Why Do My Sugar Cookies Spread Out While Baking?

Sometimes a holiday spread isn't such a good thing.

The term Christmas spread conjures up visions of a holiday table covered with beautiful dishes and delicious things to eat. Unfortunately, there are times when the term spread also applies to your sugar cookies. This is when you take the time to make and shape them, but they spread out into unrecognizable blobs in the oven. While they're still edible, they aren't nearly as fun or visually appealing. Worst of all, there's really no way to fix them after the cookies are baked. To find out how to prevent your Christmas cookies from suffering this terrible fate, we went to HUNGRY Chef Jason Smith of Grayson, Kentucky. Smith was the winner of Food Network's "Holiday Baking Championship," and he knows a thing or two about Christmas cookies.

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The Rules for Making Sure Your Sugar Cookies Don't Spread

Chef Smith says that there are several easy mistakes that can lead to Christmas cookies spreading while they bake. Luckily, he's seen them all and has a few simple rules to make sure your cookies bake beautifully.

Rule No. 1: Bake at the Right Temperature

Chef Smith says that Christmas cookies often spread if you don't cook them at the right temperature. This can be especially tricky with an older appliance. As an oven ages, the temperature may be less accurate. Smith recommends purchasing an oven thermometer to make sure you are baking at the correct temperature.

Rule No. 2: Don't Over or Under Cream Your Butter

Smith says that when you cream butter, you're adding air into the mixture. This will keep the butter from melting too fast. However, if you over-cream it, the butter will melt too quickly and your cookies can spread. For the best results, he suggests placing butter and sugar in the bowl and creaming together just until the sugar is mixed in and the texture is uniform. "When it is finished, you'll be able to see the color go from medium yellow to light and pale yellow," he says.

Rule No. 3: Don't Over-Soften Your Butter

According to Smith, over-softened butter can cause your Christmas cookies to spread. "You should be able to place your finger on it, and push to make an indention without running through the middle," he adds. You can also check with a kitchen thermometer, which should read 62° to 68°. He also warns that if your house is too warm, it may cause the butter in the dough to melt and over-soften. The dough should be cool when you put it in the oven. If this isn't the case, place the dough in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes before you bake it.

Rule No. 4: Don't Overcrowd the Baking Sheet

If you don't want your Christmas cookies to spread, Smith says you should never crowd the pan. "Make sure to always place the cookies one to two inches apart," he says. "This allows the heat to circulate evenly around the cookies."

Rule No. 5: Make Sure Your Ingredients Have Not Expired

According to Smith, you should always check the expiration dates on your ingredients before you start your holiday baking. "If the baking powder is out of date it will not work right, and it could make your cookies spread," he says. "Baking powder makes things puff up, and expired baking powder has lost its puff power."

Rule No. 6: Never Bake Cookies on a Brand New Baking Sheet

Brand new baking sheets might be pretty and shiny, but Smith says they should be avoided when you do your holiday baking. Shiny sheets reflect heat and they won't heat up as quickly. In addition, they tend to be slippery, which can cause your dough to spread. "Your baking sheet should always be lined with a Silpat or parchment to create a surface that the cookies can cling to," he says.

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