies, I use a tip from my aunt; I scoop the dough out onto the cookie sheet, stick the whole cookie sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes, and then pop it into the oven. I’m not sure that it would matter with all chocolate chip cookie recipes, but you can definitely tell the difference in hers!

  5. Charlotte Moore says:

    I do the same as Kim with the dough. Make them into balls and all you have to do is put them on the pan and cook. I also freeze them that way sometimes.

  6. Julie says:

    Cookies are so dear to my heart –I love you!

  7. Renee says:

    This is really cool that you are doing these experiments. I almost always chill my dough, or freeze rather. I like to have fresh baked cookies all the time. I don’t even usually eat a choc chip cookie after a day or two after it has been baked. I guess I am a cookie snob. :) Anyway, I scoop them and then freeze them on cookie sheets until hard and then put in to a ziploc freezer bag. I reduce the temp to 325 and just bake from frozen. Warm cookies anytime you want. I have done this to almost every kind of cookie. They all bake up very nicely. You might try scooping them before you refrigerate and just cover really well in fridge. I, like you, am a scooper and scooping rock hard chilled dough is no walk in the park. I end up just hurting my hand. :) Thanks for your hard work making cookies! It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

  8. Laura says:

    This is very interesting! I’ve never been able to refrigerate dough for hours on end (like you, I need my cookies asap ;P ) – the only time I put dough in the fridge is to cool it back down in summer to make it more manageable.

  9. Crystal A. says:

    I love this! I learned a lot about butter temp on your last one and have learned even more with this one! Thank you for doing this :-)

  10. Jane says:

    Here’s what I do: after I make the dough I scoop it into balls, put them close together on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, and stick it in the freezer. When the dough balls are stiff, I bag them in freezer bags and let them age in the freezer. It is super convenient to pull out those balls and bake as needed. You will need to add a few extra minutes to the baking time for the frozen balls, but the flavor is improved by the aging.

  11. Great post, Mel–loved the scientific approach! When I did a little research on Ruth Graves Wakefield, the creator of Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies, prior to posting the recipe for the NYT CC cookies, I discovered that she always refrigerated the dough overnight. When Nestle purchased the right to print her recipe on the back of the bag of their chocolate chips, they left out the chilling overnight step. I suspect they felt some bakers would be turned off by the additional step and wait. I have been meaning to remake the toll house recipe on the back of the bag and try chilling the dough, but I am so in love with the Levain Bakery CCC recipe that I just haven’t found the time. I do believe that there is a chemistry factor with the overnight chilling as the dough absorbs the liquid from the egg. Baking chilled dough also creates a wonderful textural contrast as the center takes longer to bake and remains chewy (or even gooey) while the edges are crisper, so you get a texture trifecta all in one cookie! Making the Levain Bakery CC cookies changed my chocolate-chip-cookie-making life forever!

  12. Andrea says:

    Awesome. I am loving this series!

  13. Aimee Peterson says:

    Thank you, Mel! This was very informative and I’m going to try chilling the cookie dough for 24 hours!

  14. Sienna says:

    Out of curiosity did you let the dough come to room temperature before baking or flatten the refrigerated dough balls at all? I’ve been reading about refrigerating dough lately but am worried that it might not flatten out enough if cooked straight out of the fridge.

  15. I believe the chill/don’t chill controversy mostly applies to sugar cookies, gingerbread etc (the ones you really don’t want to lose their perfect “cutter shape” because you’re going to decorate them afterwards)…
    I never bother to chill chip cookies tbh, although it _can_ be done and, as you say, it’s very handy!

  16. Well, looks like I should start chilling my cookie dough! Your 24-hour cookie looks so perfect, Mel! Awesome experiment. I bet your kids definitely loved being on the taste-testing end of this one!

  17. Jenny G says:

    I’ve often wondered all this so thanks for working it out for me! When I make cookies I need them right then too, but I only cook some of the dough then cook more the next day and the next day. Looks like I get the best of all the worlds…only I thaw mine out each time so I can use my scoop. Does that negate the whole experiment?!?

  18. Christine says:

    Mel, thanks for testing this out. I’ve wondered if chilling actually does make a difference, but I’m with you–I NEVER do it! Even if the recipe insists I must. Who wants to wait for cookies??

