If you are just starting out with making sugar cookies, or even been doing it for a long time you will know the heartache that comes when you pull the cookies out of the oven and their shape has spread too much making your cookie shape completely different to the cookie cutter used. This means that when you go to put your fondant on top, the shapes do not match.

No matter what recipe you are using (hint: they are all very similar), these tips can help you get that perfect cookie shape you are after.

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1. Change Up Your Cookie Dough Recipe

Majority of cookie dough recipes are very similar to each other and they all have pretty much exactly the same 5-6 ingredients. Why some of the cookies spread and the others not can come down to the ratios of the ingredients.


Too much butter in your cookie dough can cause spreading while baking as the dough doesn't have enough binding ingredients and the fats simply will melt and spread.


Having not enough flour in the cookie dough is yet another reason why your cookies may spread and not hold their shape well.

Baking Powder

This one is unfortunately trial and error and taste testing. Have a play around with the amount of baking powder you are using in your cookie recipe, especially if you are finding your cookies have rounded surfaces and you aren’t able to get them flat. This will be due to the amount of baking powder in them.

By a process of trial and error you may be able to cut down on the baking powder without compromising taste and texture, as the baking powders job is to create rise in your baking. 

Don’t be afraid to play around with the amounts of the ingredients in your recipe to find what suits you the best.

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 2. Don’t Overwhip Butter and Sugar

Most sugar cookie recipes will have a step where you combine the butter and sugar together. But you just want to combine them, not cream them like you would a sponge cake recipe.

The more air you put into the sugar cookie mixture the more it will affect not only the spread of your cookies but those little air bubbles that you sometimes get on the surface of your cookies once baked.

Try to aim for 2-3 minutes of total mixing time for this step. Anything more than that and you will run into problems.

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 3. Knead Your Cookie Dough by Hand

When you first turn your dough out of the mixture you will find the texture quite gritty and clumpy. By kneading it, it will become smooth and supple and allows the gluten to start to form to help hold you cookies together.

In my opinion, this step is best done on the bench and with your hands as I find trying to do the kneading step in a mixer runs the risk of adding too much air to the mixture or you may overmix it again.

By doing this step by hand, you will be able to feel when the cookie dough mixture turns to that smooth and supple consistency.

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 4. Chill the Cookie Dough

This is my number one tip, if you do nothing else, do this step!

Chilling your cookie dough is the single biggest piece of advice I give people to stop their sugar cookies spreading too much. By allowing your cookie dough to chill and rest in the fridge for between 24-72 hours allows the fat in your cookies, to solidify. This means that when you bake the cookies, it takes longer for the dough to spread.

Think of an ice-cream on a summers day, if the ice cream is frozen hard you will probably get time to eat it before it melts and threatens to run down the cone and all over the place. But if you start with soft ice cream, chances are you are going to have a melted mess in minutes.

The same can be said of your sugar cookies. By chilling your sugar cookie dough you are stopping the butter in the cookie from melting prematurely and causing excessive spread.

5. Freeze Your Cut Sugar Cookies Before Baking

So, you’ve chilled the cookie dough, rolled out the sheets, you’ve cut out your cookie shapes and now...back to the freezer! Yes, that’s right. Why?

For the exact same reasons as before. Ideally, you want the fats in the sugar cookie dough to solidify again so that they take more time to spread. Obviously playing around with the dough, rolling it out and cutting it, will start to warm back up the dough to room temperature.

Always pop the cut cookies back into the freezer for a few minutes until solid again. From there you can put them straight into the oven. Even better is that once frozen you can re wrap your pre-cut cookies in cling film and place in an air tight container and keep them this way already pre-cut and ready to go! Cooking your sugar cookies from frozen will give your cookies the best chance at keeping their shape.

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6. Using Warm Cookie Baking Trays

If you put your sugar cookies on a warm cookie sheet the dough will start melting immediately even before the tray hits the oven. To prevent this make sure the baking sheets are always at least on room temperature. 

Ideally you want to cut your cookies and then chill them with the baking sheet. that way the tray is still cool when it goes in the oven and the cookies have no time to spread before they are baked through.

7. Don't Grease the Cookie Sheets

Most cookie doughs have enough fat in them to prevent them from sticking to the baking tray. Adding extra grease to the pan can cause them to spread even more. However, if you're concerned about cookies sticking to the baking sheet, try the baking spray that contains flour.

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8. Incorrect Baking Temperature

When your oven temperature is too high the fats in the cookie dough will melt much faster than they would with the normal baking temperature. This means that before the dough has time to bake and set the butter as spread out already and you will end up with flat and shapeless cookies.

Luckily the fix is quite easy and you simply need to lower the temperature to the point where you are happy with the baked cookies. 

Now its your turn to jump into the kitchen and give one, or all of these tips a go the next time you make your sugar cookies.

Happy baking

February 09, 2023 — Sirley Persidski