Sugar Cookie Troubleshooting

filed under: Sugar Cookies on January 15, 2019

Nothing is worse than having your sugar cookies not turn out as expected! Use my easy tips & tricks to make sure your sugar cookies are perfect every time! Check out my Ultimate List of Cookie Recipes here!

How to Make Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

I get this question more often than 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 Sugar Cookies, every time!

  • Use a strong, balanced recipe.  I happen to adore cut-out sugar cookie ( my recipe ) and love how it’s perfect every time!
  • Chill your dough. (for some recipes)   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 a rotation.
  • Calibrate your oven.  I bought an oven thermometer at Target for under $5 and it has 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. Make sure your pans are LIGHT in color, not dark. The darker the pan the more heat is absorbed and the faster your cookies will brown on the bottom and sides.
  • Use FRESH and a good 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.

Christmas Wreath Cookies with Buttercream

Why did my sugar cookies spread after baking?

This is tricky because we often use flour to prepare our surfaces when rolling out sugar cookies, but having too much flour can mean your cookie will be dry and crumble easily. If your cookies spread it maybe be because there was not enough flour (and even too much butter). My gold standard in recipe testing is to make the recipe as-is once, then make any adjustments needed for my kitchen, then make it again with adjustments. If I can’t get a perfect product after that, I move on to my next recipe. If you make a sugar cookie and it spreads a few factors could be true… the humidity in your area could be an issue as well as the quality and freshness of ingredients.

PRO TIP: If your cookies spread and you don’t have time to start over, use a cookie cutter to re-cut the cookie immediately out of the oven. Remove the excess cookie, brush the crumbs off the edges with a pastry brush, and now you have a perfectly shaped cookie!

Why are my sugar cookies greasy?

This is most likely because of the butter. If your butter is too soft, as in, starting to melt or have hot spots, it will affect your final cookie. The best way to avoid this is to allow your butter to warm to room temperature on the counter for about an hour.

PRO TIP: In a big hurry but don’t want to risk ruining your butter by microwaving? Try grating it! Grab your cold butter and grate it onto a plate. You can also cut the butter into really small squares to accelerate the warming process.

Why are my sugar cookies tough?

Is there anything worse than biting into a beautiful sugar cookie only have it be hard and crumbly? Let’s avoid that at all costs! Start by making sure you do not over-mix your cookie dough. The less you work the gluten the more tender your cookie will be. Another factor can be the amount of flour used. Be sure to measure your flour correctly!

PRO TIP: Want to know the correct way to measure flour? Open up your flour bag or storage container. Using a fork, sift the flour so that it is light and airy. Spoon flour into your measuring cup until it is overflowing and full. Using the back of a knife, level the flour in the measuring cup. Add to your recipe.

Why are some of my sugar cookies brown and some aren’t?

A few things could be at play here, but most likely you have hot spots in your oven. If at all possible, try a baking a pan of test cookies to determine where the hot spots in your oven are and then avoiding those spots. Or you can make sure you are rotating the pan half-way through baking. (This is most effective with cookies, not cakes!) You could also be using a baking sheet that is too dark and heating your cookies too quickly. Another issue could be that the thickness is not consistent.

PRO TIP: Buy 2 oven thermometers and place them in opposite spots in your oven. (They can be very inexpensive.) Checking the thickness of your cookies after you have rolled out the dough can also help ensure that your cookies will all bake consistently.

(Sugar Cookies with the Best Frosting, a Swig Copycat recipe)

Here is the best NO-CHILLING REQUIRED recipe I have ever had. It’s perfect for when you don’t want to be in the kitchen for the whole day but still want to enjoy a perfect Sugar Cookie!

Check out all my Sugar Cookie Recipes here!

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


5 from 1 vote
Easy Sugar Cookies
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
9 mins
Cooling Time
1 hr
Total Time
19 mins

Nothing is worse than having your sugar cookies not turn out as expected! Use my easy tips & tricks to make sure your sugar cookies are perfect every time! Check out my Ultimate List of Cookie Recipes here!

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: sugar cookie recipe, sugar cookies
Servings: 24 cookies (varies)
Author: Amanda Rettke
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg (anywhere from 56-64 grams) room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour sifted
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat. (Try to use a light colored baking sheet)

  2. Add butter to the bowl of your stand mixer and cream on medium-high for 1-2 minutes, or until butter is smooth and lighter in color. (you want to add air to the butter)

  3. With the mixer on low, slowly add the sugar and then egg.
  4. Turn your mixer off and scrape the sides of the bowl making sure to get all the beautiful little sugar and butter bits.

  5. Add in vanilla and almond extracts and turn the mixer back on low to combine fully.

  6. With the mixer still on low, add in the baking powder and then the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until fully incorporated, about 30 seoncds. DO NOT OVER MIX. (You can also turn the mixer off for this stage and mix by hand, but I do recommend sifting the baking powder and flour together first and then adding to the dough mixture.)

  7. Remove bowl from mixer and drop dough onto a clean and floured countertop. Roll out into a flat disc, about 1/4 inch thick.

  8. Cut out cookies into the desired shape and bake at 350°F for 6-8 minutes. (Large cut outs may require an extra minute or so. Make sure the center of the cookie does not appear "wet" or the cookie may be under-done.)

  9. Let cool on the cookie sheet until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

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  • Sophia says:

    I have baked sugar cookies and I feel they might be slightly under baked, I have already frosted them with white 7 blue royal icing, can I still pop them in the oven for 4-5 min more? silly?

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      I wouldn’t put frosted cookies back in… but you can scrape the frosting off!

  • David Banfield says:

    Your cookies look great and I need to catch up…I just made vanilla butter cookies but even with dough chilling and pecan bits they are still too flat and delicate for icing and sprinkles (kid request)..,should I add 2 tsp of baking powder or find a new recipe.

  • Priscilla Helm says:

    My sugsr cookies have been cooking perfectly since I began making them. Now they are coming out undercooked in the middle. Nothing has changed. Help!!

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Your oven could have changed! If you can test it to make sure it is heating correctly (accurate temperatures) then you will know. 🙂

  • Stacey says:

    Please help! I’m using the same sized cookie cutter for both the cookie and the fondant however the fondant is slightly bigger than the cookie and it just doesn’t look right??

  • LINDA G FERRIS says:

    When I took the dough out of the frig, the dough was very crumbly and would not hold together when I used the cookie cutter. Help!

    • Amanda Rettke says:

      Sounds like the dough was a bit too dry. You can always let it come to room temperature and add a bit more liquid. The liquid can be milk, egg whites or whole egg, or even water. Start with a little at a time!

  • Lauren says:

    Thank you so much! We’ve been baking and decorating sugar cookies on Christmas Eve for about 12 years. We are all now gluten free and the recipe we used in the past didn’t transfer well to a GF (premixed) ‘flour’. The cookies were always dry. This no-chill recipe was absolutely perfect! The cookies are moist and delicious. Though the GF flour had xanthan gum in it, I added an extra tsp of Pamela’s Not Xantham, Not Guar Baking Binder.
    The frosting is wonderful (we used oat milk and butter).
    We have found our new recipe for future years!