Apr 25


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!



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  1. Victoria Steele
    May 2, 2013 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    Many people have commented on baking powder as one of the ingrediants in your original recipe… I use cornstarch to make my chocolate chip cookies light and fluffy. The chocolate chip cookies are thick, light in color, and don’t spread much. Have you tried cornstarch as a baking powder alternative? I will be attempting my very first sugar cookie with your recipe. Thank you for your hard work and tips on baking. I have a feeling your sugar cookie recipe will turn out great 🙂

  2. marian
    May 20, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    HI @ Victoria Steele: What a great tip! Thanks so much for sharing – I’ll definitely be experimenting with that in my recipes. xo

  3. Danielle
    June 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    When you say chill in fridge for at least 1 hour – is there a maximum number of hours you can chill for? I would like to make my dough on Wednesday night (after work) chill overnight and cut/bake Thursday night (after work) a then decorate Friday night into Saturday morning. For a flawless party Saturday afternoon. 🙂

    – working mom syndrome

    • marian
      June 23, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Danielle, I missed your question earlier! What you mentioned is perfectly fine! I hope you ended up doing that and are soon ready for your party!

  4. Nora
    June 18, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Me & my 8 yr old gal simply loves your website. Awesome.
    We r gonna try out the sugar cookie. Question is….what kind of flour and sugar r we looking at? Plain flour? Castor sugar?


  5. marian
    June 18, 2013 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    HI @ Nora: I’m so glad to hear that! I use all-purpose plain flour, and granulated sugar.
    Have fun, you two!

  6. asma
    August 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Hello. I just wanted to ask if it is possible to use butter tha is not unsalted? Thank you.

    • marian
      August 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you can – just omit the salt from the recipe. I should mention though; I have noticed that salted butter (which is less expensive), seems to spread more. I wonder if there is more water content/less fat content in it. Just an fyi.

  7. Lacey
    August 22, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Hi marina,

    I made your cookie recipe last Saturday (which was amazing) and I had a lot left over iv had it in the fridge will it be ok for me to use this week ?

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

    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.

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

    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

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

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

    I already like on Facebook.

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

    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

      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

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

    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

      Thanks Misty! Have fun baking!

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

    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

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

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


    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

      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

      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!

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

    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

      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?

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

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

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

    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!

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

    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

      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.

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

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

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

      Hi Lori,

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

  20. November 19, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    thank you so much for the tips! Learned most of these at Culinary school, but a reference page is always a plus! Btw- looove your cookie ideas, esp matching them to a ribbon! thanks for sharing!

  21. Helen
    December 1, 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Will omitting the baking powder change the overall texture of the cookie? I like my sugar cookies to be thick, soft and chewy. I hate dry and crunchy cookies! Before I take it out of my next batch I just want townie what you think. Thanks!!

    • marian
      December 1, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Hi Helen,
      No, I don’t find that taking the baking powder out makes much difference in terms of the overall texture. They will be a bit more dense, but, if you like yours softer, bake them until the middle no longer looks wet (turn on the oven light and peek through the glass… you’ll be able to see if the middle still looks glossy/wet). When the surface no longer looks wet, take them out of the oven.
      The trick is to not bake them too long if you like them soft. You also won’t have the golden brown edges if you don’t like them crisp.
      Hope that helps!

  22. December 3, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    About shortening: they will spread less and be softer if you substitute shortening for butter. Vegetable shortening (and lard) have higher melt points than butter and less water in them. Doing a 2/3 shortening/butter mix is a good compromise.

    • marian
      December 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Interesting! I’ve yet to try that, thanks Lucky2cope!

  23. Shirley
    December 12, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you!

  24. Dawn
    December 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I like to use my Grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe which uses buttermilk and tends to make a thicker, soft, cake-like cookie. Would leaving out the baking powder be ok on this type of sugar cookie?

    • marian
      December 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Hi Dawn,
      Yes that should be fine too.
      Happy baking! xo

  25. December 18, 2014 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Marian, Thank you for so much good info. Really helps us new cookie bakers. Can butter be too soft? And my cookies with corn syrup icing look splotchy when dry. Why? I did freeze my baked cookies for 3 days before decorating. I figured it had to do with fat content in the cookie. Would appreciate help. Want to start on Christmas cut outs soon…Thanks.

    • marian
      December 23, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Hi Jeannie,
      I’m sorry for the delay, Christmas preparations have been keeping me busy. Butter can be a bit too soft yes, but, as long as it’s not at the liquid melted stage, when you’ve finished the dough, as long as you chill it really well, that should help with the spreading issue.
      I don’t decorate with corn syrup in my icing much, but this post could help:

  26. marian
    December 23, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the feedback everyone!

  27. January 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Great tips. Martha Stewart says to chill and that has worked. I used her recipe this Christmas with the first batch coming out perfect. I made a half batch as I needed more and the cookies spread like crazy. I was then following celebrity chef Curtis Stone, after watching a video, who said creaming the butter and sugar should have no grainy feel so I creamed longer. He said to do that until you feel no grit. Perhaps that was it. I am going to try no baking powder next. I had wondered about that as I once had a recipe that didn’t call for it. I recall it worked out well all the time. Your cookies are beautiful.

  28. Amber
    July 12, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Have you ever tried using clarified butter? Like, if you melted unsalted butter down and patiently skimmed off everything that is not actual butter?

    I would assume it would yield a much higher fat content, maybe an actual 100%? Would that help the taste (I haven’t made the cookie recipe yet) and still keep the cookies from spreading? Or is that too high of a content?

    Anyway, in case anyone wants to know how to clarify butter at home the right way, this link is pretty spot on: http://toriavey.com/how-to/2013/01/how-to-clarify-butter/

  29. October 13, 2015 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I think the easiest way to tell the water content of butter is to look at the calories. Fat has 900 calories per 100g whereas the butter I buy only has 744 calories – this 17% reduction is made up of water. It’s the same if you look at the fat content of butter – mine has 83g of fat per 100g of butter which leaves 17g water.

  30. Grace
    February 1, 2016 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing These, iam Working on my new product for my Homebase Bakeshop and iam Planning to make chocolate cookies with nutella and the consistency of the cookies i want is the one that not spread much and at still soft and chewy..
    Thank you I learned a lot!

  31. Julie
    June 4, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    How do I make gingerbread cookies without them spreading? Same tips? I find sugar cookies too sweet and gingerbread yummy!!

  32. Julie
    June 4, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Also would love any tips on how I can keep my cookie’s crisp after icing? I would like to give them as presents but they seem soft after leaving them out over night to dry!

  33. Sylvia
    July 23, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    OMG – #6 The baking sheet tip did the trick. I tried the European butter, freezing, rotating the sheets midway, etc., but never thought to switch to the professional baking sheets (which I had). Same batch of dough (I do freeze them for 15 minutes on parchment after cutting and before baking). Moved them from the thin sheets in the freezer to room temp professional sheets and finally, minimal spreading. Dang – I was going to insist on a new oven – which is still on my wish list – but for now. Thank you for sharing this simple tip.

    • marian
      July 31, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Hi Sylvia, great to hear, thanks for sharing!

  34. Carolyn Howard
    July 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I have the opposite problem! by shortbread cookies shrink! what can I do to solve this problem?

    • marian
      July 31, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Hi Carolyn,

      Besides perhaps trying a new recipe, maybe trying the opposite of the suggestions made in this post. Please let me know how it goes.

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Sugar Cookie Recipe

Sugar Cookie Recipe

1187 Comments | Posted December 28th 2009

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