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:

royal-wedding-2011-crown-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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269 Comments

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

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

  2. 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. 🙂

  3. 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?

  4. 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!

  5. eveline
    August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink
    106

    hi..
    i have some question about using sugar..
    which one is the best for cookies? granulated sugar or powdered sugar?
    and what’s impact for texture?

    thankyou so much for the tutorials,i hope i can make it soon 🙂

  6. marian
    August 20, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink
    107

    Hi @ eveline: Whichever the recipe calls for, really. My sugar cookie uses granulated and my shortbread uses powedered sugar. The powdered sugar one is more delicate and breakable, but is ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ (because of the cornstarch too). Both taste good, but the sugar cookie is more sturdy.

  7. Canelone
    August 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
    108

    @ marian:
    Hello! I have a question for Disco dust, beside sprinkling it on the wet icing, is there any other way of using it? I’ve tried with Vodka and with vanilla extract on dried icing, but it changes the consistency plus the color. What should I use for sprinkle it? with the hand gets really messed up. I’ve seen your venetian cookies and they are really nice!

    Thank you! ^^

  8. marian
    August 21, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink
    109

    Hi @ Canelone: The only way I’ve applied it, is on wet icing. If I hear of anything else, I will let you know! 🙂

  9. Melanie
    September 2, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink
    110

    I found your recipie on Pinterest. I made the dough this morning. To test I only cut 3 cookies. I did refrigerate dough 1.5 hours before “test”. They had no shape when I took them out of the oven. They were thin as a pancake, sort of looked like pancakes. Tasted like butter cookies. What did I so wrong and can I fix my dough? I was very careful in my measurements as I am a cake baker but obviously not a cookie maker!!

  10. marian
    September 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
    111

    Hi @ Melanie: There are many variables, including how much water content your butter has, whether you included baking powder and all the points I mention in the post above. Did you looks those over and have any idea what might help you?

  11. October 30, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink
    112

    Hello Good Morning

    So my question is. On your sugar cookie recipe you call for baking powder, but on your ” Tips on Helping Your Cookies Keep their Shape”, you state not to use baking powder. Is this correct?

    Thank you,
    Nadia

  12. marian
    October 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink
    113

    Hello @ Nadia: Absolutely. If you’re not worried about the shape of your cookies (for example if you just want circles of any size), then put in the baking powder. It does make the cookies slightly ‘lighter’ in texture.

    If you are concerned about getting certain shapes to decorate, for example, if you’re making maple leaf cookie and you want all the edges to be crisp, then yes, take out the baking powder.

    Hope that helps!

  13. Zoe
    November 19, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink
    114

    Marian,
    I love your blog and videos! Just submitted my Xmas list and the Kopykake projector is at the top! I had a couple of questions after reading this post.

    1. Am I understanding correctly that you use the paddle attachment for the entire sugar cookie recipe? Would you also use the paddle with the NFSC recipe?

    2. I had a question about baking pans. Do you prefer one with sides to it? (I saw your prefered pan did have sides)…or mostly is it just that they are thick on the bottom? I have found that when I remove the cookies with a spatula from the cookie pan to a cooling rack the large ones sometimes break (they are still not totally hard so any part that hangs off the spatula sometimes bends), so I considered getting some with out sides so I can just slide them off with the spatula rather than lifting. What do you think?

  14. Michelle W
    November 19, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink
    115

    I too am hoping for the projector for X-Mas…
    I love making cookies.. but HOW do you avoid getting the “swirly” lines… I have tried making straight lines, and sometimes it works out fine.. other times I end up with lines that kinda want to circle around on them selves.. kinda “swirly”… even tho my hand is steady..

  15. November 23, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
    116

    Dear Marian , I just love how you explain everything to do with cookies 🙂 Your tips are always so helpful & appreciated . Your decorating is beautiful & I love your attention to detail !!! It is a great feeling to hand out cookies that you’ve spent time on & attention to … the comments make it all worth the extra effort 🙂 Many thanks for sharing your knowledge , you are one of my favorite mentors & I look forward to all your kind words . Sincerely , Darlene

  16. November 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
    117

    Thank you so much, @ Darlene, your kind words make my effort worth it! xoxo

  17. marian
    November 24, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
    118

    Hi @ Zoe: Oops, sorry I missed your comment!

    Yes I use the paddle attachment for my cookie and icing recipes.

    I like the thicker pans as I find the cookies bake nicer somehow – I’ll eventually do a post on just the different types of pans, once I’ve done all my experimenting. The thinner pans usually don’t have sides, or just have the one side, so for me it’s not about the sides, but the thickness of the baking pans. And I let my cookies sit on the pan until they’ve totally cooled. Hope that makes sense and helps!

