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Which ingredient makes cookies moist and tender?

The Importance of Moist and Tender Cookies

There’s nothing quite like biting into a perfectly baked cookie that is soft, moist and tender on the inside with a slight chewiness, yet also crispy on the outside. The texture of a cookie can truly make or break the eating experience. Cookies that are dry and crumbly are never as enjoyable as those that are melt-in-your-mouth moist. So what’s the secret to getting that ideal moist, chewy cookie texture every time you bake? It comes down to using the right ingredients.

While the basic components of cookies are generally the same – butter, sugar, flour and eggs – tweaking the types and amounts of these ingredients can have a dramatic effect on the final texture. In particular, there is one ingredient that plays an especially crucial role in achieving soft, moist and tender cookies. Let’s take a closer look at how the ingredients in cookie dough impact texture so you can learn to adjust recipes and consistently churn out perfect, mouth-watering cookies.

The Role of Fat

When it comes to moist and tender cookies, fat is perhaps the most important ingredient. The fat coats the flour proteins and prevents them from forming too much gluten. Gluten provides structure and chewiness in baked goods. Too much gluten results in tough, chewy cookies. The fat interferes with gluten development, allowing the cookies to maintain a softer, more tender texture.

Animal-based fats like butter, lard and bacon grease are common in cookie recipes, as they contain a lot of saturated fat. The saturated fat remains solid at room temperature, enabling the cookies to hold their shape. Vegetable-based oils are liquid at room temperature and produce a more cake-like texture. Whichever fat you use, a higher ratio of fat to flour will yield softer, moister cookies. Reducing the flour and upping the fat is an easy trick to create more tender cookies if a recipe turns out too dry and hard.


Butter is the most common fat used in cookie recipes. Pure butter contains about 80% fat, 15% water and 5% milk solids. It brings richness, moisture and that irresistible buttery flavor. Replacing some or all of the butter with oil will lower the saturated fat content, but can also reduce moistness and change the texture. Colder, thicker butter that holds its shape leads to less gluten formation and thus, more tender cookies. Softened butter that emulsifies into the batter produces cookies that spread more and are chewier. Using melted butter will create a crisper outside and drier inside. For moist, tender cookies with the classic butter flavor, stick with cold, solid butter.


Vegetable oils like canola or olive oil can be used in place of some or all of the butter in a cookie recipe to reduce saturated fat. However, oils typically result in flatter, crisper cookies. This is because oil contains no water and milk solids like butter does. Without that extra moisture, cookies made with only oil will not get as moist and tender as those made with butter. That being said, using oil along with some butter is a great way to still achieve soft, moist cookies without going overboard on the saturated fat content.


Lard is rendered pig fat that was commonly used in baking before vegetable oils became prevalent. It has a similar fat content to butter, so it keeps cookies moist and tender in a comparable way. Lard offers a unique flavor profile – not as rich as butter, with a mild meaty undertone. Many cookie connoisseurs maintain that lard makes the very best-tasting, old-fashioned style cookies. However, it has fallen out of favor with health-conscious consumers due to its high saturated fat content and association with animal products. If you don’t mind those factors, lard can be an excellent choice for moist, tender and flavorful cookies.

The Role of Eggs

Eggs serve several purposes in cookie dough. The proteins help bind ingredients together. The lecithin in the egg yolks is an emulsifier that blends the fat and liquid components. The moisture in eggs keeps cookies soft and chewy. Using more eggs makes a more cake-like cookie, while fewer eggs result in crisper cookies.

Whole eggs will make cookies moister than just egg whites. For especially moist, tender cookies, let the eggs come to room temperature before using rather than cold from the fridge. Some cookie recipes will tell you to cream the butter and sugar first before adding the eggs slowly. This step aerates the eggs, resulting in increased volume and a more tender texture.