  19. Amy P says:

    I recently found an amazing cookie recipe that called for 24-36 hour chilling and applied the same strategy to it that you did here – baked some immediately, some at 24 hours, and some sometime after 36 hours. I did notice a bit of a difference with that recipe. Not that the immediately-baked ones were bad at all, but when tested the chilled ones did taste more complex (I didn’t notice greasiness).
    I definitely pre-scoop to chill/freeze now…which reminds me, I have cookie dough in the freezer!

  20. tiffany says:

    this is sooo important!! Thanks for taking the time to do it, everyone needs a perfect chocolate chip cookie in their life!

  21. I think chilling the dough makes a difference in oatmeal cookies, but then, the oats do need some time to get completely hydrated. Otherwise I think that using premium ingredients, toasting nuts, using chunks instead of chips (a personal preference) make more of a difference. In my experience, chilling the dough is meant for the times when you have too much dough. Who plans on making cookies today to be eaten tomorrow anyway?! You wan´t them now!

  22. Shannon says:

    I appreciate your sacrifice of tasting all those cookies just to help us know the best method for making chocolate chip cookies! You’re the champ!

  23. Blayre says:

    Hi Mel! The cookie experiment is an incredible idea! I LOVE to chill my cookie dough and to make it all easy, I roll the dough into balls and freeze them on a cookie sheet before bagging them. Easy come, easy go. And they taste a million times better than if I were to cook the dough immediately. (… and I can eat them any time of day just as long as someone else hasn’t eaten them all on me already).

    LOVE your blog. You are my go-to every.single.day.

  24. Michelle Garringer says:

    Thanks Mel, i discovered when i tested the cookie experiement the same no more than 24 hours to refrigerate for chocolate chip type cookies. i decided this works the best for me i get a large enough plastic container with lid and scoop the dough with my cookie scoop before, if you dont have a flatter container you can use paper plates to keep the layers separate and with the plate hand flatten them into rounds if you want thinner cookies, and then chill for a half hour to 45 minutes then bake. this also tested out when i cooked a batch of sugar cookies the immediately baked ones weren’t as good as the ones i left in the fridge waiting for the first batch to bake cool and move from the pan- about a half hour. Thanks :)

  25. Heidi says:

    One of the few things in the kitchen I’m pretty good at is baking cookies. And I am LOVING this series! Can’t wait for the next installment!

  26. I looked up the scientific reasoning behind chilling the dough a while ago… it is so the fats (butter) are absorbed into the flour to get that more buttery flavor your explained. I think chilling for 24 hours does make a difference. I just baked cookies last night from dough I made a couple days ago… and… I think 24 hours is the ideal (although any chocolate chip cookie is good in my book)!

  27. Mel says:

    Sienna, I didn’t let the dough come to room temp… I just scooped and baked and they flattened perfectly while baking, chilled and all.

  28. Wendy S says:

    I love that you have done all of the experimenting for me! I have had all of these question for a long time now and just adjust from batch to batch and recipe to recipe (sometimes forgetting how they turned out the time before). As a side note, I worked for Mrs. Fields cookies, back in the day, and we were required to cut up the butter and add it to the batter cold, thats right, refrigerator cold. the next step was to mix until the butter and sugar formed pencil eraser sized pieces. The idea was that the butter melts and crystallizes with the butter while cooking and leaving cookies slightly crispy on the outside, chewy and tender on the inside. I guess the proof was in the cookies! I visit your page regularly and love the recipes and stories. I feel like we may just be kindred spirits :)

  29. Marysue says:

    Hi Mel, before July 7th, I had never baked cookies…lots of other things, but never cookies. I found a food blog that was having a cookie swap and joined before I could back out. I had always wanted to do the cookie thing, but just never had. Anyway, I wanted to experiment with different kinds, since I wanted my recipients to be delighted, and had chosen three…all with the basic (old fashioned chocolate chip) dough. They all turns out so well, I sent them four of each instead of a dozen of just one.

    HERE is the interesting part. I had a cool whip tub of each of the doughs left over. I just didn’t have the stamina to bake them all. So (since I’d never fooled with cookies and didn’t know what the heck I was doing…or doing wrong) I plopped them in the fridge. Today, I wanted some more, so I baked what was left okie dokie all three batches. I was SHOCKED…so was my husband…today’s batches were TEN times better than the “fresh” made ones! The taste, the texture, the bake itself (golden edges on all this time vs hardly any,the last time). We were so impressed that we agreed that I would always “fridge them” for a few days before baking.

