How to Prevent Cookies From Spreading

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Here are some helpful tips to prevent cookies from spreading:

Don’t Overbeat the Batter

Far too many recipes advise bakers to simply “Cream butter and sugar until smooth”. So many people just turn on the mixer and go check their e-mail.

When you beat butter and sugar, those little crystals of sugar create air pockets between the butterfat. The more you beat, the more air you incorporate (those trapped air pockets steam open and expand in the oven). That’s great for a nice, light cake…but not for most cookies. So when the recipe says, ““Cream or beat butter and sugar”, just mix them for about 30 seconds, until well-combined.

nonspreadingcookies.jpg
Pecan-Brown Sugar Shortbreads from Ready For Dessert

Use Ungreased Baking Sheets

Unless the recipe says so, bake cookies on an ungreased or unbuttered baking sheet. You’re creating a slippery surface if you do, which causes cookies dough to slide. I use parchment paper, which has just enough friction for cookies to stay-put without sliding around, but they don’t stick.

Measure Ingredients Properly

I know this is a big duh!, but adding more liquid or less flour than a recipe indicates makes a big difference. When people tell me, “I can’t bake”, I never understand that. I mean, how difficult is “8 ounces of butter” or “3 large eggs”? It’s not like a piece of meat that you need to guess and adjust cooking times. Baking is a no-brainer.

Don’t change ingredients either. Using extra-large eggs in place of large eggs means you’ve added more liquid. Using anything other than all-purpose flour (or whatever is called for) can also be problematic.

Check Your Fat

Most butter is about 80% fat, meaning the rest is roughly 20% water. When used in a batter, that water liquefies, and voila!. You can use a ‘European-style’ butter, which has a higher percentage of fat and remains more stable when baked. Examples of this include Plugra.

Some recipes use vegetable shortening instead of butter, which is another alternative (although I don’t personally use vegetable shortening). Vegetable shortening is 100% percent fat, which means there’s little water so things stay in place better when baked (it’s why pie dough made with shortening is flakier…there’s little water to saturate and toughen the flour.)

If you choose to replace butter in your recipe with vegetable shortening, find one without trans-fats, which are now available.

Check Your Oven Temperature

Every oven is completely different. I had a someone call me at 11pm one night to tell me her Peanut Butter Cookies took 10 minutes to bake instead of 9 minutes, as indicated by the recipe. Buy an oven thermometer and check the accuracy of your oven.

If you put cookies in an oven that’s not hot enough, they’ll droop and spread before firming up.

You can find more tips at my post: Tips to Keep Cookies From Spreading



Related Links

Is sifting necessary?

Chocolate FAQs

Cocoa powder FAQs

Why you should use aluminum-free baking powder (and how to make your own)

Recipes for using up leftover egg whites

American baking ingredients in Paris

French sugar

Tips to keep cooking from spreading

6 comments

  • *as is ignoring people displaced by a hurricane and going to a fund-raiser in Arizona or shoe shopping at Ferragamo in Manhattan.*

    So informative AND hilarious!

    Your baking looks lovely. What are the little cakes with berries?

    Your home and baking – ahh the world is once again right.

  • Hysterical piece! And thank you for making science so easy. I’ve always wondered if you could use lard in cookies. Is that wise or just gliding the lily? Happy New Year!

  • Thank you thank you thank you thank you! Just got a gorgeous fire engine red KitchenAid mixer for Christmas and now I know what I’ll be using it for this weekend – COOKIES!!!!

    C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me – Hey!

    (P.S. I put up a link to your article on the message board for MESSAGE, the English speaking mother’s group in Paris – am sure it will be a huge hit!)

  • But like some folks in the US government, people seem to have trouble doing what’s called for.

    What on earth does THAT mean?

  • This is really, really helpful. Too bad I already my gluten-free sugar cookies for the holidays, and they spread like bad news in a small town. Oh well. Next time, no spinning around and around for the Kitchen Aid!

  • Oh, this is all endlessly useful, thank you. And I made those pecan shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate as a valentine’s gift for someone once, and enjoyed them immensely. They’re wonderful. Could it be a coincidence that the person they were meant for didn’t wax rapturously about them and is also no longer in my life? :)