I’ve learned how to keep cutout sugar cookies from spreading, and I thought I would share my tips with you so your cookie masterpieces can stay that way.
I’m a cutout cookie year-round kind of girl but especially during Christmas. We made Christmas cookies every year when I was a kid and it was always so much fun. However…we really did not know what we were doing. We did our best, but what went into the oven looking like a beautiful masterpiece came out of the oven looking… not like a masterpiece at all. Santa went into the oven looking like a cute little Santa and he came out looking like Shrek. Our cookies would spread all over the place like crazy and never hold their shapes. Thankfully, I’ve since learned how to keep cutout sugar cookies looking cute, and I thought I would share those tips with you so your cookie masterpieces can stay that way.
Please Don’t Grease the Pan
When you grease the pan you might as well be creating a slip and slide for your cookies and they’re for sure going to spread more. You want to give the cookies something to grip onto to keep them from spreading. You can either use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Parchment paper is a baker’s best friend!
Ditch the Leavening
Leave out the baking powder and soda when you’re mixing your dough for cut out cookies. You don’t need it! The whole point of any type of leavening is to make your baked goods rise and puff up and spread out. Ummm hi.. if you want Rudolph to still look like cute little Rudolph when he comes out the oven then stop putting leavening in your cut out cookie dough!
Now, you might say, “Jessica, if I don’t put any leavening in my dough won’t I end with a bunch of hard, unpleasant cookies?” And I would say, “Yea, it’s possible. You could add some cornstarch to the dough.” Adding cornstarch to baked goods helps in producing a more tender finished product. So if you add some to your cookies you’ll get a softer bite. I usually add about a tablespoon of the stuff in my recipe.
Chill the Dough
If I could come through the computer screen and make sure you follow just one of these suggestions this would be it. Chill the dough. I always chill my cookie dough even if the recipe doesn’t call for doing so. Chilling the dough solidifies the fat in the dough so that it melts slower. The cookie has more time to set up in the oven before the fat melts which helps keep the cookie from spreading out all over the place.
I like to roll all my cookie dough out between two sheets of wax paper first and then put it in the fridge to chill. I find rolling it out first to be a lot easier than trying to roll out a big chunk of cold dough after it has been chilled. Once I cut my cookies out, I always pop them back in the fridge for a few minutes before putting them in the oven just to make sure they’re completely chilled. The key is to make sure once the cookies are cut out and going in the oven, the fat in them is solid.
Don’t Beat the Butter and Sugar to Death
Okay.. so you know how when baking a cake creaming together the butter and sugar until it’s nice and fluffy is a great thing because it aerates the batter and helps the cake to rise? Yea, that’s not a great thing to do when you want your cookies to hold their shape. Aerating the dough is a form of leavening and remember how we decided not to do that to our cookie dough? When you cream your sugar and butter you’re forcing air bubbles into the dough which will expand in the oven and cause your cookies to spread.
The goal is to incorporate the butter and sugar just until they are fully combined, around 1-2 minutes. Don’t beat the devil out of them.
Crank Up the Heat
Here’s the thing, if your oven temperature is too low the cookies are going to take way too long to set up and before they have a chance to set up the fat in the dough is going to melt and it’s all over from there, honey… say hello to Spreadsville, USA.
Just because your oven says it 350 degrees inside doesn’t mean it actually is. I’ve found that the actual temperature compared to what my oven says it is can vary a lot. I would definitely suggest investing in an oven thermometer. That way you know the exact temperature of your oven at all times. I once had an oven that was off a full 50 degrees; I kid you not. My oven thermometer was so important then. They’re very inexpensive but so useful.
Check Your Recipe
If all else fails, it could just be that your recipe sucks. The recipe you’re using could have too much butter or too much sugar or not enough flour, all of these things will cause your cookies to spread. If you try all the tips and they still don’t keep their shape, I would recommend trying a different recipe.
If you’re on the hunt for a sugar cookie recipe that is sure not to spread, check out mine here. It is my go-to recipe that I use every time I make sugar cookies!
Let me know in the comments if these tips helped you or if you have any tips of your own!