    Maybe it was a fluke…maybe beginners luck, I don’t know; but, there really was a (very good) noteable difference!

  30. Kimberlee says:

    I really appreciate this series as I have such little luck with cookies, I don’t bake them anymore :( When I first had problems I was advised to put my CCC dough in the fridge for 1 hour before baking. That worked–once. Isn’t that weird? I kept trying it & my cookies always spread flat. Someone else recommended airbakes. No luck. I had always used baking stones. I fell in love with parchment paper over the holidays & I am betting that is going to be the difference for me. But I’m going to try 24 hours first. :)

  31. Nicole Hunn says:

    Fun experiment, Mel!
    I find that the temperature of the cookie dough is super important not necessarily for flavor, but for how they behave during baking when I’m developing a recipe for, say, thin and chewy chocolate chip cookies (which have a higher butter to flour ratio than thick cookies, but not as high as for thin and crispy cookies). Clearly, I spend way way too much time thinking about chocolate chip cookies!

    xo Nicole

  32. Susan says:

    I love food experiments! I like my cookies fresh and hot so I almost always cook them a dozen at a time and then refrigerate the rest until the next night. I’ve always been baffled by people who bake all the dough at once. Isn’t half the fun snacking on the dough for the next couple days. Also, I find the cold dough easier to handle because it’s not so sticky.

  33. Tiffiny says:

    Hi Mel! First I want to appreciate the immense sacrifice you are making taste SO MANY cookies to give us these results. I’m sure you can’t wait until it’s over! ;-) But really, this is such great info. Thank you for doing this! Second, I thought I read “Salted Peanut Butter Cup Dark Chocolate Cookie” in the above post….was it good? Are you going to post the recipe!? It sounds amazing, so I’d love to see it on your blog if it’s share worthy. As always you are the best! Thanks again!

  34. Love this installment! Thanks for taking one for the team and trying all these cookies! :P

  35. MeganRuth says:

    I loved this post for many reasons. I would’ve loved to have done this experiment as well b/c cookies are delicious and I think experiments are fun as well. Thanks for the information, and for the information delivered in such an entertaining way.

    PS: I am the same as you in regards to spontaneity with cookies.

  36. Beth says:

    Thank you for this post, Mel! I actually had just read a recipe tonight that suggested refrigerating cookies for 2 hours prior to baking. I had never noticed those instructions before (Maybe because your site is my go-to for cookie recipes!). It’s good to know this doesn’t make a real difference, because who wants to wait 2 hours for your cookies?? Excellent post!

  37. Aubri says:

    I love this Mel! Such fun posts! I never refrigerate my dough because like you, when I want cookies…I want them now! And, after looking at your pictures. I want cookies now! Also…am I the only one who was very distracted by the part where you wrote about the Salted Peanut Butter Cup Dark Chocolate Cookies? Did I miss a post on those? Cuz, holy cow, those sound amazing! Thanks for all your hard work :)

  38. Candace Fielding says:

    I made this recipe today following the instructions exactly…except for mixing the dough for 2-3 minutes after adding the egg. I mixed for almost 1 minute because that is when the dough became light and fluffy. I noticed that my cookies don’t have the same look as yours…specifically on the top. I took a picture if you want to see it. Any suggestions? I have a gas oven. Do you have convection? I’m trying to figure this out because I like the look of yours better. Thanks.

  39. Stephanie says:

    I’m glad you took the time and effort to do this experiment and share the results. I don’t generally have time for it, but I do wonder about stuff like that. I’d love to see you write all about those salted peanut butter cup dark chocolate cookies! I hear they’re really yummy! (That’s according to my boys who each bought one at Kate and Jacob’s adoption fundraiser sale yesterday.) Btw, I too believe chocolate chip cookies are meant for spontaneous fun. You don’t want to wait for them! :)

  40. Mel says:

    Hi Candace – feel free to email me your picture; I’m having a hard time imagining what your cookie looks like. I just have a regular, every day electric oven (not convection, not gas). I always make sure my rack is in the middle of the oven which can make a huge difference in how the cookies bake, too.

