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What is overmixing?

cookies, bakedWhen you’re reading through recipe instructions, particularly for baked goods, you probably come across the phrase “do not overmix” fairly often. The notion of “overmixing” can be confusing if you’re just getting into baking – after all, cookie dough is either mixed, or it isn’t, right?

The final stage of making a cookie dough or cake batter often involves stirring flour, or a flour mixture, into wet ingredients. When the flour is exposed to liquids and stirred around, the gluten (protein) in the flour starts to develop into a network that will hold whatever you’re baking together, giving cookies, cakes, etc. their structure. Gluten can also make baked goods tough if there is too much of it in the dough/batter, and excessive mixing of the dough can develop the gluten to this point.

So when a recipe instructs you not to overmix, what it means is that you should just do the minimum amount of mixing necessary to make a uniform dough.  A good rule of thumb is to stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain in your mixing bowl, or if you’re going to be adding chocolate chips or fruit into your mix, you can stop when a few small streaks of flour remain, since you’re going to give the mixture a few extra turns when you stir in your add-ins.

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  • marichelle
    August 24, 2007

    hi there, I just started dabbling in making my own tart/pie crusts and unfortunately I don’t own a fancy kitchen aid or a food processor. So I’ve been mixing the dough with my hand mixer or my fingers. I guess I’ve been lucky because the tart crusts have been turning out ok. Do you have any tips on overmixing pie crust dough? I notice that when I’m rolling out the dough, it has a tendency to crack – is this because I’ve overmixed it?

  • Nicole
    August 24, 2007

    Good question! Pie crust dough can crack for a variety of reasons, including the specific type/consistency of the dough. It does not usually crack from overmixing or overblending. In fact, overmixing pie crust dough will often result in something chewy or slightly rubbery.
    If your dough cracks while you’re working with it, try warming it up between your hands (assuming it has been refrigerated) while working with it to soften the butter, or keep a small amount of water nearby and put a few drops on the dough where it is dry and/or cracking. This should help keep it together while you roll.
    It sounds like you’re on the right track, though. I really prefer doing pie and tart doughs by hand.
    Good luck!

  • EvilScienceChick
    August 24, 2007

    “A good rule of thumb is to stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain in your mixing bowl”

    I wonder if there should be a “muffin” exception to this rule. Because, at least I thought, that muffin batter might still have a few clumps or floury streaks in it, and that mixing until those are gone results in holey uneven muffins.

    am I wrong with this?

  • marichelle
    August 24, 2007

    Thanks Nicole, I’ll give that a try next time and let you know how it goes!

  • almost vegetarian
    August 27, 2007

    Wonderful timing. I was just talking about this with a friend and we were debating what over mixing meant. I kept looking at the dough thinking, “Now? NOW? Or now?” The dough was of no help! But you were.


  • rob_austin
    August 29, 2007

    It should be mentioned that with chemically leavened batters, specifically pancakes, and muffins I suppose, though I’m no muffin man, you don’t want to mix it too much because that will release the air bubbles that make it rise.

  • Mike C
    August 20, 2010

    First of all this was my first attempt at cheese cake. I picked a recipe that sounded good. I gave no thought to when I should add either the eggs, butter or sugar. I used an electric hand mixer and wound up with twice as much mix for my 9″ spring form pan. Im wondering how much time to spend mixing and when to add certain ingrediants to keep this from happening. Help!! Im swimming in mix.

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