Apr 25

191 comments

Top 8 Tips on Preventing Cookies from Spreading

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Hope you had an awesome weekend!

Besides eating lots of chocolate, I had some time to sit down and respond to a question I'm frequently asked, "Why do my cookies spread so much when I bake them?"

So to answer, and to celebrate the upcoming royal wedding, I made a few of these little cookies:

I knew I wanted them to stay small so that the crowns almost fit on the base, so it was important to me that they didn't spread too much. (I had made the royal icing transfer crowns first.  Cookies are 4.5 cm / approx. 2 inches across).

One thing to mention; the little jewels are inedible; they're actually Swarovski Elements craft jewels.  I just had to add some truly sparkly bling in honor of the royal wedding. ;-)  To prevent the whole cookie from being inedible though, I made the crown a royal icing transfer and just barely iced it to the cookie base, so that it could easily be removed.  Another point to mention; the cookie design came from here.

Several of these tips are already in my Sugar Cookie Recipe, and a few are new.  By communicating with some of you, I've realized a few key things which helped me which I hadn't thought to mention before.

A quick note first, a little bit of spreading is normal (see photo above with cookie cutter and cookie); but there are things you can do to help cookies keep their shape!

*

Tips on Helping Your Cookies Keep their Shape

1. Baking Powder

Whichever recipe you're using, don't use baking powder in the dough. I used to take it out only for more detailed cookies, now I omit it all the time.

2. Oven Temperature

Check to make sure your oven really is at the right temperature by using an oven safe thermometer.  If your oven isn't hot enough, the cookies don't 'set' quick enough, and the cookies have more time to spread. Also remember that opening your oven up to peek on the progress of the cookies, will make the oven lose heat and affect 'cookie spreadage'.

3. Incorporating Too Much Air

Be careful not to mix the butter and sugar too long (Usually the first step of making the dough; called creaming). Overmixing the butter and sugar will cause too much air to be incorporated. I usually mix mine just until the ingredients come together.

4. Correct Measurements

Baking is like a science… If your measurements are off it can change the whole recipe.  For example, too much sugar will affect your dough. Sugar becomes liquid when melted and more liquid causes spreading. You can’t avoid having some sugar though, after all, we're talking about cookies. ;-)

5.  Butter

Speaking of liquid, the amount of water in the butter you buy will affect the spreading factor.

As for how to know which butters have more/less water content, so far I've just had to experiment with different brands to see what works best.  I haven't found any indication on packaging mentioning percent of water etc.  If anyone has more information on this, I'd love to hear your input!

Generally, I've found that the cheaper the butter, the higher the water content seems to be.  :-(

I can't talk about shortening or other types of fat (sorry!), as I don't bake cookies with any other fat than butter.

6. Baking Sheets

It may be that I simply like my shiny, new baking sheets, but it seems to me that cookies baked on a thick baking sheet seem to spread less than on a thin one.  Here's a link to the ones I prefer (click here), and, so you can see what I mean, a link to the other ones (click here).

7. Cookie Thickness

How thick are your cookies? The thicker they are, the longer it takes for the heat in your oven to help the cookies 'set', and the more time they have to spread. Mine vary depending on how thick I feel like making them, but in general, they're about 3/4 cm – 1cm thick.

If you would like a thicker cookie, try raising the temperature of your oven a few degrees to bake them.  Each oven and recipe are different, so you'll have to play around with this a bit and see what works best.

7. Parchment Paper

Cover your baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpatrather than greasing your pan with any type of oil/fat. Cookies seem to spread/slide more when resting on a greasy surface.

8. Chill the Dough

Once you've made the dough and it has rested for at least an hour, cut your cookie shapes out and put them back in the fridge for at least an hour or more before baking.

Regarding re-rolling dough scraps – I've noticed that the very first batch of dough which has only been rolled once, spreads the least, even if I've chilled them for minimum one hour.  I'm wondering if it has something to do with the gluten in the flour being overworked.

Hope these tips help!  If you have any more ideas, comments or questions, please feel free to share them here, in the comment section, or on my facebook page here.

Happy baking!

xo,

Marian

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191 Comments

  1. Lweena
    August 26, 2013 at 4:12 am | Permalink
    158

    Hi Marian,

    I love your blog. Thank you so much for all the tips. I found out if I freeze my cookies on parchment on a cookie sheet over night, (I put all cookies on one cooke sheet with parchment in between layers) and I bake them at 375F. I just move each layer with its parchment to a room temp. cookie sheet and bake them while frozen, it helps not to spread, also I add one cup of flour to your ingredients which works great. Cookies end up light color and still taste great. I just wanted to share my tips. Thanks again for every tip you put.

  2. kelley maddox
    September 14, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink
    159

    I never use baking soda either, just AP flour, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. I always roll out my dough to 1/4 inch thickness between 2 sheets of parchment then stick in the freezer for 30 min to an hour, cut out the shapes, place on a silpat lined half sheet pan, stick back in the freezer while the oven preheats (about 15 min) and bake. I have not had any spreading issues since I used this method. I roll my scraps of dough between the parchment paper and repeat the process. using the paper instead of flower keeps the cookies from being tough.