Eggs Compared to Egg Substitutes

Many cookie recipes allow you to replace the eggs with egg substitutes to accommodate vegan or egg allergy diets. Some common egg substitutes include:

Egg Substitute Ratio
Applesauce 1/4 cup per egg
Banana 1/4 cup per egg
Silken tofu 1/4 cup per egg
Ground flax or chia seeds 1 Tablespoon per egg
Commercial egg replacer Follow package instructions

These all add moisture to cookie dough, but they lack the emulsifying and binding properties of eggs. Cookies made with egg substitutes will spread more and have a less chewy, tender texture than egg-based cookies. Adding an extra Tablespoon of flour per substituted egg can help counteract too much spreading.

The Role of Sugar

Sugar obviously contributes sweetness to cookies. It also affects texture and moisture, while helping the cookies brown. The small particles of granulated sugar create little air pockets that result in a crispier cookie. On the other hand, large crystals like turbinado sugar lead to a chewier, softer texture.

Brown sugar adds extra moisture compared to white sugar, yielding a softer cookie. Confectionary sugars like powdered sugar absorb moisture, so they create crisper, crunchy cookies when used in place of granulated sugar. Reducing the sugar will decrease moisture and tenderness. However, the cookies may also end up tough if you decrease the sugar too much without making other adjustments.

Corn Syrup

Adding corn syrup to the dough makes cookies chewier. The glucose stops crystallization so the cookies retain moisture longer. Just a couple Tablespoons boosts tenderness without making the cookies overly sweet. Too much corn syrup can make cookies gummy. For best results, use light or dark corn syrup depending on whether the recipe calls for brown or white sugar.

The Role of Leavening Agents

Leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder make cookies rise so they end up lighter and fluffier rather than dense and hard. They work by creating air bubbles that expand when heated. The bubbles break down some of the gluten strands, resulting in a more tender texture.

Using too much leavening can cause cookies to rise excessively fast. They may dome on top, then collapse and become hard once cooled. For best results, use the recommended amount of leavening called for in the recipe. Make sure your agents are still active and not expired. Letting the dough rest before baking allows time for the leavening to work, so your cookies have the perfect amount of lift and tenderness.

The Role of Chocolate Chips

One beloved cookie variety is chocolate chip. The chips provide pockets of melted chocolate goodness in the baked cookies. When the chocolate melts, the surrounding cookie dough softens and becomes moister. Therefore, chocolate chip cookies are often chewier and more moist than plain sugar cookies.

Using higher quality chocolate like Guittard or Ghirardelli will impact flavor more than texture. However, opting for dark chocolate chips over milk chocolate will potentially make your cookies more moist and tender. The higher fat content of dark chocolate helps it melt more readily so the cookies soften around the chips. Just be wary of overloading the dough with too many chips or the cookies may fall apart or cook unevenly. About 1 cup of chips per 2 cups of flour is a good ratio.

The Role of Nuts and Dried Fruit

As with chocolate chips, adding mix-ins like nuts and dried fruit creates pockets of flavor and varied texture in cookie dough. Pieces of walnuts, pecans, almonds, cranberries, raisins, apricots, etc. give cookies another dimension while enhancing moistness. The nuts and fruit hold onto moisture as they bake. Some mix-ins even release oils or juices that increase the moistness.

Just be careful of overdoing it with large add-ins. They can weigh down the cookie dough and make it harder for the cookies to hold their shape. About 1/2 to 3/4 cups of mix-ins per 2 cups of flour is a good starting point. Chop or coarsely chop the nuts and fruit so the pieces distribute evenly without sinking. For chewy cookies with bursts of flavor and moisture throughout, nuts and dried fruits are perfect mix-in options.


If you want soft, moist and chewy cookies instead of dry and crumbly hockey pucks, pay attention to the ratio of fat and sugar to flour, and the number of eggs. A higher fat content from ingredients like butter, oil or lard tenderizes the gluten formed by flour and keeps cookies moist. Sugar softens and adds moisture, while eggs emulsify and bind the dough. Leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder encourage lift and lightness. Adding chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruit introduces pockets of moisture and flavor throughout. Tweak the types and amounts of these ingredients to customize textures and achieve ideal cookies for your tastes. Mastering the roles of ingredients gives you the power to consistently bake irresistible cookies that are moist and tender every time.