We've all been there. We spend so much time following our favorite recipe, putting together a perfect cookie dough, then we place it in the oven... and forget to set a timer. Oops. Is it all ruined? Can you fix burned cookies?
To find out, I asked professional cookie baker, Christy Williams of Little Chunk of Goodness if there was anything a home baker could do to save all of the hard work and ingredients that went into the failed cookies. She tells Romper, "Honestly? Not really." She says that there is a big difference between overbaked and burnt. And that being burnt "affects the flavor throughout the cookie. There’s no hiding it." The texture is also unsalvageable, according to Williams who notes that "burnt cookies are generally hard as rocks."
However, if your cookies are just overdone, Williams says that there are creative ways to use them. She suggests that you "Put them in a food processor or smash them up and use them as toppings on ice cream." I've been known to use chocolate cookies that I've baked a bit too long as the crumble layer in an ice cream cake, and as toppings for dirt pudding. It's actually a pretty great thing to keep in a zip top bag in the freezer.
However, your best option is to not burn the cookies in the first place, and there are a few tricks I've learned in my 10 years of food writing and recipe development that are pretty helpful.
First, don't use your phone as a cookie timer, ever. If you have an Alexa or Google Home, that's fine, but your phone can be ignored, especially if you're prone to leaving it on vibrate. Even better? Buy a cheap, manual turn timer, and keep it beside the stove. Use that. They're usually pretty loud and reasonably dependable. Also, if it's a new oven or a new recipe, set the timer for two minutes earlier than the posted time of the bake, and check through the door to determine their level of doneness. While you can't see everything through it, you'll get a decent handle on how they're coming along.
Next, if you're using really soft butter, or if it's warm in your kitchen, pop the cookie dough into the fridge for an hour or more before you bake it. This will help them spread more evenly, and prevents the bottoms from getting too brown too quickly.
Another tip is that if you know that you're prone to forgetting about your cookies, invest in an air circulating cookie sheet set, and silicone baking mats. Both of these slow the baking process ever-so-slightly, and can help with an even bake.
Make notes about which cookies on the sheet are the most done after the bake, so you can determine your oven's hot spots. If you notice that one side is getting browner more quickly, than you know you'll need to rotate accordingly and adjust for time. If you notice them all cooking more quickly or slowly, invest in an oven thermometer, so you know what's going on as far as the heat of your oven.
If you're making "blossom" style cookies or thumbprints that you plan on filling with jam or caramel, be sure that you don't veer from the recipe even a little. You need that dough to be particularly fluffy and a bit stiff, so that it will bake up and out, instead of just settling into a disk. These get burnt quickly, because the outside tends to bake and dry out before the inside is even finished baking, so make sure your temperatures are correct. Usually, for these, it will never be over 350F, and usually it calls for 325F.
Can you salvage burnt cookies? No, but you can better prepare for your next batch.