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’. If you still notice that your cookies are spreading, another thing you can do to help cookies keep their shape, is increase the heat 10-25 degrees higher than the suggested temperature on the recipe. Every oven is different, so you may need to try this for yours.
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.
sandra pass says
Wow! Thank you Marian! And thank everyone else for your tips. I was so frustrated when I used motorcycle and bear shaped cookie cutters and they spread into blobs. I finally found the cookie cutters that I wanted on the internet and was going to give them to the guys that my husband works with on motorcycles.I will try again with your recipe and your tips. Hopefully, if the motorcycles turn out looking like a motorcycle, and the bear looks like a bear, along with the cookies I will also give them a copy of your recipe and Your tips with a motorcycle and bear cookie cutter. Thank you so much! Yay! MERRY CHRISTMAS! FROM SPOKANE, WASHINGTON
Thank you so much Sandra! I appreciate your comment and wish you all the best with your next batches! Definitely chill that dough (I’m leaving it overnight lately… It works with my shedule best too), and have fun! Merry Christmas! xi
I have a question…how do you think doing a mix of granulated & powder sugar will affect the cookies? How will the cornstarch affect the cookies as far as spreading? Will omitting the baking powder still allow for a somewhat soft center? I’m tired of puffy spreading cookies so I’m desperate for answers. Thank you.
The confectioner’s sugar will make for a more tender cookie, but it does not affect spreading. The softness of the dough because of your butter and sugar to flour ratio affects the spread. Too much flour and the cookie will taste lousy. Leave out the baking powder and chill the cookies after cutting them out. To keep a soft center, bake the cookies less, as in barely turning golden.
I realize this info won’t help for last December’s baking, but hopefully it will for future baking!
What about crisco in the recipe? Does that also cause serious spreadage? *sigh cookie spreadage is so depresssing….
I have yet to experiment with Crisco in the recipe, so I’m sorry, I don’t know yet. I will be doing experimenting with that in the new year, but it’s likely not helpful for you as you probably need it now.
Crisco is a hydrogenated fat. It will help keep your cookies from spreading as much. That being said, it really is very bad for you. In fact, the Government is requiring it be omitted from foods sometime in the next few years (I forget when). Instead, use butter and refrigerate your cut out or drop cookies for 10-15 minutes before baking. Do not grease cookie sheets no matter what the recipe says. Use parchment paper or a silpat instead. If you’re ever in Eugene, OR, stop by Saturday Market and say hello and get some samples of my cookies! I’m Nibbles Bakery in Booth 323 (also Thingys Emporium). Stay away from that Crisco!
I’m am SO excited about finding your blog. I was considering making cookies for the welcome bags at my wedding but would have given up on the idea entirely had it not been for you!
Question: Which brands of butter are your favorite?
Would omitting the baking powder in gingerbread cookies keep them from spreading?
I had very good luck with these. The finished pumpkin shape looked the same as before baking. I had never thought to leave out the leavening agent. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, glad to hear it Sharon!
Thank you for the tips. Was making witches fingers and toes for a Halloween event and they kept flattening. You tips helped a lot, I lowered the butter and refrigerated before and after shaping and used parchment to get great looking cookies!
Helsinki Dôskee says
Wow! Wow! Wow! I need to try these tips! Halloween is coming up and I really want to execute the perfect spooky cookies!
Is there a brand of butter you would recommend?
Thank you since for sharing your tips!
Helsinki Dôskee says
Apologies for the typo.
Last sentence should have read:
*Thank you for sharing your tips!
I am reading post on omitting baking powder from cookie recipes, also I have notice since purchasing my kitchenaid machime my cookies seem to flatten, thus maybe your comment on mixing too much may apply to that?
Lisa Sanders says
I took a baking class once and the baker told us to always buy butter with the highest saturated fat percentage you can find. Maybe that reduces the water content. I always look at the butter labels now.
Do you think with the baking soda omitted from the recipe I could use this in a pan that has the indented cookie form? I found some that are like what we used when I was a child to make Christmas cookies. Unfortunately, mom couldn’t tell me the recipe for the cookies that we made in them (she was in her mid 80s by the time I found them).
Hi Marian I love your cookies. i have one question about cookies thickness. I love them very thin. what do you think about that? i think they are a little more delicated…
Thank you for such great tips! I was ready to be admitted to the funny farm over the spreading issue. It is truly a blessing to find a blog that has “real” information from “real” bakers! This is my go-to site for any issues I may have.
Thanks Pamela and happy baking!
How do you avoid re-rolling the dough?
