Sugar Cookie Troubleshooting

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I get this question more often then not, so I figured why not just share the answer with everyone?

“My cookies spread out… what happened?”

I know that many of us are making sugar cookies for friends and family this time of year, so here are a few tricks that I hope will help ensure you have perfect cookies!


  • Use a strong, balanced recipe.  I happen to adore my recipe, but Bridget  from Bake at 350 has an amazing sugar cookie recipe and so does Marion from Sweetopia. (Those are the recipes that I have personally tried and had success with.)
  • Chill your dough.  I roll out my dough, cut out my shapes, then place on my cookie sheet.  THEN I place it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.  If you are doing lots of cookies its easy to just have them in rotation.
  • Calibrate your oven.  I bought an oven thermometer at Target for under $5 and its been fantastic.  Sometimes cookies can spread if your oven temperature is too low.
  • Bake on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.  Some people swear by silpat but I have found parchment works very well and is fairly inexpensive.  Not having to grease your cookie sheet also means less potential spreading.
  • Use quality baking powder and baking soda.  Both are inexpensive even when you buy the best quality.  If your baking soda or baking powder is expired it can affect how your cookies rise or spread.

Ugly Sweater Christmas Cookies

Try these great tutorials for all your cookie needs!

Steps to Making the Perfect Sugar Cookie by Sweetapolita

Royal Icing Tutorial by Bake at 350

Coloring and Preparing Royal Icing by Sugarbelle

How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing Top 10 by Sweetopia

Outlining and Filling Cookies with Royal Icing by Sugarbelle

Alternative to Royal Icing from University of Cookie

Give It a Shpritz! by One Tough Cookies

If you have any other questions just let me know.  Also, if you have any other tips feel free to share!




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  1. says

    thanks for all these great tips. i will be doing the annual cookie decorating party with my girls and their friends. I think I need to try your recipe. I just have to add I am partial to parchment also. ; )

  2. says

    Ugly sweater cookies…so cute! I’ve made your sugar cookie recipe a few times now, and so far its my favorite of the ones I’ve tried. They are nice and soft, but they maintain their shape well also. :~)

  3. says

    I love this post, and I know so many will find it super helpful! Oh, and thank you so much for the shout-out, sweet girl! I adore those ugly sweater cookies–they are awesome. My sister-in-law has had several ugly-sweater-themed parties, which I think is the funniest. You’re amazing. xo

  4. says

    I’ve been having problems with my Royal Icing – lately they’ve not been hardening even if I leave it out to dry for one whole day. I’m thinking it could be the humidity. Do you have any suggestions on how to dry them out? What’s an icing that’s not as sensitive to humidity? I’m getting frustrated :(

  5. Carey Snow says

    My issue is that I hate the taste of powdered sugar, but buttercream doesn’t “set” well enough. Any suggestions for an alternative icing that doesn’t involve the taste I love to hate?

  6. KarlaJ says

    Thanks for all of the tips, you have no idea how much they help…or maybe you do! I had a problem with some red accents I recently put on some client cookie gifts. The other colors hardened beautifully but the red never did and got crushed from the other cookies. I did add alot of color to get it good and dark (Americolor Tulip Red), do you think the reason it never dried is because it ended up to thin?

  7. Blessy says

    I just started baking and icing cookies. To cool them off quickly, I pop it into the freezer and also after icing , I do the same thing. Is cooling in room temperature the right way to harden the icing? Will the “Alternative to Royal Icing” recipe stay hardened when transported ?

    Thanx for all all the cookie decorating ideas 😀

  8. says

    Love the “ugly sweater” cookies…thanks for the links to the tips…I’ve tried Sugarbelle’s cookies and love them so far…I’ve followed some of Sugarbelle’s and Sweetopia’s royal icing tips with success and plan on trying Sweetopia’s cookies.

  9. susannah says

    For me, I learned this the hard way: When the cookie recipe that calls for butter, do not EVER cheat and nuke your butter even for 5 seconds to make it ‘room temp’. Every time I’ve done that, it made the cookies spread too. The freezer trick after cutting them will help that – but might as well do the due diligence and let the butter come to room temp naturally.

  10. Barbara Swinney says

    Thank you so much for all these tips. The cookies look wonderful. I have a problem usually with the icing being too soft. These tips were very useful! Have you ever made these cookies using “rice flour” or a “gluten free” flour?

  11. Zoe VanHoose says

    Great tips! But I have a question…recently I’m having trouble with the fat (butter) from my cookie seeping into my icing. I does it about a day or so after I’ve decorated it…it’s great and then all of a sudden I can see the color change where the fat is seeping through the icing. Any tips on what to do about that? Thanks so much and happy holidays!

  12. says

    Thanks for that, I really want to get better cookies, the recipe I use isn’t that great so I’m going to try out some of the ones you’ve recommended.

    Thanks again.


  13. Chris says

    If you are having trouble with the cookie spreading and you are using butter/margerine vs. shortening in your cookies, try using Land O’Lakes brand margerine. Parkay used to work the best but they changed the “formula” and the cookies started spreading. What causes it is too much water in the margerine. Land O’Lakes gives better results than a lot of brands do.

  14. sharon says

    I always have a problem when i made a cookies with white icing, it’s not white anymore the day after i put icing. it becomes off white or almost light yellow. What should i do? I think it’s the butter that is absorbed by the icing. I made a thick icing but still it has spots of yellow? what will be the best cookie recipe for this. is it really the cookies or my icing? please help me. and also how can i make my cookies very hard. I want it very hard so that it will last longer because i will use it for my birthday giveaways. Thanks.