  18. marian
    November 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
    119

    @ Michelle W: If I’m understanding your question correctly, it sounds like your icing is a bit thick… it tends to curl that way. Either that or the piping tip is obstructed on the inside or just around the outside. Hope that helps!

  19. November 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
    120

    I’ve just made some snowflake cookies – very intricate but they spread and lost their shape! Wish I had read your post before hand. Batch 2 coming up! One question, how do I stop them browning too much on the ends? Or is this going to happen anyway because of the snowflake design?

  20. November 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink
    121

    Hi @ Nicky @ Birthday Creations: Yes, a cookie with thinner ‘apendages’ will brown a little more in those areas. Have fun decorating! xo

  21. Terri
    December 11, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink
    122

    Hey – I noticed here on your tips that you say you leave out the baking powder ALL THE TIME, yet your recipe on your site for dough has 1 tsp of baking powder in it. Just wondering why.

    Also, LOVE LOVE LOVE your site. Thanks for helping us bake and make beautiful cookies!

  22. marian
    December 11, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
    123

    @ Terri: I put baking powder in the recipe originally for *cookies that are round or ones that you don’t mind if they spread*, but if you do want them to hold their shape… take the baking powder out of the recipe. The cookies won’t be quite as ‘light or fluffy’, but still taste delicious. My site and baking has personally morphed into only decorated cookies, not simple, round cookies, say dipped in chocolate or with sprinkles on them, so I just take the baking powder out all the time now.

  23. December 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
    124

    Hi Marian,
    I’m just about to try your recipe and tips with my kids, I hope they turn out ok. I will let you know how it goes. I would also like to thank you for what you do, it’s such a great help.

    Merry Christmas
    The Rajaram Family

  24. Lorrie
    December 17, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
    125

    I love the flavor of the cookies when I use your recipe!! I was determined that this is going to be my cookie recipe but I was having trouble with the cookies spreading during baking. I solved that issue! I use a cutter before baking to cut the shape. When the cookies come out, if they’ve spread too much, I use the cutter on them again while they’re still hot! The shape is perfect! My kids love to eat the crispy edges that I trim off the baked cookies using the cutter. I hope that makes sense! This recipe is perfect! Thank you for sharing!

  25. Lorrie
    December 19, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink
    126

    I didn’t mean it would be “my cookie recipe”. I meant my go to cookie recipe! lol . @ Lorrie:

  26. December 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
    127

    Hi @ Canelone: I also had same problem, and I find that dipping a dry, smaller fluffy brush in the disco dust jar and them shaking it over the cookie helps. this is not for when you want a precise contour to the disco dust, but rather if you want to add some lighter sparkle over larger areas of the cookie. For smaller areas I also use a fluffy small brush, dipp and take quite a lot of the disco dust on its tip, then tap it very gently on the wet icing where I want it to sparkle. Hope this helps.

  27. December 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
    128

    @ marian: , I tried your recipe with 5 sticks of butter, although I was scared of so much butter, but the cookies baked beautifully and held their shape. I was afraid they will spread a lot because of all the butter. They taste amazing, and my husband said is the best recipe so far. He is my tester :).

    About butters: I use Plugra brand butter, and it is supposed to have higher fat percentage than others. In Europe usually butters have written on the package the fat percentage, too bad I don’t see this here in the US.
    Would clarified butter have less water? I will try making some cookies with that. Did anyone try this?

    Happy holidays!

  28. marian
    December 21, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
    129

    What great information, @ Ajda! I haven’t tried clarified butter but wonder if that would work really well too. Please let us know if you try it!

  29. marian
    December 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
    130

    P.s. @ Ajda: Happy holidays to you! xo

  30. Christina
    December 21, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
    131

    Have been looking for tips like these for weeks! Just in time for Christmas too! Thanks so much c:

    Merry Christmas!

  31. Kara
    January 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
    132

    My son’s 2nd birthday party is in 2 weeks. I was going to try the sugar cookie recipe out to see if the shape would alter at all if I omitted the baking powder…how long do you think the dough or the baked cookies would keep in a fridge or freezer? Trying to make these ahead of time to save time! Thanks

  32. January 20, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink
    133

    A little late, but the same to you @ Christina! 😉

    HI @ Kara: For the dough, in the freezer, months is fine, in the fridge about a day or so. For baked cookies, you could freeze them for quite a long time as well… two weeks – no problem! All the best to you!

  33. marian
    January 20, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
    134

    Hi @ Lorrie: Sorry for the delayed reply! Just getting caught up and missed your comment in my emails (I get notifications). Thanks for the great tip and happy new year!

    Belated holiday wishes to you too, @ Catherine Rajaram and a happy new year! xo

  34. esther
    February 7, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink
    135

    finally, some really good and practical tips!! thank you so much!!!

