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.
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.