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

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?)!