Crumbly cookie dough is usually caused by over-mixing the dough or by adding too much of any dry ingredient during mixing. This can be remedied by adding a few teaspoons of liquid, such as milk, softened butter, or water, to the dough.
Reasons for Crumbly Cookie Dough
Cookie dough may be crumbly if the mixture has been overworked or the ratio of dry to wet ingredients is wrong. Cookie dough that’s too crumbly will fall apart as you mix it rather than stick together in a solid ball.
The most common reasons for crumbly cookie dough include:
Not Enough Liquid
Most cookie dough mixes require liquids like milk, water, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla extract. If any of these liquids are under-measured or omitted, your cookie dough may not have enough liquid to hold itself together, and it will look and feel crumbly.
Not Enough Fat
Butter, vegetable oil, and shortening are the three most commonly used fats in cookie dough. Fat acts as a lubricant that makes the dough pliable and smooth. Fat binds the ingredients together, so if too little fat is added to the recipe, the dough will be crumbly.
Too Many Dry Ingredients
Over-measuring dry ingredients like flour and baking powder can throw off the balance of dry versus liquid ingredients, drying out the dough and causing it to become crumbly. Even an extra ¼-cup of flour can prevent the ingredients from binding together during mixing.
Dried-Out in the Fridge
Incorrectly storing your cookie dough in the fridge, or storing it in the fridge for too long, can cause it to dry out. The cool, circulating air in the refrigerator draws moisture out of the cookie dough, giving the dough — especially the outside — a dry, flaky texture.
Needs More Mixing
If you finish mixing your ingredients and notice that your cookie dough is crumbly, this may be a sign that the ingredients aren’t properly mixed. Continue to mix the dough until the ingredients are combined. If you’ve accurately measured your ingredients, the dough should come together in time — but be careful not to over-mix (see below).
Over-mixing cookie dough is another way to make it dry and crumbly. As soon as you begin to mix the dough, the wheat flour will combine with the liquid ingredients and the wheat’s gluten proteins will begin to bind. If gluten over-develops, the dough will become harder and dryer than normal.
How to Fix Crumbly Cookie Dough
You don’t need to throw out crumbly cookie dough and start again. Crumbly cookie dough is easy to resolve with just a few basic amendments to your recipe.
Here are the best ways to moisten crumbly cookie dough:
The easiest way to fix crumbly cookie dough is to add more liquids to the dough. This method works to restore cookie dough that has dried out in the fridge and balances excess dry ingredients.
Add a teaspoon of milk or water to the dough, then mix the dough briefly. If parts of the dough are still crumbling, add another teaspoon of liquid then mix briefly again. The dough will reach a workable consistency, and the added liquids won’t affect the flavor of your cookies.
If not enough fat was originally added to the recipe, more fat can be added to the dough at a later stage.
Gently knead into the dough one more teaspoon of the same fat that the recipe calls for (such as butter, shortening, or vegetable oil). This should soften and lubricate the dough. If the dough is still crumbly, add a teaspoon of liquid, but don’t add more fat. Too much fat will cause the dough to spread during baking and result in oily cookies.
Mix With Your Hands
When mixing cookie dough with a stand mixer, over-mixing is easy. Using your hands is a gentle way to bring the dough together, and you’re less likely to over-mix when you can feel the dough.
This remedy can be used in combination with other methods, such as adding more liquid or adding more fat, to restore crumbly cookie dough.
Rest at Room Temperature
If over-mixing caused your cookie dough to become crumbly, leave the dough to rest for at least one hour. This should allow the gluten to soften, returning the cookie dough’s softness and pliability.
Wrap your cookie dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest at room temperature — not in the fridge. The cool air circulating in the fridge will cause the cookie dough to further harden.
Change the Recipe
If a mistake you made when following the recipe caused your cookie dough to become crumbly, use a remedy to balance your mistake.
For instance, if you added double the amount of flour needed, you can save the recipe by doubling the rest of the ingredients. This will make twice the amount of cookies, but the ratios of the ingredients will be correct.
Tips for Making Moist & Delicious Cookies
To make the best-possible moist cookies, follow these baking tips:
Bake the Cookies for One Minute Less
Overbaking is one of the biggest culprits of hard cookies. So, to achieve soft, moist cookies, bake your cookies for one minute less than the recipe instructs or take them out of the oven as soon as the centers have set.
Remember that the baking process doesn’t end immediately after removing the cookies from the oven. Cookies harden as they set, so don’t wait until your cookies are golden before removing them from the oven — unless you want them to be hard.
Add a Teaspoon of Cornstarch to the Recipe
Cornstarch binds with water in cookie dough and reduces the speed of the gluten’s protein formation, which can harden your dough. Add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to your recipe (and eliminate 1 teaspoon of flour to prevent an excess of dry ingredients) to keep your cookie dough supple during mixing.
Cut Thick Cookies
Thick cookies don’t become as crisp as thin cookies, so a good way to achieve moist, soft cookies is to roll the dough thicker than normal and cut the dough with a cookie cutter or shape according to the recipe, but thicker. Bake the thick cookies for the required time for soft and chewy results.
Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Cake Flour
Cake flour has less protein than all-purpose flour. Cake flour achieves an airy taste and a delicate texture in sweet bakes, and all-purpose flour gives baked goods a chewier texture. Substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour for cake-like cookies, or use half cake flour and half all-purpose flour to retain some chewiness along with the lightness.
Use the Right Baking Sheet
Insulated baking sheets slow the baking process and yield a soft, light cookie. These baking sheets are best for cookies made with vegetable oil, but they shouldn’t be used for cookies made with butter because the sheet will cause the butter to melt faster than the dough can bake.
Baking sheets that are light in color and have no sides are ideal for baking cookies made with butter because they allow for an even bake without causing the cookie bottoms to brown too fast.
Store the Cookies Correctly
Store cookies in an air-tight container to keep them moist and delicious after cooking. Don’t store the cookies in a cookie jar or any container that allows air to enter because this will cause the cookies to dry out and turn hard.
If you don’t have an air-tight container, add a slice of bread to the container to keep the cookies soft. Replace the bread with another slice when it becomes stale.
Final Thoughts for Fixing Your Crumbly Cookie Dough
Crumbly cookie dough is caused by several different factors, and each can be resolved:
- Under-mixed dough: Resolve by continuing to mix the dough until the ingredients are incorporated
- Over-mixed dough: Resolve by allowing the dough to rest at room temperature for one hour
- Not enough fats: Resolve by adding 1 teaspoon of fat and working it into the dough
- Not enough liquids or an excess of dry ingredients: Resolve by adding 1 teaspoon of water or milk and working it into the dough, and repeating if necessary
- Excessive fridge storage: Resolve by removing the dough from the fridge and adding 1 teaspoon of liquid to the dough
Fixing crumbly cookie dough is always possible, so don’t throw the dough away — just follow the tips in this article to get your dough back to a moist, pliable form.