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Floury, bland cookies

davamoore's picture

Hi -- I'm a visitor from over at the Knots Woodworking forum, so forgive any breaches of protocol, or if I'm repeating a question that's already been posted (a search of the Archives didn't come up with much, but that could be me...).

Now that I've finished all of my woodworking gifts for Christmas, I turned to making some cookies for a party. I made a couple of standards, "thumbprint" cookies and a chocolate-vanilla striped shortbread. Anyway, I used the same recipes I've used in the past, with success, but for some reason decided to follow the advice of using unsalted butter instead of the salted butter I usually use.

When the cookies came out of the oven, both kinds of cookies tasted very floury, bland and not at all buttery. What might I have done wrong? Wrong butter? (I added just a touch more salt to the dough than that called for in the recipes.) Somehow measured too much flour? (I use a metal measuring cup and skim off the excess with the back of a knife.) I called my mother (yes, I'm almost 40, but she's the best cook I know), and she said that I should "fluff" the flour with a fork because it sometimes gets compacted. Truth be told, I never sift. Am I on the right track?

Thanks... and happy holiday (cookies),


sanderson_'s picture

(post #25875, reply #1 of 13)

I hate it when that happens...and it never seems to be with the easy to do over stuff...noooo. I'd guess, from experience here, that perhaps if these are cookies you rolled out the dough didn't get properly chilled before you rolled them and needed more flour to keep them from sticking to the counter/rolling pin. I have made Swedish ginger thins that, no lie, the dough is looser than peanut butter when you get done mixing it. It has to be chilled, the kitchen surfaces chilled and you can only work with a lump of dough the size of an egg...the full recipe makes over 400 cookies. Why do cooks do these things to themselves?

Tracy_K's picture

(post #25875, reply #2 of 13)

Hi David! Welcome to CT, I am sure the real bakers will have lots of info for you.

I'll pre-empt my suggestions by saying that I am NOT much of a baker... but here goes anyway!

Do your recipes call for salt in addition to the butter? If not, that may be the problem right there! I once used unsalted butter in chocolate chip cookies, and forgot to add the salt as called for in the recipe (1/2 tsp or some small amount), and while the batter tasted OK, it just didn't taste quite right either. After going down the list of ingredients again (should have done my mise en place to start with!!) I realized that I'd omitted the salt, added it in, and was AMAZED at the flavor depth it brought out.

It's only within the last year that I've switched over to unsalted butter for all uses... but I do find that many recipes need a pinch more salt to compensate... especially my butter toffee, which tastes just WRONG without the salt (learned that the hard way).

Now, if I am making cookies and all I have is salted butter, I just omit the salt called for in the recipe... and I can definitely taste a difference when I eat homemade cookies where someone has used salted butter AND added salt... that tastes wrong to me too.

Anyway, hope this is some kind of help!

Adele_'s picture

(post #25875, reply #3 of 13)

Hi David- not a baker either, but I only keep unsalted in the house, I also sift & then whisk the dry ingredients a bit before adding the wet.

davamoore's picture

(post #25875, reply #4 of 13)

Thanks, all, for your advice. Of course, my party is tonight and I didn't have time to make new batches of cookies (I'll use your advice next time), so I ran to a local, very popular Swedish bakery, waited in line for 75 minutes (literally -- maybe I should have made the cookies after all) until my number was called, and got some nice replacement desserts.

Of course, on my walk home I ran into TWO of the guests coming to tonight's party and both saw the bag emblazoned with the "Swedish Bakery" logo. There goes my "secret." Oh, and I had to stop for lunch, too... I was starving after waiting in line that long.

As "sanderson" said, "Why do we do these things to ourselves?!"


Tracy_K's picture

(post #25875, reply #5 of 13)

i Oh, and I had to stop for lunch, too... I was starving after waiting in line that long.

At least you didn't eat up all the desserts instead of lunch and have to go wait in line again... :-)

Cooking_Monster's picture

(post #25875, reply #6 of 13)

Listen to your mother. You don't need to sift, but if your flour was compacted you could have gotten too much in the dough. Was the texture of the cookies any different than normal?
It's also possible that you're simply used to them being saltier than they turned out this year. The lack of extra salt would also make them taste bland.

Glenys_'s picture

(post #25875, reply #7 of 13)

I'm with your CM. In these good old fashioned familly favourites, if it doesn't say sift, then don't. Give the flour a stir before measuring, scoop and level. This is especially important in a humid climate like ours; the flour absorbs moisture from the air and gets "heavy".
Although I use only unsalted butter, I use salted butter for this type of recipe. If I'm baking a Scandinavian butter cookie I won't be surprised to find unsalted butter, but homemakers here have relied on salted butter for so long, the flavour is tantamount to traditional. Several factors make the salted butter taste different. Salted butter is often made from cream that's sat a bit (the freshest cream is sold for whip or made into unsalted butter), the measure of salinity is hard to qualify taste-wise ( especially if trying to quantify by adding salt) and salted butter develops it's own aftertaste as it sits, it actually matures.
Stir your flour and go back to salted butter and think of your mom.

kai_'s picture

(post #25875, reply #8 of 13)

i In these good old fashioned familly favourites, if it doesn't say sift, then don't. . . . I use salted butter for this type of recipe

Fascinating info! Thanks!

aussiechef's picture

(post #25875, reply #9 of 13)

Could it just be that David underbaked the cookies?

davamoore's picture

(post #25875, reply #10 of 13)

OK, here's where it gets weird: Even though the cookies were bad (and, if anything, a couple of the pans were slightly overbaked), I put them on the dessert table along with the desserts I bought at the bakery (I liked the look).

I gave everyone advance warning, but a few friends insisted on trying my cookies anyway. They said they were very good, and I know them well enough to spot a lie from two blocks away. So I tried a taste, and lo and behold, they had actually gotten better after sitting for a day! They weren't perfect, but much better. They were as popular as the bakery desserts.

What's up with that? I know soups, stews, chili, etc. get better tasting the next day, but cookies? Whatever... :-)


Wolverine's picture

(post #25875, reply #11 of 13)

Twas the spirit of Christmas, David, enjoy! :-)

Cooking_Monster's picture

(post #25875, reply #12 of 13)

Most cakes also improve in flavor after a day or two, and some cookies do too. I'm glad they were a hit.

StevenHB_'s picture

(post #25875, reply #13 of 13)

My wife's Scottish grandmother showed us how to make her famous shortbread before she died. We made the mistake once of using her recipe with the unsalted butter that we always buy. Peg had always used "lightly salted" butter.

Anyway, the end result was shortbread that I could only describe as being "flat" in flavor, which sounds like the problem (or one of the problems) that you had.

According to , you need 3/8 teaspoon salt for each stick of unsalted butter you sub for salted, but the salt content of butter can vary from brand to brand.