Do you crave ooey-gooey, soft and chewy cookies? This step makes all the difference.

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Giant Kitchen Sink Cookies
Credit: Mike Krautter

From chocolate chip to oatmeal raisin, no dessert quite satisfies the way that cookies do. Whether you're baking a no-fuss recipe or going all out and decorating with royal icing and intricate sprinkles to boot, cookies are simply magical. Using high-quality ingredients and a reliable recipe are two ways to ensure a delicious cookie, but there's something else that you should do to take your cookies to the next level: refrigerate the dough. Some recipes, like sugar cookies and Linzer cookies, always call for refrigerating the dough, while others, such as chocolate chip cookies, generally do not. Ahead, two baking experts explain why this simple step makes a big, delicious impact in most recipes—plus, they share examples of when you should skip this step entirely.

Why Refrigerating Cookie Dough Works

Flour contains naturally-occurring enzymes, which break down as the dough chills, leading to increased browning. The sugar in the dough absorbs the moisture from the flour, causing the cookie to brown and caramelize. Refrigerating the dough allows the flour to fully hydrate, which (in addition to chilling the butter) helps to make the cookie dough firmer, says baker and food stylist Jason Schreiber, who recently published Fruit Cake: Recipes for the Curious Baker ($21.85, amazon.com). This will prevent the cookies from spreading too much, which is why chilling the dough is a crucial step for cut-out and rolled cookies. "The colder and more solid the fat is, the less the cookie will spread," says food stylist and recipe developer Caitlin Haught Brown.

When you have a craving for cookies, waiting an additional 30 minutes for the dough to chill may not seem worthwhile, but our experts say it's a step that's entirely worth adding to your baking routine. "In terms of flavor, you'll notice more depth of flavor from the vanilla and the sugar will taste sweeter. In terms of texture, chilled cookie dough produces a more evenly golden-brown cookie with a crisper edge and chewier center," says Haught Brown.

How Long to Refrigerate Cookie Dough

As a general rule of thumb, you should refrigerate cookie dough for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. More than that and you won't see a noticeable difference in the final product, says Haught Brown. Once the dough has chilled, let it warm up at room temperature until it's just pliable (about five to ten minutes); letting it get to be too warm will defeat the purpose of chilling the dough at all.

To make forming the chilled cookie dough more manageable, Schreiber pre-portions the dough by scooping balls of dough into individual cookies, placing them on a sheet pan or in a Ziploc bag, chilling, and then baking right away.

When to Not Refrigerate Cookie Dough

Alexis's Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies are a supreme example of when to not refrigerate dough. The goal of this particular recipe is to create super thin, super crispy cookies that spread significantly when baking. Refrigerating the dough would prevent these cookies from spreading the way they're intended to here.

"A tuile cookie, where the appeal is based in the thinness or lacy qualities, is another example when you should bake the cookie dough immediately," says Schreiber. If you like a super soft peanut butter cookie or a cakey snickerdoodle, Haught-Brown says that's another instance when you would not want to refrigerate the dough before baking.

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