cookie dough in bowl

How to Fix Dry Cookie Dough

When you are baking homemade cookies, you are typically looking for a nice chewy and moist cookie. The perfect cookie dough consistency should be soft and pliable, but sometimes the texture of our cookie dough comes out dry and crumbly, which may lead to some dry cookies. 

Some of the common reasons you may have dry, crumbly dough include:

Luckily there are some easy fixes to these common problems! The best way to fix dry cookie dough includes:

  • Adding more liquid
  • Adding more fat
  • Mix with your hands
  • Let the dough rest

Now you may be wondering which of these solutions is best? Well, that will depend on what caused the dough to become dry in the first place. But first, let’s talk about the perfect cookie recipe. 

What is the Perfect Cookie Dough Consistency?

It is very true that while cooking is an art and baking is a science. While there is plenty of room to get creative and make your cookies into a piece of art (especially iwth royal icing), when it comes to baking, there are strict rules that should (almost) always be followed.

There are ratios that are used in baking for flour, fat, and sugar that are the backbone of most recipes. For cookies, that ratio is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, and 1 part sugar. When this general structure is followed, the texture of the cookie dough should be moist, and pliable, but not too sticky and not too crumbly or dry. 

While these portions may have to be adjusted based on the type of cookie recipe, when this structure is followed, you are on the right track to a perfect cookie.

cookie dough in bowl

Why is my Cookie Dough Dry?

Now let’s talk about some of the reasons why your cookie dough is dry. It can be one of the worst feelings when you are baking and really looking forward to that perfectly warm, fresh from the oven, chewy cookie. But you finish mixing your dough and it is full of crumbles and won’t even form a ball of cookie dough. 

There are a few common reasons that cookie dough can develop that dry texture, and luckily, they almost all have an easy solution!

Not Enough Fat

Fats play a very important role in baking. They give the baked good richness and flavor, add moisture, create tenderness, and also help with leavening. The main kinds of fats used in baking are solid fats (butter, margarine, shortening, lard) or liquid fats which are your oils (vegetable oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, etc.). 

While fats can affect many things in a recipe, when it comes to moisture if there is not enough fat present, your dough (and finished cookie) will most likely be dry.

Solution:

Simply, add more fat! However, be careful not to add too much fat, or that perfect ‘cookie ratio’ will be thrown off too much. With too much fat, your cookie will spread too much and be overly greasy.

I recommend adding 1 tablespoon of additional fat to the recipe and mix into the dough until just combined. If you are able, mixing with your hands will help to reduce the chances of overmixing your dough. 

However, remember not all fats are created equal. Make sure to add the right kind of fat to your dough or it may alter the final baked products. If the recipe called for butter, add an extra 1 tablespoon of butter; if it called for vegetable oil, add 1 extra tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Each kind of fat has a different composition with different amounts of water content. For example, butter must contain a minimum of 80 percent fat content. Though ‘real’ margarine does require that same 80 percent, there are many butter spreads out there that are not regulated the same way and could contain anywhere from 10-90 percent fat and would add too much water content to your dough.

In conclusion, always add the same kind of fat when you need to moisten your dough when possible. If not, just be aware that the water content of your fat may affect the final cookie outcome. 

Not Enough Liquid

Most cookie recipes call for additional liquid ingredients which can include eggs, egg whites, egg yolks, milk, vanilla extract, water, etc. If your cookie dough is too crumbly, start by double-checking your measurements to make sure you added the correct amount and didn’t omit any of the ingredients!

Solution:

To get your dough back to a nice moist texture, you will need to add more liquids. If you figured out that you didn’t add enough of an ingredient, add the remainder the recipe calls for. 

However, if you are not sure why your dough is dry, start by adding 1 teaspoon of a liquid at a time and knead into the dough with your hands. If 1 teaspoon is not enough, add an additional teaspoon. Continue adding extra liquid 1 teaspoon at a time until you reach a soft texture and pliable dough consistency. 

My recommendation is to use milk or water as they will both add additional moisture to your cookie dough, without adding additional flavors.

If you find that you are adding ¼ cup or more of liquid, odds are you either measured something from the recipe incorrectly, or the recipe itself is incorrect.

adding milk to dough

Overmixing

Overmixing your dough can often result in dry dough and ultimately tough cookies. When flour is combined with water and mixed, gluten is developed. Gluten itself is the network of proteins that gives many baked goods their texture. The more a dough is mixed, the more gluten develops, and the chewier the final outcome will be. This is great for things such as pizza crust and bagels, but you typically do not want too much gluten development in cookies if you want that soft, bouncy texture. 

Solution:

If you find that you have over-mixed the cookie dough and it is getting dry, there is a simple fix. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Scoop the dough directly onto a baking sheet without mixing again and place it in the oven to bake. 

Too Many Dry Ingredients 

Flour will absorb the wet ingredients it is mixed with. Going back to the cookie ratio, they need a perfect ratio of fats and flour to bake to the proper consistency and the right amount of spread. When too much flour is added, it will not be able to absorb the liquids and fats, and the cookie dough will be dry and crumbly. If there is not enough flour, you will get flat cookies that will be greasy.

Solution:

If you have added too much flour, you will need to get your ratio back in line by adding more fat. Add an additional 1 tablespoon of the fat at a time. If you have to add too much fat in, you may need to add an additional few teaspoons of white sugar to get closer to that 3:2:1 ratio. 

flour mixture

Cookie Dough Dried out in the Fridge 

While the refrigerator is great for extending the life of so many different types of food products, it may not always be the best choice when it comes to cookie dough or cookies. The fridge constantly circulates cool air to keep things cold, but this will also result in drying out your dough. (There are some recipes that call for chilled dough and typically the recipe will have been created to account for this.)

Solution:

If you have kept your dough in the refrigerator and you find that it has developed a dry texture you will need to add more liquid. Add a teaspoon of water or milk and mix. I would recommend mixing with your hands to avoid overmixing the dough. 

Tips and Reminders

  • I know I mentioned this a few times, but it never hurts to state it again! When adding in fats or liquids to fix that crumbly cookie dough, use your hands to mix it in. It is easier to control the amount of mixing (it’s much harder to control with an electric mixer) and prevent over-mixing and drying out the cookie dough all over again.
  • When adding additional fats, remember to add the same kind of fat the recipe calls for. If it calls for melted butter, add more melted butter; if it calls for vegetable oil, add more vegetable oil. Different types of fat will have different fat vs. water content and this could alter the ratio of ingredients in your cookie recipe.
  • This is a tip for after your cookies are baked, but it’s one of my favorite hacks. If you leave your cookies out or they start to get stale and harden, you can fix it with a slice of bread! Add your cookies into an airtight container with a soft slice of bread and let it sit for 12-24 hours. When you open up the container, the bread will be hard and the cookie will be soft!
  • As you are baking your cookies, you can place damp paper towels over the bowl with the extra dough to prevent it from drying. This may be especially useful if you live in a dry climate.
  • If you are sure that you have measured all ingredients correctly, but the texture of your cookie dough is still dry, it may be the recipe. You can either experiment and create your own recipe or find a new one!

I hope this helped you solve any problems you may be having with dry dough and bake the perfect cookies. Now time to bake some delicious cookies. Here are a few recipes for you to check out next!