Apr 25

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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. April 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
    53

    What an adorable and lovely Web site/blog you have here! =) Thank you for sharing a great post. I often times have a problem with my shortbread spreading. The baking powder tip is going to be very helpful to me, as I didn’t know that.

  2. April 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
    54

    Adorable!

  3. April 28, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink
    55

    I can’t believe you actually put Swarovski elements in there! That’s incredible and very dedicated – they should totally serve these at the wedding after party on Friday ;) Congrats on being in the top 9 today!

  4. April 28, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink
    56

    Wow that was immensely helpful! Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful tips! I remember when I was little and my mom complained that her cookies always burnt because ovens in America just weren’t as good as in South Africa where she grew up…turns out it was the old baking sheets she was using!

  5. April 28, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink
    57

    These are great tips Marian. I’m definitely going to consider these tips the next time I bake. Thanks!

  6. Sandra Reyes
    April 29, 2011 at 12:34 am | Permalink
    58

    Thanks for the tips. I will definitely be omiting the baking powder.

  7. April 29, 2011 at 5:10 am | Permalink
    59

    Hi! Just found, and love your Blog and have instructed my mates/followers to take a look! Thanks for the fab post. x

  8. April 29, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink
    60

    Thanks for the tips! I tried lessening the amount of baking powder in my cookies but never omitting it completely. I’ll try that on tomorrow’s batch!

    I was just recently introduced to your blog and have to say, you are so talented! Your cookies are gorgeous. This week I used one of your butterfly cookies for inspiration. Here’s my blog about it (with a link back to your blog): http://minnebaker.blogspot.com/2011/04/banana-bread.html

    Thanks again!

  9. April 29, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink
    61

    That was supposed to be: http://minnebaker.blogspot.com/2011/04/butterfly-cookies.html as the link in my previous comment (#60)

  10. marian
    April 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
    62

    @ Sawsan@chef in disguise, @ Kelly, @ Marianne @ MealMixer: Sweet thanks!
    @ Tina: Super tips! Thanks for sharing!
    @ Cristina, @ alyce, @ Pudding Pie Lane: Thanks and let me know how it goes!
    @ sprinkling of sugar: ;-)
    @ Emily: Thanks for the kudos and link!
    @ Erin Wilhelm, @ Sandra Reyes: Thank you!
    @ Leah: You did such a fabulous job with your cookies! Can’t wait to see more!

  11. April 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink
    63

    Great tips! I’ve noticed that about the baking powder before and I’d always wondered why most cut-out sugar cookie recipes call for it when it makes the cookies spread. Good to know you can leave it out without any issues.

  12. May 1, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink
    64

    Your cookies and site are fabulous! This is such a great post as I sometimes have cookies that spread a little;) So happy I found you on Twitter Marian:)Happy Weekend:)

  13. Jan
    May 2, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink
    65

    I’m a little confused about tip #1. Are you suggesting to eliminate the baking powder from any recipe that calls for it? Should it be replaced with baking soda? If so, it what proportion.
    Thanks,
    Jan

    • marian
      May 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
      66

      Jan, yes, take out the baking powder; for sugar cookies it’ll help lessen the spread. (any sugar cookie recipe).
      Don’t add baking soda, that’s also a leavening agent which will make them spread and baking soda and bp can’t be interchanged (baking soda usually requires some sort of an acidic element to help activate it… like lemon juice or buttermilk for example).
      The cookies will be fine without the leavening agent; a cake, on the other hand, wouldn’t! ;-)

  14. Cara
    May 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
    67

    Hi! I will start by saying Thank you for all the guidance you have given me! I saw above that you said not to replace the baking powder with the baking soda. My recipe that I use and everyone loves calls for baking soda, and not baking powder, my question is, can I remove the baking soda? and will it change the flavour of the cookies? Thank you!

    • marian
      May 4, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink
      68

      Hi Cara, it should work the same way as it’s also the leavening agent in the cookie, but I haven’t tried for sure with a baking soda recipe. Let me know how it goes.

  15. Megan
    May 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
    69

    I omitted all the baking powder, used a few tablespoons less sugar, and used same-day eggs straight from the hen house. For the first time ever, my cookies didn’t spread, not one little bit!!

    The texture was difficult to roll out flat and tranfer to the cookie sheet (kept crumbling/cracking) but they look great baked and my husband says they taste good.

  16. marian
    May 4, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
    70

    Awesome Megan! =)

  17. May 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
    71

    Fantastic tips and tricks, as always! :) I ADORE those crown cookies!!