  35. Julia
    February 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
    136

    Dear Marian, I love your site, you are a true inspiration for me (as well) thank you for your great tips and that you alway share your ideas, experiences with us.
    I just wonder if you or anybody else have the same problem as I do? My cookies never spread, in contrary they rather get smaller during baking. :/ Do you have any ideas why it can happen? If yes, could you please share how could I avoid it?
    Thank you so much, please keep up with being creative;)

  36. March 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
    137

    I am very much an amateur when it comes to making and decorating cookies but I was taught to roll the dough between two sheets of cling film and then put it in the freezer and then take it from the freezer in sheets and cut your cookies from the frozen sheets. I find it works well and the cookies keep there shape. It also means you can get some cookies in the oven really quickly if you want to. I keep sheets of rolled cookie dough in the freezer ready to go.

  37. March 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
    138

    Help! I’ve tried everything! I’ve read everything but I am still having problems. My shortbread cookies first baked more along the bottom edges and had the appearance of teeth (jagged). My baking friend told me to use light colored baking pans without curled edges b/c it only retained heat which could cause this problem. I got the correct pans and added parchment paper. NOW, the cookies are spreading. I’ve followed all of your advice and other websites too. Please help!

  38. March 26, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
    139

    Hi @ Kim Conaway: What recipe are you using?

  39. Cristine
    March 27, 2013 at 12:41 am | Permalink
    140

    Hi, I don’t have a parchment paper or a baking sheet so is it still ok to bake the cookies without them? Can I just grease the pan? Thanks

  40. March 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
    141

    Oh thank you for replying!!! I’m using yours and LOVE it! I’m just perplexed by this problem. I am not a sugar cookie fan but finally found a recipe I liked so I made some sugar cookies the same way I’m making the shortbread cookies. The sugar cookies turned out great!!!
    @ Marian (Sweetopia):

  41. Hania
    March 28, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink
    142

    Hi,
    Can I leave the cookie dough in the fridge overnight before rolling out and cutting cookies?

    Thank you!

  42. marian
    March 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
    143

    Hi @ Cristine: Funny enough, I’ve never tried that, so am not sure, sorry!

    That’s great, @ Kim Conaway! Happy decorating!

    Yes, @ Hania, absolutely you can.

  43. Maggie
    April 9, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink
    144

    Hi! Hania,
    I cut the cookie into 500g disk and wrapped in the refrigerator over night in many occasions. I have toddler and often has to stop half way through. There is no problem. In fact, it seems to decrease the spreading issue in the same dough recipe if u think you have a spreading issue. I tried that. I like adding a little baking powder and I over whip the butter sugar egg part that time. It was nice and fluffy . The cookie spread more on the fresh dough. If u wrap it nice and tight, then it will not pick up other food smell. But I used my own recipe though. You could refrigerate sugar cookie dough in general.

    Extra tip: if you have soda in the recipe, just watch out storing in refrigerator. Soda sometimes turn black dots in the Dough. May not be cookie dough. Even professional could not figure that out. They thought the black dot was mould in the dough. Sorry for the long message. Just want to share that info.

  44. Maggie
    April 9, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink
    145

    @ Julia:
    I could be wrong. and i do not know your recipe. but Usually, shrinking may mean over mixing. Did you refrigerate the unbaked cookie cut out before baking? That resting time will allow the cookie to relax a little. But the shrinkage could be prevented from less mixing during the last stage of dough mixing. As you see the dough coming together, stop mixing by paddle.

    Another possible answer is: flour. If u use strong flour. That will shrink. But I do not think you do. Generally, all purpose flour will do job in small scale baking environment.

  45. Maggie
    April 9, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink
    146

    @ Kim Conaway:
    @ Kim Conaway:
    I love short bread cookies. Would u be able to share there recipe?
    I was afraid to try decorating cookies. I broke some cookies while decorating cookies for the baby shower. And I did not have 100 cookies at the end because broke them while shaking it.

  46. Nichola Nixon
    April 23, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink
    147

    How much does 2.5 cups of butter weigh?
    Also love you recipe. I’m just trying to perfect it. Thanks

  47. May 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
    148

    I’ve asked about this before but unfortunately have not found the answer to my spreading problem. I’m using your wonderful shortbread recipe and love the taste! I’ve addressed all of the problems you state above regarding spreading, even buying multiple pans thinking that was the problem. So the final test is the butter! I’ve investigated water content in butter online and found that Straus Family Creamery in CA makes organic butter with the least water content. I’m planning to drive across town to locate this butter. Could this really be my problem? I’m just so surprised that other people are making these cookies with no problem and I, a seasoned baker, cannot find the cause of this spreading! Please advise. Thank you!

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