Why did my refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough turn dry, and not spread out in the oven?

The other day I made chocolate chip cookie dough using "The New York Times" recipe:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 ⅔ cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt.

however, I replaced the butter with browned butter. I refrigerated the dough for over 48 hours in the original mixing bowl and loosely covered it in saran wrap. The dough became very dry and when baked it didn't spread. Where did I go wrong??

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BerryBaby
BerryBaby July 23, 2018

Did you melt the butter? It would make a difference in texture. Most recipes state 'room temperature' butter. I made chocolate chip cookie dough this weekend as well.
I use a small ice cream scoop to form the balls. Place them on s cookie sheet, freeze them until until solid (about 15 minutes)place in zip bag. When ready to bake, place frozen balls on ungreased pan, 375 degrees, 10 minutes exactly, they may not look done but they will when cool. Over baking will result in dried out cookies.

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Smaug
Smaug July 23, 2018

This recipe is a high flour/butter ratio; I wouldn't expect it to spread much. Browning the butter removes it's moisture (generally about 17%), which is significant in a cookie as they are very low moisture to begin with. If measured properly, the standard Toll House recipe should barely spread; this really isn't what I'd describe as a problem.

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Sipa
Sipa July 23, 2018

Browning butter removes the water from the butter, you need to add that liquid back into the recipe.

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Lori Terwilliger
Lori Terwilliger July 23, 2018

Did you mix by weight of the ingredients, or by using the usual cups? Measuring flour can often result in adding in too much flour, which translates to dry cookies as well. Others mentioned the moisture challenge, as you lost water when you browned the butter. Browned butter also interacts with sugar differently as well, particularly how it dissolves, or doesn't. Last, how much mixing you did adding in the flour may be developing the gluten in it, leading to the texture problems. Normally the butter or other fat coats the flour bits to help inhibit gluten formation. But as yours was browned, it wouldn't do that. You also don't need to mix the flour in to make a smooth batter, and in fact, you want to stop mixing the moment it begins making a cohesive dough. I usually begin mixing in the chips with the last addition of flour, to help prevent the over mixing challenge.

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Claire Masuda
Claire Masuda July 23, 2018

Yeah, I weighed out the ingredients, I think I'll try adding water and definitely be cautious of overmixing.

Smaug
Smaug July 23, 2018

Sorry, but I really can't see why browning the butter would prevent it acting as shortening. In fact, since gluten needs water to bring it out, it would seem like it should be more effective if anything.

Lori Terwilliger
Lori Terwilliger July 24, 2018

Butter, even browned, has a lower melting point than shortening. Cookies made with butter spread more than those made with shortening. Which brings up another point. Did you filter out the browned bits, and did you let the browned butter re-solidify before using it? Melted butter interacts with the ingredients differently than softened butter does. Plus, butter still contains trace amounts of milk solids, and milk is a tenderizer in baked goods. Browning butter would change that a bit, especially if you filtered the browned bits out of the melted product.

Smaug
Smaug July 24, 2018

Butter-or any other fat- in cookies is shortening. I regret the confusion that proper use of this term may cause, but I refuse to let this fine old word, for which there is no good substitute, die without a fight. I'm not sure if your questions were directed at me or the op, however; when I use brown butter I return it to refrigerator temp. before using- I always use cold butter for cookies. Among other things, it keeps the moisture in suspension and keeps it from interacting with the flour. I do not filter it- the brown milk solids are the whole purpose of browning butter.

BakerRB
BakerRB July 24, 2018

Kenji Lopez-Alt's chocolate chip cookie recipe on seriouseats.com has a proportion you could reference for adding water back after browning butter for chocolate chip cookies. I've refrigerated that recipe for a couple/few days and it spreads fine.

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Smaug
Smaug July 24, 2018

I don't think simply adding water to your dough will really offset the effect of browning butter. Ordinarily, the water in butter is in suspension- butter is basically a solidified emulsion. In that form, the moisture isn't available to raise gluten from the flour, and is bound to behave differently in the oven. Experiments with cookies with damp ingredients, such as pumpkin, have generally been unsatisfactory- the cookies become cakelike and tend to have a rather tough outer shell. You could, I suppose, try to emulsify with the brown butter before cooling it off.

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Julie Wilson
Julie Wilson July 25, 2018

Could it have something to do with properly “creaming” the butter and sugar together?

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Smaug
Smaug July 25, 2018

That's a common problem, but usually the result is cookies that spread too much.

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