    • Charles luna
      November 25, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
      168

      This is mine and my daughters exact method. Works great for us.

  3. Diana O'Daniel
    October 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm | Permalink
    160

    I already like on Facebook.

  4. Amber
    October 30, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink
    161

    Hi, I am going to be making some sugar cookies that keep their shape and I love your tips to make this happen. I am curious though, you say the oven needs to be at the right temperature so the cookies set, but you also say to refrigerate before cooking them. Wouldn’t putting them in the oven cold, make it take longer for them to set, and then spread?

    • marian
      October 30, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink
      162

      HI Amber,
      It’s interesting, isn’t it!? I’ve experimented so many times, and yes, they do keep their shape better when the dough is chilled and put into a hot oven. Exactly why I’m not sure, but if you like, try one tray of cookies which has been chilled and another which is at room temperature and then bake, and see what happens.
      Have fun decorating! xo

  5. Misty
    November 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
    163

    You’re so sweet to give all this helpful info! I’m sooo going to omit the baking powder my next batch! P.s. I don’t have a problem with spreading, tho, I just want to see if there’s a difference.

    • marian
      November 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
      165

      Thanks Misty! Have fun baking!

  6. Vikkie
    November 6, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
    164

    Which sugar do you use? Just plain old sugar, caster sugar which is finer or icing sugar?

    • marian
      November 9, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink
      166

      Hi Vikkie, just plain old, regular, granulated sugar.

  7. Alexa
    November 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
    167

    Hello!

    For the water content of butter, the most common butters sold in the US (and I assume, Canada) usually have anywhere from 50%-70% butter fat. So they have anywhere from 30%-50% water in them.

    Like you said, the cheaper the butter, usually the more water.

    If you want a butter with less water, European style butters start with a butter fat content of 80%. A few examples are Kerry Gold Irish Butter and Plugra. These tend to be quite expensive, but you can definitely taste the difference in your baking and cooking.

    Hope this helped some!

    • DCV
      December 30, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink
      172

      Hi, just FYI.

      From wikipedia: “In the United States, products sold as “butter” are required to contain a minimum of 80% butterfat; in practice, most American butters contain only slightly more than that, averaging around 81% butterfat. European butters generally have a higher ratio, which may extend up to 85%.”

      When I go to the grocery around here that carries the really good butter, I sometimes see 82% marked right on the package. They sell an Italian butter that is 84%, but it is too expensive for me ($10+/lb). Maybe someday… :-)

    • Annette
      March 1, 2014 at 2:36 am | Permalink
      175

      Thank you, Alexa! I was thinking of you the other night, when I was looking at the butters at Walmart. Walmart actually have the Plugra. I was so surprised. Thank you for the info on the butterfat. Very important, and again, thank you!

  8. Rashad
    December 1, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
    169

    Is there a way to offset the baking powder already in dough? Is there any ingredient I can add to reduce spreading if the dough is already made?

    • Monica
      December 16, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink
      171

      I was wondering the same thing. A customer recently brought me a cookie dough that her family absolutely loves to use for her son’s birthday cookies, but on my first trial I realized that it spreads significantly. I would love to use the cookie dough that she brought me but I can’t figure out how to adjust it. Have you found any answers to this problem?

  9. Mandy
    December 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
    170

    Im sorry if I missed it somewhere…but how many cookies does this recipe yield?

  10. Lauren
    February 27, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
    173

    Thanks so much! I had a great shortbread cookie recipe on the back of the corn starch package. Once they removed the recipe and added a new recipe online, I noticed the cookies spread.

    I’m an impatient person and want my cookies done right after I mix them. So when the new recipe asked for chilling and they still spread, I was pretty mad.

    Anyways, I’m using my different cookie sheet with parchment paper and trying not to overmix. It’s working like a charm!

  11. Liz
    February 28, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink
    174

    Cookies that spread drove me crazy! Some spread, some didn’t, no particular reason. In a fit one day I took the tin cutter I was using and recut the hot, spread cookie right on the sheet out of the oven. Then, I stuck the cookies back in the oven for about 30 seconds to “seal” the edges (not sure why I did this). While it’s not a perfect fix, it can help with frustration of spreading cookies. You have to work fast though while the cookies are still piping hot and the tin cutter gets hot too so be careful! Fast forward..I also ended up adding 1/4 cup more flour to my shortbread dough and it seemed to help the grocery store butter I use. Yay!

    • Tina
      March 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
      176

      Thank you so much for this Liz. I too was driving myself crazy with the spreading of my cookies. Now they are perfect. Hopefully the icing part goes well.

  12. Lori Olsen
    March 30, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink
    177

    Marian, are your cookies really 3/4″ thick, or do you mean 1/4″?

    • Sharon
      April 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
      178

      Hi Lori,

      the measurement is in cms not inches, hope this helps xxx

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