Sugar Cookie Troubleshooting

filed under: Sugar Cookies on January 15, 2019
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  • 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!

    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 my recipe)   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 you 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!

    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 c (200g) granulated white 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.

    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!

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  • Shaina says:

    Fantastic tips!

  • Becky Knepp says:

    My problem when I made the cookies was trying to ice them! Of course I didn’t get to start until around midnight. I finally gave up. When I made them again, I just decided to go with the rose design. Worked well and everyone loved them.

    Do you have a tutorial on icing the cookies? I’d love to get better at that.

    • Amanda says:

      I just added a bunch of links… hope it helps!

  • Amy B says:

    I used sweetsugarbelle’s recipe that does not require chilling and have gotten great results! It was also my first time to ever make sugar cookies and they turned out great! No spreading! The parchment is amazing not only for not spreading, but also so the cookies don’t stick and you don’t end up with broken cookies. 🙂 I’d like to play around with other recipes and would love to try yours!

  • TidyMom says:

    great tips!! I’ve recently added the one with putting them in the freezer before the oven too! – really helps!

  • bridget {bake at 350} says:

    Thanks for the sweet shout-out, Amanda! Your cookies are always so darling!

  • aida mollenkamp says:

    These are fabulous tips!

  • Sherri B. says:

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing these helpful hints! I’m a good cook but my baking, well, not so much. I will now be able to create Christmas cookies to be proud of…we may even be able to tell what they are!

  • Lucy Lean says:

    So helpful – happy baking, merry christmas!

  • Ann P. says:

    Great tips! Easy, but completely make a difference. 🙂

  • Lauren says:

    Great tips for a novice fancy cookie maker like me! Bridget’s recipe always works out for me! Haven’t tried Sweetopia’s yet!

  • trisha says:

    this is like a Christmas present for me!! All the great recipe links, tips in one spot!!! THANKS!

    • Amanda says:

      You are so sweet, thank you!

  • Dar says:

    I actually had the same problem with my sugar cookies and I found adding a little shortening (which handles a higher heat than butter) and a little more flour did the trick, don’t even need to chill it. 🙂 Oh and don’t overbake!

  • Connie says:

    Great post!

    PS: I love the ugly sweater Christmas cookies! They’re amazing!

    • Amanda says:

      Oh thank you sweety!

  • [email protected] Family Moments says:

    Very helpful! Do you have any opinion on sugar cookies on a baking stone?

    • Amanda says:

      From what I hear, they work well, but are somewhat difficult to get the hang of. Of course, that is just hearsay, I dont actually own one. But I would consider purchasing one and trying… they seem really neat!

  • stacey says:

    I have trouble with the icing colors bleeding together…any suggestions??? I don’t usually use royal icing just glaze but have tried both and still have problems…

  • Marian (Sweetopia) says:

    Thanks for sharing my recipe and top 10 tips Amanda! Those sweater cookies are still one of my all-time favourite Christmas cookies out there!

  • Tickled Red says:

    Love all of these tips darlin’ 😀

  • Michelle Jaffee says:

    Great tips! And hilarious ugly sweater cookies. Luv ’em!!

  • Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says:

    Chilling the dough helps so much! These are all great tips, now I just need to check on how old my baking soda and baking powder are.

  • Christina says:

    fabulous tips as always! So thankful for you!

  • Meg @ says:

    This is awesome! You did such a great job on your cookies. That little sweater is adorable, haha.

  • Jacinda says:

    I’ve been selling cookies and I just flip out when they are not consistent. I’m going to try all of the above and thank you so much for the tips. It’s a crap shoot as to whether or not they spread and it will ruin my

  • susan says:

    as always, great advice, Amanda! Cannot wait for your book!

  • Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction says:

    Great tips, Amanda!

  • Anne says:

    I haven’t had too many problems with the cookie baking but I had a “first” happen to me this week. I iced some heart-shaped tuxedos for a bridal shower and the butter seeped (leeched?) through the icing on some of the cookies leaving the surface kind of blotchy looking. I took Sugarbelle’s advice and left my baked cookies out for a day before decorating them. I’ve never had this happen and wondered if you know why the butter seeped through the icing on some of them but not on others? Thanks!


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