  18. Olivia
    May 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
    72

    Marian…

    you are so briliant !!
    thanks for these tips…I hope it’s worked for my dough
    i will take out the bp and will using the sheet for my pan

    Thanks Marian =)

  19. June 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
    73

    I have been baking about 40 dozen sugar cookies a week for almost two years now and if I tell you the struggles I have endured with spreading. I want to share that I believe there are no real definitive answers to this problem. You just have to be in tuned to what you are doing.I have tried every single option discussed…and then some.

    What you suggest is right on :) and will help many bakers. But I wanted to remind everyone that where you are baking and the weather that day, as well as the oven you are using also affects the outcome. I believe that what works for one person in the west will not work for a person in the south, etc. We all have to find what works in your particular kitchen.

    So be patient and keep trying Marian’s suggestions until you see what works for you! Best of luck!

    • marian
      June 19, 2011 at 2:53 am | Permalink
      74

      Lisa, thank you so much for your feedback! It’s so true, altitude, humidity, the oven – there are so many factors when it comes to baking; it’s difficult to pinpoint them all! All we can do is try the tips and experiment to find out what works for each of us. Thanks again for your advice!!
      xo,
      Marian

  20. Eftychia
    June 24, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink
    75

    I love making cookies. Your tips will help me a lot. Thank you so much for all these useful information.

  21. June 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
    76

    Always await your new posts. Thank you for taking the time to keep us all up on the latest techniques and helpful hints.

    I know others have also stated that they roll out their dough between two pieces of parchment paper, this is something that has saved me so much time. I do all my dough right after making it, then chill it and repeat the process. This way you never have to incorporate more flour into your recipe, so no more reroll. All your “rerolls” are just as tasty as the first. Just remember to chill thoroughly. When you need to make 350 cutouts this will be a life saver! LOL

  22. marian
    June 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
    77

    @ Eftychia, @ Marilynn Woodward: Thanks for your comments and feedback!

  23. Rosie
    July 4, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
    78

    Marian, thank you so much for all the great tips, you’re awesome! Have a quick question for you. I usually freeze my cookies before I bake them to avoid spreading. However, lately I noticed that when I put them in the oven my baking sheet makes a popping sound and it BENDS from the corners…then my cookies get out of shape :( –I just got a new oven by the way. Do you know why is that happening to my baking sheets?? has anyone experienced that before?? I’m puzzled and disappointed :(

  24. July 17, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
    79

    Wow these are so cute and quite impressive! I’m so glad I found your blog, I love it!!

    Second that :)

  25. marian
    July 18, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink
    80

    @ Rosie: Sorry it has taken me so long to reply! I’m not sure how I missed your comment.

    The popping and bending of your baking sheet happens because when the baking sheet heats up it actually expands (tiny amounts), and wherever the baking sheet is the least ‘strong/thick, that’s where the material will ‘give’, or expand. It happens with pots and pans too.
    Tends to happen less with aluminum.

    It may be happening now because your new oven may be hotter than your old one. Try baking on different baking sheets and/or lower the oven temp. a bit.

    Hope that helps!

  26. Rosie
    July 18, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink
    81

    Marian, no problem I appreciate you answer. I think I will switch my baking sheet to thicker ones and see if what happens. And yes you’re right I think my new over is hotter then the previous one.

    Thanks a million Marian! :)

  27. Mindy
    February 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
    82

    Soooo glad I found this post. I’ve practically given up cookies b/c my cookies expand so much they are almost unrecognizable shapes. I’ve learned several tips that might be affecting my cookies. I can’t wait to try these tips!!!

  28. Elisa
    February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
    83

    Definetly I will try my next recipe without the baking powder! thanks for the tips!

  29. March 4, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink
    84

    I am a beginner. I have tried various cookie recipes and continue to discard them, (the recipe, not the cookies!!), in search for the perfect one. With these tips, perhaps I can finally bake a more perfect cookie!! Thanks.

  30. Brook
    March 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
    85

    These tips help sooooo much! One question though, for your shortbread cookie dough, do you let it rest an hour in the fridge?

  31. marian
    March 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
    86

    Hi @ Brook: Yes, I do. =)

    Thanks for all your comments, everyone! xo

  32. Dawn
    March 16, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink
    87

    What about using clarified butter or Ghee? Clarified butter is pure butter fat & Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked longer to remove all the moisture.

  33. marian
    March 16, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink
    88

    HI @ Dawn: Haven’t tried it but it’s brilliant! Let me know if you try it how it goes pls.

  34. KaSandra
    April 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
    89

    Hello,
    I am wondering what Brand of butter you decided on using?
    thank you for your help :)

  35. marian
    April 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
    90

    Hi @ KaSandra: Here in Canada, it’s called Lactancia.