Sasha Jamison says
Marian, these tips are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m saving this in my bookmarks and will DEFINITELY be remembering these next time
Do you refrigerate the cookie sheets too? Or do you put the cut outs on a pan that you don’t use and just transfer them to a room temp. cookie sheet?
I have a lot of extra cookie sheets, so I freeze them with the cookie sheet.
Sorry, I just saw this Rae. I do refridgerate/freeze the trays too. Just faster!
I tried twice to make cherry bombs , but what started out as small balls of dough in which is hidden a cherry in each ,the ball quickly melted down into an almost flat cookie.
I cant figure out what I am doing wrong.
I followed your tips as described above.
The cherry bomb recipe isn’t mine (as I’ve never made or posted them), so I can’t tell you 100%. The amounts of each ingredients do matter. That being said, besides the tips above, all I can think of is to freeze the cherry bombs overnight and then bake them in a really hot oven (set the oven at least 10 degrees higher than the recommended time). Also, the recipe did not have a leavening agent in it, did it?
Thank you, Marian:
The recipe listed baking powder and salt.
I just attempted my 3rd venture into this recipe:
I omitted the baking powder as suggested, and cut down on the butter; I had no more cherries to use , but i didn’t mind since this was another trial.
VOILA! ….the dough held its shape!
Now, tomorrow I will buy more cherries and bake this recipe again.
I also think that maybe if the cherries were completely dried( with a paper towel) after straining it would certainly curtail any extra moisture.
I’ll post again after my next try. I am obsessed with getting this recipe correct.
Thank you again for your suggestions.
Wonderful! Glad to hear you had success! Please let me know how your next batch goes, I’m very curious!
Oh. I also cut down on the sugar…no problem…they taste fine
Just took the latest attempt out of the oven,and they came out perfect!….. nice and round. I am so pleased….I thank you again for all the suggestions.
Wonderful Lorraine, glad to hear it and Merry Christmas!
Judith B. Marks says
I want to decorate little oscar cookies for an Academy Awards party. I plan to bake and freeze the unfrosted cookies this weekend . I bought edible gold glitter dust. Normally when I decorate before I bake I use egg white with water to stabilize the sprinkles or whatever I am using to decorate. What can I use to substitute for the raw egg white I was not planning to use royal icing.
I’m so sorry for the delay! What did you end up doing or do you still need an idea?
Hi Marian – I’m inspired! Do you have any designs for birds, specifically hummingbirds? I have the cookie cutter, just need the design! Thank you!
I have a cutter too, and it’s on my list to make, such pretty birds! I’m sorry, nothing yet! xo
Bree Ward says
Thanks for reminding me not to mix the butter and sugar too long to prevent too much air in them. I’m baking sports theme cookies for my son’s birthday, and I’m gonna be using a customized baby rattle cookie cutter. Thanks for providing tips in keeping the cookies in shape while baking them. I will make sure to follow them, especially the mixing part.
Jessica Perdue says
Hi came across your tutorials when I googled how far ahead you can make sugar cookies and your tips are great. I have a quick questio. Though it doesnt have to do with cookie spreading, if I need to make a superman red and superman blue icing what do I need to do to get the colors perfect
Here is a post for you on coloring red; https://sweetopia.net/2014/11/how-to-color-icing-red-decorated-christmas-cookies/
And for the blue, I would use Americolor royal blue, it’s in this kit, I couldn’t find it on its own; https://amzn.to/31IuAlX I
Zachary Tomlinson says
This article is informative. My mom’s birthday is coming up soon, and I plan to bake her cookies. I’ve been doing some trial and error the past days, and I think the main issue why I can’t keep the shape of my cookies is because I use baking powder in the dough. I think she’ll love cookies shaped in baby rattles, with chocolate sprinkles on top.
Thanks for all these tips. By the way, you have 9 tips, not 8. You list two 7s at the time I’m reading this (Dec 2020)
Oops, thanks joffier!
There are actually 9 tips, not 8. There are two #7’s.
Haha thanks Bunny.
Great Tips! Thanks very much.
Now a question about Spritz cookies spreading and not spreading.
Same Cookie Dough, Same Cookie Press, Same Cookie Sheet, Same Oven, In the oven at the exact same time.
One cookie sheet – 24 cookies. Some come out perfect while others look like pancakes. And the ones spreading aren’t necessarily in the same location on the sheet. There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to the spreading or being perfect.
Any ideas what could cause such difference at the same time?
I can guess a few factors which might have played a part:
– For my chocolate chip cookies, I’ve noticed that the bottom of the bowl of the dough may not have been totally mixed, this usually means the dough from this part of the bowl spreads more. Maybe this applies to the spritz cookies as well.
– Maybe your oven has heat pockets or uneven heating
That’s all I can think of!