Why do Sugar Cookies Spread when Baked?
Why do sugar cookies spread when they are baked? Well, that is an easy question with several different answers. There could be one or more reasons why your sugar cookies spread when they are baked. I have tried to cover as many as I can and hope you find the culprit.
Why do Sugar Cookies Spread?
Baking powder can cause your cookies to spread.
Try using half the baking powder your recipe calls for or omit it altogether. When I began baking sugar cookies, I used the full amount of baking powder the recipe called for. Well, the more sugar cookies I bake, the less baking powder I use. Experiment with it until you find what works for you.
Measure your ingredients properly
Baking is a science. I hated science in school and now I use it every day. Weird right? If you are making a recipe for meatloaf, you can add almost anything you want to it and it will probably taste pretty good. If you are baking, you need to be very precise. Everything is connected and is important to the recipe. Too much flour will make your cookies dry and crumbly. Too much sugar and butter can make sugar cookies spread and lose their shape when baked.
Chill the Dough before Baking your Cookies
This one requires a little patience because once you roll out your dough, you are ready to bake. Be patient and bake your cookies when the dough is really cold. Check out my videos on “How to Roll Our Sugar Cookie Dough” and “How to Cut Out Perfect Sugar Cookies Every Time.”
Re-rolling the Dough
Yes! If you re-roll the dough over and over it will make sugar cookies spread. Gail from One Tough Cookie has a great tip so you won’t waste any dough and still have smooth flat cookies. Shes says to take all the leftover pieces from where you cut out your shapes and add them to the new dough so they will stay fresh and you can roll the dough out a few times more.
How thick are you rolling your dough? I roll mine to 1/4″ thick. I know people who make their cookies thicker than I make mine and they don’t have spreading issues. The recipe you use will determine how thick you can roll your cookies. Try doing what the recipe calls for and make any necessary adjustments.
Parchment Paper or Silpat
Baking your cookies on a baking sheet that has been greased may make sugar cookies spread. Use a piece of parchment paper or a Silpat when you bake and it can help the cookies hold their shape. I have used parchment paper for years, but lately, I have been using my Silpats. I don’t know if it is a phase I am going through or what, but parchment and Silpats both work great.
Just because your oven says it is 325° doesn’t mean it is really 325º. Isn’t that crazy? If you have trouble with sugar cookies spreading when baked, you may want to purchase an oven thermometer that you can place in your oven to see what the temperature really is. If your cookies are baked in an oven that is too cool, the cookie dough won’t have time to set fast enough and it will make the sugar cookies spread.
A Warm or Hot Cookie Sheet
If you bake a lot of cookies and don’t let your cookie sheets cool before you place new unbaked cookie dough on them, your cookies will begin to spread before you even place them in the oven. Use cool baking sheets so the cookies will begin to bake evenly when you place them into the oven.
If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy these:
Beginners Guide to Cookie Decorating
Sugar Cookie Recipe
How to Soften Butter Quickly
Salted or Unsalted Butter
Basic Decorating Supplies
Lots of great tips here Lisa. I’m one of those bakers who once she’s made a batch of cookie dough, does not have the patience to wait for it to chill before baking. So, I always use cold butter, cut into cubes right from the fridge to make my dough and then I place my sheet of cut unbaked cookies in the freezer for three minutes before putting in the oven. When the batch in the oven has three minutes left to bake, the next sheet of unbaked cookies goes into the freezer and is ready to bake when the first batch is done. I don’t know if this is the reason, but thankfully, I don’t have an issue with the cookies spreading.
Great tips Lisa! I oscillate b/t two recipes, one that requires freezing the cut-out shapes before baking and has a bit of baking powder, and one that doesn’t require freezing/chilling and uses a teeny amount of baking powder. While the former tastes delicious, the latter is easier to make. Neither spreads though. It’s all definitely a learning process and it always help to hear what others are doing, so thanks gal!
I always chill my dough overnight. The next day, I cut out all my cookies and put them in a 9 x 13 baking pan in layers separated by parchment paper and freeze them. I can start baking the first batch of cookies in 15 minutes. I keep the cut-out cookies in the freezer until they go into the oven. So every 15 minutes, cookies come out of the oven and cookies go from freezer to cookie sheet and into the oven. This system has eliminated all spreading for me (well not me, but it has for my cookies)! I have actually kept the cut-out cookies in the freezer overnight and they bake perfectly the next day. I just wish I had a larger freezer because I always have to rearrange my frozen food to make room for the baking pan with the cookie cut-outs! LOL
I know I was surprised at the temperature in my oven after I put a thermometer in it, my 350 was about 300 degrees. Start I bake at 388 I know that’s a weird number but that’s what it takes to get my oven to bake my cookies just right every time .
Such a great list of tips. Some of them I knew, but there were a few I didn’t even think. The recipe I now use rarely spreads, but the very first recipes I tried did and I was do clueless as to why….but I can see why now 🙂
Oh, there is nothing worse than your beautiful cut-out cookie coming out as a blobby mess (and, why isn’t blobby a word? It totally should be!). Awesome tips, Lisa!
