The #1 Reason Why You Should Chill Your Cookie Dough - Handle the Heat
Filed Under: Baking Science | Cookies

The #1 Reason Why You Should Chill Your Cookie Dough

By Tessa Arias
  |  
April 26th, 2020

Why bother to take the time and patience to chill your cookie dough? I’m sharing with you the SCIENCE behind ‘marinating’ your cookie dough so you get cookies just as good as the bakery ones!

If you’re like most, you don’t want to take the time to chill your cookie dough. I totally get it…because who wants to wait for cookies. But here’s the thing if you REALLY want the best cookies… you know a little patience goes a LONG way.

This is the thing the pros know and appreciate.

Just take a look at the difference chilling makes:
Comparing cookies baked vs chilling dough before baking

MAGIC!

This chilling period does quite a few things.

Most importantly, it allows the flavors to develop and intensify! You can think of it like marinating.

It gives the liquid in the egg a chance to hydrate the starch in the flour, making the dough firmer. And it allows the enzymes in the flour and egg yolk to break down the carbohydrates into its component sugars, fructose and glucose.

The short of it? Chilling cookie dough makes the cookies much more flavorful, with that blissful caramelized butterscotch flavor, and it makes them thicker, chewier, and browner.

In the above photo, you can see this play out with my Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. Each cookie was baked on the same baking sheet, at the same temperature, for the same amount of time.

The taste and texture improved with every batch… until 72 hours. Then I noticed diminishing returns. I think that’s because this particular recipe has a lower hydration level so after a certain point the dough starts to dry out.

Oppositely, I notice 72 hours of chilling time are my favorite cookies when I’m using my Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. That one has a higher hydration level and yields well, chewier cookies.

Either way, I’d HIGHLY recommend chilling for 24-48 hours the next time you bake any drop style cookie. Bake off a few immediately so you can compare the chilled ones!

Q: WHAT IF I REALLY CAN’T WAIT TO ENJOY A COOKIE?!

Totally understandable. When I can’t wait, I simply bake off a few cookies immediately after making the dough then send the rest to chill in the fridge. You can even save a few of the ones you baked immediately to compare the results of the chilled ones!

More common questions answered:

Q: SHOULD I CHILL THE ENTIRE MASS OF DOUGH OR BALLS OF DOUGH? DOES IT MATTER?

You can do either! If chilling the entire mass of dough, remove it to an airtight container. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature until it’s malleable enough to safely scoop, which can take over an hour depending on your kitchen environment. This method allows you to get away with storing the dough for a little longer without having it dry out.

The easier method is to scoop the dough after you mix it up, then remove the scoops to a single layer in an airtight container or cover very tightly with plastic wrap. This method reduces the amount of time you can store the dough without it drying out, but makes it so you can bake the cookie dough balls directly from the fridge. No waiting for it to come to room temperature!

Q: HOW LONG SHOULD I CHILL THE DOUGH?

Anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. The longer you chill the dough, the more flavor will develop. The flour will also absorb more of the moisture so the thicker and chewier the final texture will be. After 72 hours the dough will begin to dry out and you risk it going bad, especially if chilling pre portioned balls of dough instead of the entire mass of dough.

Q: WHEN DO I FREEZE THE DOUGH?

If you’re wanting to freeze the cookie dough (specific directions on that here), simply do it after the 24 – 72 hour chilling period. Do not skip the chilling period.

Once you put the dough in the freezer, the moisture in the dough will actually freeze. If you freeze right away and skip chilling your dough, you won’t be able to have the same benefits in the freezer as in the fridge, it’s like the dough is in suspended-animation and the flour/starch won’t be able to absorb moisture because the moisture is frozen. The chemical processes that happen while the dough is marinating can only happen in the fridge.

Q: DOES THIS APPLY TO ALL COOKIE DOUGH?

This most directly applies to chocolate chip cookie dough. But any time you want to develop stronger flavors and a thicker chewier texture in any drop-style cookie dough, chilling will be your friend. When making cookies with oatmeal, it’s best not to refrigerate more than 48 hours at most as oats are such a drying ingredient, and you don’t want the dough to dry up too quickly.

Q: DOES CHILLING COOKIE DOUGH OVERNIGHT WORK WITH COOKIES CONTAINING BAKING SODA AS THE LEAVENER? 

It’s important to remember that baking soda will begin its chemical reaction when it encounters the acidic components of the cookie dough (brown sugar, in the case of most choc chip cookies), and baking powder will react to the water in the dough. Both occur before the dough hits the heat of the oven. Baking Soda will alter the dough pH to help promote some spread and browning when the dough is baked off. Since cookie dough is relatively low in moisture (compared to muffin or cake batter), the chemical reactions occur more slowly anyway. Also, cookies rely less on leavening than say muffins or cakes. That’s why we see an improvement to the taste and texture with chilling in cookies! Read more about Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder here!

So what do you think? Will you chill your dough next time? Will you do a side-by-side experiment?

If so, be sure to snap a photo and tag me #handletheheat @handletheheat on Instagram or join our Facebook group and share your results!

More Cookie Science Articles:

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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  1. #
    Catherine Sierzan — November 21, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    After you keep it in the fridge how long do you bake it for?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — November 21, 2022 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Catherine! No changes to the recipe’s suggested bake time are needed, unless you’re freezing the dough 🙂 Happy baking!

  2. #
    Susan — October 29, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Hi Tessa! I often flatten then refrigerate my cookie dough, then use a knife to cut it into pieces before putting it in my cookie sheet to bake. What do you think? It saves a lot of time!

