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How to Keep Your Cookies from Spreading

How to Keep Your Cookies from Spreading

At the beginning of my cookie journey, I found a recipe that I absolutely loved taste-wise, but that had me ending up with amorphous blob-shaped cookies. Delicious, but not so pretty—but I didn’t know there were any other options! Every sugar cookie I had ever seen had been pretty similar, so I didn’t think anything of it. As time went on (and as I stalked cookie tutorials online), I realized that I could make some changes that would help my cookies retain their cutout shapes. So let’s talk about some tips and tricks for reducing (or eliminating!) cookie spread.

Temperature is Key!

Temperature is so important in all aspects of the baking process, and not just as it relates to your oven temp. Keep an eye on these three things in particular if you notice that your cookies are spreading:

  1. Butter consistency- Most recipes call for using “room temperature” butter, but that doesn’t mean you should leave your butter out on the counter for hours. Thirty minutes on the counter (less if your house is on the hot side) is more than enough. The goal is really just to be able to make an indent into the butter if you press on the stick with your finger. Very soft butter is one of the key culprits when cookies are spreading, so keep an eye on this one!


  2. Hot pans? No thank you—If you are a home baker, chances are pretty good that you are baking batches of cookies back to back, using the same pans over and over. Whatever you do, make sure you let those pans cool down before placing new cookies on them, or that residual heat from your last batch can make your new cutouts start to soften and spread. Having at least 3-4 cookie sheets in rotation will help keep you from rushing to reuse a hot pan.


  3. Chill that dough—If you absolutely love your recipe, but it tends to spread (and again, having done all the troubleshooting to see if you can figure out what’s causing it), pop your cookie sheets full of cutout cookies right into the fridge or freezer for a bit before baking. This should help your cookies retain their shapes through the baking process. That being said, if you’re anything like me, placing multiple cookie sheets in the fridge requires clearing out leftovers, arranging ketchup bottles for support, and keeping children from looking for snacks for a while. There are so many no-chill, no-spread cookie recipes out there, it may just be worth it to keep looking for one you can modify to suit your tastes.

Baking Surfaces

What you’re baking ON is just as important a factor. Consider these two thoughts when making your next batch:

  1. Do you have good quality pans?—I know it’s tempting to buy one of those inexpensive 3-packs of cookie sheets, but I promise, investing in good cookie sheets can make a huge difference in your results. They don’t have to be super expensive, but there are a couple of thing to look out for: light-colored pans are better than dark, and heavier pans are better than super-thin, lightweight, flexible ones.


  2. Mesh mats for the win!—If you currently bake on bare pans, parchment, or silicone mats, try investing in a mesh baking mat, and you’ll suddenly find yourself singing “A Whole New World” when you see what a difference they make. Mesh mats have a silicone-coated open gridwork that not only leaves a super-professional consistent design on the back of your cookies, but the full airflow means that the cookies retain their shape much more than when baked on any other surface. 10/10, would bake again!

The Baking Process

In addition to your tools, there are a few things you can do while putting everything together that can have an impact on whether or not your cookies spread:

  1. One line you'll see in every cookie recipe from now until the end of time is “don’t overmix.” Thank you for that very specific instruction, amiright? I prefer “mix until fully combined” because this at least tells you what you’re looking for: all the ingredients to be fully incorporated into the dough. Once you hit that benchmark, stop mixing. Now, there are two opportunities to overmix cookie dough: when beating the butter/sugar/egg, and when incorporating the dry ingredients. It’s the wet ingredients that will typically affect spread, but let’s look at both:
    1. What happens when you overmix the wet ingredients? Well, you incorporate a ton of air (and heat) into your mixture, and that can cause your cookies to rise and then fall, resulting in spread. You shouldn’t need to beat your butter/sugar mixture for more than a couple of minutes.


    2. What happens when you overmix the dough when adding dry ingredients? This process activates gluten, and the more gluten is built up, the tougher your dough will become. This is why it’s important to make sure all the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, but stop mixing as soon as you see that’s done. When working with the dough to roll it out, the same theory applies.  The more you work and roll the dough, the more gluten is building up; use our wide-barreled Precision Rolling Pins to roll out a larger flat of dough so that you have to roll it out fewer times. A total game changer in the cookie making process!
  2. Don’t overload your baking sheets OR your oven. Especially if you have a standard home oven, it may not be up to the task of baking multiple sheets of cookies evenly. Fill your cookie sheet with cutouts, leaving at least 1” between them, and bake one sheet at a time, rotating halfway if needed (rotating may not be necessary, depending on how your oven bakes).


  3. If you find that you sometimes have spread and sometimes you don’t, maybe invest in a food scale to make sure that you are always using the exact same amount of each ingredient from batch to batch. Read our blog about food scales here!

If you are currently experiencing cookie spread, take a look at the items on this list and see if any of them apply to you.  You never know—adjusting one thing in your process may make a world of difference in your end result! Good luck, and happy baking!

Previous article Mixing Methods: Different Techniques, Different Results
Next article Food scales: Weighing the Options

Comments

Julie - December 12, 2023

I usually use soften butter (softer than you suggest)
I use cheap Amazon baking pans – the one that comes with 3 in a pack. I mix my dough until it pulls away from the bowl.
I always put my pans with cut out cookies in the freezer for 15-20 mins and I have never had an issue with spreading.

Savela - November 14, 2023

GREAT information. All those tips make perfect cookies. I appreciate your sharing so we don’t waste time, money, and experience lots of frustration. I purchased all three of your rolling pins. Game changer for me! Great invention!!!
———
The Cookie Countess replied:
Thank you so much for the kind words, Savela! We definitely don’t gatekeep baking info here at the Cookie Countess 😊

Susie - October 10, 2023

Can you recommend a good cookie sheet pan for baking?
———
The Cookie Countess replied:
Hi Susie! You can’t go wrong with Nordicware or USA Pans! They are all made of light-colored metal, so they don’t tend to lead to overly-dark cookie bottoms. And of course throw one of our silicone mesh mats in your pans for even baking and a professional finish!

Catherine Hesse - October 6, 2023

Great article! I love the information about overmixing!

Sandra - August 30, 2023

Thank you for all the beautiful tips - do you sift your flour? I have been baking since I was seven and always sift my flour. Our recipe is almost identical except for the number of eggs. I have used my recipe for more than 30 years.
I look forward to hearing from you.
——-
The Cookie Countess replied:
Hi Sandra! We don’t sift, but you certainly can if you find that works better for you!

Amy - July 25, 2023

This was such helpful information. I’m having this problem and now know what to look for. Thank you.

Becky - July 17, 2023

Thank you! This was very informative

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