All the sugar cookie tips you’ve been posting lately totally rock! Some of them I already know, while others are definitely new info. I look forward to trying out all your handy tips in my pursuit to perfect my sugar cutout cookies. Thanks! 🙂
I love all these tips and for explaining why things happen. Sometimes I question them while baking but never think twice afterwards, thanks for clearing those questions up!
Lisa, my website is UP again!! I’m LIVE! You’re so sweet to mention my dough trick! And, by the way, I LOVE THE FONDANT SMOOTHER ON THE WARM COOKIES TECHNIQUE! FABULOUS! Thank you!
Thank you for all your brilliant ideas Gail! You are such an inspiration!!
Here’s the link so you don’t have to search it. http://onetoughcookienyc.com/2010/03/between-the-sheets/
It is added and your site look GREAT!!!
I read every word of this post…twice! I randomly struggle with spreading. I can put 6 cookies on a sheet and five will come out perfect, one has spread! Argghhhh!! I have done extensive online research hoping to find the one trick that will work for me, but the truth is, nothing has been fool proof so far. I have come to accept that sometimes “stuff” happens! I will admit that I “re-roll” my dough, but there is no way I am wasting it, so I deal with it!
I have learned a little trick (sorry, I can’t remember the online source) about using a microplane grater…it is great for shaving off that ugly spread once the cookie has cooled. I have also used a small paring knife.
Thanks again for posting all the info that you do…so helpful!
From experience I know that chilled dough is good, but when dough is frozen it will definitely spread.
I like to bake my cookies when they are really cold and that works well with the recipe I use. No one likes cookies that spread so thanks for the tip.
Not only do we live at 6000 feet but we are also a gluten-free family. I will be trying out these tips to see if any will help to fix this problem we have with nearly every cookie recipe. Thank you so very much for posting this.
Oh my word Erin. It sounds like you have a lot of baking challanges. If you need anything feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t know the answer, I will help you find it. 🙂 Happy New Year!
Thank you for the great tips! My question is how to cut out my frozen rolled out sugar cookie dough using a cookie cutter that has a top, there is no opening to gently push the dough onto the parchment paper to bake? It’s an old Minnie Mouse cookie cutter. I hope my question made sense!
I did try it with a different cookie cutter and they still spread, but I’m going to purchase an oven thermometer and see if my oven is not hot enough.
Any help would be appreciated!
Sweet Sugar Belle did a great tutorial on how to avoid getting your cookie dough stuck in a cutter that is not vented. You can see her post here: http://www.sweetsugarbelle.com/2013/02/fixing-hard-to-use-cookie-cutters/
Could sifting my flour with a wire whisk before adding it to my wet ingredients cause spreading? Also, I apologize if you’ve already answered this question, but when rolling out my dough between parchment paper and plastic wrap does the dough need to be chilled first or can it be rolled out right after making the dough?
Thanks so much!
I use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients every time I make cookies and it does not cause them to spread. I don’t over whisk, I just whisk it a few times to mix everything and to break up the lumps.
I chill the dough before I roll it out. I use a thin cutting board and plastic wrap. I have never tried to roll it out on parchment paper because I was afraid it would stick. I have seen people roll it out in between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and that worked out well.
Has anyone considered butter the cause of the spreading? It seems as time goes on, more and more
water is added in the production of butter. Can anyone suggest a butter than spreads less than others?
Lisa, I also have the little decorator bottles. how do I get most of the icing out? Do you know where I can get a little spatula to scrape the bottles? Your blog is great. As a new baker, I learn so much from you. Thanks.
Thanks Jeannie! I know you may think I am crazy, but I took the bottles into the store to see what spatula would work. It was the only way I could find one that would fit. Just let someone that works there know what you are doing so they don’t think you are tring to smuggle out your decorating bottles! LOL
Just getting into baking.
Learned a bit from you.
Bear Hugs from Cape Cod. Peace
The link to re-rolling dough without waste by One Tough Cookie is no longer available. Is there anyway you could explain to me how it’s done. I love my recipe but it does spread a bit which makes it hard when I make a stencil to use with it and thought this might help.
I think I have another thing to add to your list of why cookies spread. It seems to make a difference whether you use cake and pastry flour or all purpose flour. I could not work out why my cookies were spreading this year when I normally don’t have a problem with them. Turns out I grabbed cake and pastry flour by mistake. Once I twigged and did another batch with all-purpose, they were back to their normally well-behaved selves.
That is so true Carol! Thanks for sharing that with us. Huge help!!!
That’s a good idea to make sure that the dough is cold when you bake it. I feel working it with your hands or in the mixer would allow it to warm up a bit and make it less firm. Hopefully doing that would help me to make cool shapes for my cookies when I pull them out.