  36. camilla
    May 3, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink
    91

    Ooo, Marian, I’m so excited I just made my first batch of cookies, they are waiting in a container and I just made royal icing which is in the fridge with cling film over it waiting to finish off tomorrow! Thanks for all your helpful tips and guidance, I am loving this new hobby! :)

  37. marian
    May 3, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink
    92

    Hi @ camilla:
    That’s awesome! You may want to put a lid on your container if you can as well. Royal icing tends to dry out quickly. Here’s a post you might like:
    http://sweetopia.net/2011/01/how-do-you-store-royal-icing-and-how-long-can-you-keep-it/
    Have fun!

  38. Kate
    May 21, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
    93

    I have been struggling with cookie spread. A reliable source said to add the baking powder when you add the eggs and add a little extra flour. My recipe calls for 6 cups of flour, my friend said at a quarter cup of flour. Planning to try this weekend.

  39. Bernadette
    May 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
    94

    I just tried your Sugar Cookie recipe (the one in the post with the Polar Bear decorations) last night for the first time and they barely spread! I did a lot of research on other sites, as well, about the best ingredients to use and it turned out really great. Your cookies taste great, too. I love the buttery-ness they have! Anyway, most of my cookies were in a circle shape, but with my last piece of dough, I used one of my very intricate cookie cutters (in the shape of a Texas Longhorn) and it turned out perfectly! I’ve had so much trouble with that cookie shape in the past that I almost threw out the cutter, but I am so glad that with your recipe and the tips that you gave above, I don’t have to! I figured I would share some of the things I did, to help those who still are having trouble with cookies spreading.

    1. I baked them on parchment paper (NOT wax paper… learned that the hard way, lol), and that made a big difference! I tried one batch without the parchment paper (straight onto the cookie sheet) and those spread. The next batch was back on parchment paper and they came out great.

    2. I eliminated the baking powder. The recipe you posted calls for about 1 tsp of baking powder but I followed your tip above and eliminated it completely, with no problems to speak of.

    3. For the butter, I used Plugra which is a European style butter that supposedly has less water content. I found it at Central Market (if you’re from Texas) and I’ve heard Trader Joe’s has it as well. I haven’t checked Whole Foods but they might have it there, or something similar.

    4. I’ve also heard the flour can make a difference so I used King Arthur flour. I had heard good things about it, and by the way my cookies turned out, it must be true!

    Thanks so much for this site! It has been so useful as a baker just getting into sugar cookies with royal icing! Happy baking =)

  40. marian
    May 26, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink
    95

    Hope it goes well, @ Kate!

    Thank you so much, @ Bernadette for sharing those wonderful tips! I really appreciate the time you took to share your feedback! I’d love to see some of you cookies if you’d like to share on my facebook page sometime. xo

  41. Barb Clairain
    June 24, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink
    96

    I want to win!!! I just shared this on my Face Book page….

  42. nafiza
    July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
    97

    Hi marian,

    hope you are doing well. I had a question about your sugar cookie recipe.i have made it before and i liked the taste and all but i was wondering when you use this recipe do you leave the baking powder out or use it?tuanks.nafiza

  43. marian
    July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
    98

    Hi there @ nafiza: Yes, I always leave it out now.

  44. August 4, 2012 at 2:47 am | Permalink
    99

    Thank you so much, Marian. Your tips are super-duper helpful. Hope the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have the opportunity to delight in your sugar cookies some time =)

  45. Mary
    August 4, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
    100

    Hi Marian! What if were using a sugar cookie recipe but the dough doesn’t need to be chilled do we still have to chill it?

  46. marian
    August 4, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
    101

    Thanks, @ The Ninja Baker: That would be fun. :-) Oh and btw, I love your gravatar image.

    Hi @ Mary: Yes, I would still chill it, it seems to help, regardless of the recipe. Happy baking!

  47. August 6, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink
    102

    your tips are so helpful!
    thank you so much sharing them with us!

  48. Christina
    August 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
    103

    I am in awe of your talent! Your attention to detail and neatness are definitely something I admire. Thank you for all your tips and sharing your knowledge with us. :)

  49. lili
    August 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
    104

    Hi Marian,
    I just wanna see in the cookies,but there is no such a picture.
    My cookies are crispy but inside them is wet!what should I do?

  50. marian
    August 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
    105

    HI @ lili: Bake them longer, and if you’re in a humid environment, you need to work in an air conditioned room. Even better, with a de-humidifer too. Sorry, humidity can wreak havoc on baked goods!

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