  3. #
    Steve — September 4, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    All I want are chocolate chip cookies but it’s currently the rage to brown the butter, cream the butter and sugar for over 5 minutes, use multiple types of chocolate and not to use chips but to cut chocolate from bars, add flaked salt to the top of the cookie, and to chill the dough for somewhere between 0 and 72 hours. IMHO the recipe for thick and chewy cookies from ATK serves me well.

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — September 6, 2022 at 9:55 am

      Hi Steve! Tessa has plenty of recipes that don’t require any of this (like this Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here) – but we do firmly believe that once you try chilling your cookie dough, regardless of which recipe, for 24 – 72 hours, you’ll never look back! It may not be 100% necessary with all recipes, but it definitely improves the flavor and texture so much!! (PS, we actually don’t recommend creaming your butter and sugar for more than about 3 minutes – typically more than that leads to over-creaming and therefore delating or overspreading in the oven!). Have a nice day 🙂

  4. #
    Natalie — May 4, 2022 at 5:46 am

    Do you let the frozen dough come back to room temp before baking? Or bake straight from the freezer?

  5. #
    Wendy — January 2, 2022 at 2:14 am

    I just made some cookies that instructed me to chill my dough for only 2 hours before baking, and here you’re saying at least 24. Do you think that 2 hours of chilling would still have any effect on them? And what about putting them in the freezer for an hour as opposed to the fridge for 2? Is this Pointless in your opinion? I’ve got 2 tester cookies in the oven rt now to see how they turned out in comparison to the batch I previously made that I chilled for 2 hours and ooh the timer just went off! Sooo let’s seee….. hmmm, a lot flatter. Bummer. So I guess I just answered my own question about whether or not it makes a diff, but I’d still like to know what you think about the freezer idea. Thanks!

    • #
      Emily — January 3, 2022 at 10:38 am

      Hi Wendy! Chilling your cookie dough for 2 hours would at least help to bake thicker cookies as it ensures that your butter is cool when it enters the oven, though you won’t reap the same benefits of added texture and flavor when chilling for at least 24 hours. Honestly, two hours in the fridge vs the freezer wouldn’t make much of a difference; however, chilling for 24-72 hours vs freezing for that long instead makes a huge difference.

      Once you put the dough in the freezer, the moisture in the dough will actually freeze, and you won’t be able to have the same benefits in the freezer as in the fridge, it’s like the dough is in suspended-animation and the flour/starch won’t be able to absorb moisture because the moisture is frozen. The chemical processes that happen while the dough is marinating can only happen in the fridge.

      If you do want to freeze your cookie dough for future use, we recommend chilling the dough first, then freezing. When baking from frozen, you’ll actually need to lower the oven temperature and increase the time–check out more details in this article HERE. I hope that helps!

  6. #
    Eileen — November 22, 2021 at 10:55 am

    I would like to try out this recipe for a graduation party. 70 pax. I would like to know if I would be able to double or triple this recipe or do you recommend doing it one portion at a time? Also, would I need to ball this up before baking them to get that perfectly round shape? Thanks in advance.

    • #
      Emily — November 22, 2021 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Eileen! For our Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, you’re welcome to double or triple the recipe, just keep in mind that it needs to fit in your mixer! Check out this article here on How to Bake Picture Perfect Cookies, we’ve got some great tips to make your cookies perfectly round and pretty 🙂 I hope that helps! Please let us know what you think of the cookies, and good luck! 🙂

  7. #
    Jo — November 8, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    This is really interesting, thanks for sharing! Any thoughts on whether this would work on non-dairy/vegan cookie dough, given the ‘marinating’ effect seems to be related to the way the egg interacts with other ingredients? Might give it a go anyway and see what happens!

    • #
      Emily — November 9, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Jo! We don’t bake non-dairy/vegan, so I can’t say for sure. Please let us know how it goes if you give it a try, we’d love to know!

  8. #
    Libby Yue — January 26, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Thanks for teaching an old cat a new trick.

    • #
      Tessa — January 26, 2021 at 1:05 pm

      My pleasure, Libby!

  9. #
    Brittany Lind — December 4, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Tessa, LOVE your recipes and use them whenever I can. I have a question about chilling the dough. I generally try to do this whenever I have the time but my question is about the thin and crispy cookies. Would chilling the dough for your thin and crispy chocolate chip cookie recipe be as beneficial if part of the chilling process leads to thicker and chewier cookies?

    • #
      Tessa — December 7, 2020 at 10:50 am

      Hi Brittany! I don’t usually chill the thin & crispy cookies since those are not meant to be thick or chewy!

  10. #
    Margie Mosier — July 31, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    My Question is about Freezing the dough. It sas there were specific directions for frezing the dough, but I couldn’t link to any instructions. I like to make the dough, freeze it for later and then it is easy to come up with a treat at a moment’s notice and no mess!!! However I have had mixed success . . .always using the Ultimate Choc Chip cookie dough recipe.
    Can you help? Any tips?

  11. #
    Bhavani — July 9, 2020 at 2:24 am

    Can we chill cookie dough over night if the recipe includes baking soda and baking powder.

  12. #
    Irish Trish — May 8, 2020 at 10:06 am

    looking for white chocolate macadamia nut cookies – made the one on the white chocolate bag –
    cookies were hard as rocks?? what happened? 3 cups of flour seemed like too much?

  13. #
    Grace — May 2, 2020 at 12:00 am

    After chilled, when the best time to bake the cookies? Is it straight away to the pre-heated oven or should I rest them until room temperature, then scoop them and bake?

  14. #
    Jean — April 26, 2020 at 7:23 pm

    Is chilling dough only for cookies? I always thought that with baking soda you had to bake right away.

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