  41. stephanie says:

    Hi Mel,
    I have been known to bake a dozen cookies at a time and end up baking fresh cookies every day. Which means my dough has been left in the fridge to chill. I usually bring it back to room temp before scooping for the above reasons, but have scraped and molded cold dough before. For sure by 48 hours I think the baking soda and/or powder have lost some of their power and the cookies never bake as fluffy but more greasy.
    I agree with your conclusion.
    What a fun experiment. It is fun to read what you find and think.
    Thanks Mel!

  42. Stacy says:

    Loved reading this! I agree, cookie dough would never make it 48 hours in my home! I have 3 kids over the age of 17 and a husband that adore frozen cookie dough!!! I scoop the freshly made cookie dough into flat containers and stack them between wax paper before freezing. When I’m ready to bake them, I place them on the cookie sheet and into the oven!

  43. grace says:

    terrific investigation, mel. the scientist in me is thrilled with your process and the cookie-lover in me is excited about your findings. :)

  44. Mary A. says:

    I was wondering about the mention you made of Salted Peanut Butter Cup Dark Chocolate Cookies – have you posted that recipe?

    Thanks for the post, love the information!

  45. Amber says:

    I’m a fan of chilling the dough! If you ever make the chocolate cookies from the Cook’s illustrated cookbook, then you must chill it!

  46. Lori says:

    Any chance you’ll include frozen dough into this experiment? I do it all the time, but I’d be curious to see your “scientific” results! Thanks!

  47. Marsha says:

    A little late to the party here, but I found your blog as I was researching this very question about room temp. cookie dough vs. chilled. My work is having a cookie contest on Thursday and several people had mentioned to the person heading up the contest, that I have made great cookies in the past and that she should see if I was going to enter. (I had already decided to!). Anyway, my plan was to wake up early on Thursday and bake them before work so they’d be as fresh as possible. We are allowed to enter more than one kind, so I was going to do two, I won’t have time to bake that many before work, unless I get up at 4 a.m. (not happening!) so that’s why I was wondering about chilling the dough. Since you didn’t find a huge taste difference, I just might chill them into pre-formed cookie balls for quick baking in the morning. I also have to bring in 3 dozen, but I’m just going to make smaller cookies in order to get that many!

  48. /fæn/ says:

    I’ve throughoutly enjoyed your experiment series! Chilling some dough now :))

  49. Jae says:

    but can we get that recipe?

  50. Luci H says:

    I loved your cookie experiments. I think your next experiment should be to determine the difference in cookie texture when cooked at different temperatures and lengths. Thanks!

  51. kaitlyn knowles says:

    I’m also doing this project but i need research to go with it can u help?

  52. Jessica says:

    I don’t usually refrigerate my cookie dough, but when I did once because I didn’t have nuts that I like to add into my dough (I pushed them in the top of each cookie before I baked them) I rolled the dough in glad wrap, and holding the ends, rolled it along the bench repetitively until I got a consistent sausage shape. After taking them out of the fridge I sliced them and took the glad wrap off (in that order so they hold shape) which was really convenient not having to roll each one. And my palms remained clean. I love that you did this experiment, dedication to cookies is a truly important trait.

  53. Kathryn says:

    Well, I will never chill the dough again. The recipe said to chill both the sugar cookie and gingerbread cookie recipes I had and the dough was dry and crumbly and I couldn’t roll it out without having to add water to the dough. So I will never chill the dough again.

  54. Emily says:

    I chill the dough for an hour or so, and I notice a difference even then. I wouldn’t do it for 24 hours, but I like that they’re puffier after chilling the dough!

  55. Cindy Menjivar says:

    How does refrigerating the cookie dough effect the taste ??? Please answer as soon as possible (:

  56. Marsha says:

    I don’t find that chilling the dough affects the taste, at least not in a bad way. Regular chocolate chip cookies were fine. I made some Brown Butter Salted Caramel Snickerdoodles and I think the flavor was even better after being chilled for 24 hours. My favorite cookies now are anything with the browned butter!

  57. Mel says:

    Cindy – You can read through the post and comments to get some ideas. Then you should try some experiments of your own. Some people swear by chilling the dough. Good luck!

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