10 Guaranteed Tips to Prevent Cookies from Spreading

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Guaranteed tips to prevent cookies from spreading on sallysbakingaddiction.com

I’ve been there.

  • Are your cookies flat greasy puddles?
  • Did you just waste an hour of your time?
  • Is your cookie recipe a complete flop?

After years of baking cookies– and writing a cookie cookbook— I know exactly what a failed batch of over-spread cookies is like. It’s frustrating, unappetizing, and a waste of money.

Let me help.

I’m sharing my 10 guaranteed tips to prevent flat cookies.

Super thick and soft Monster Cookies! Peanut butter oatmeal M&M cookies recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

10 Guaranteed Tips for Thicker Cookies

  1. Chill the cookie dough. Not all cookie dough requires the chilling step– and I normally determine that by how the cookie dough looks and feels. If the cookie dough is particularly sticky, wet, or greasy, chilling is in its best interest. And yours! Chilling cookie dough helps prevent spreading. The colder the dough, the less the cookies will over-spread into greasy puddles. You’ll have thicker, sturdier, and more solid cookies. Whenever I make cookies, I plan ahead and chill the cookie dough overnight. After chilling, let your cookie dough sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes (or more, depending on how long the dough has chilled) before rolling into balls and baking. Your cookie dough may be a solid rock, so letting it slightly loosen up helps.
  2. Line your baking sheet. Use a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Coating your baking sheet with nonstick spray or butter creates an overly greasy foundation, causing the cookies to spread. I always recommend a silicone baking mat because they grip onto the bottom of your cookie dough, preventing the cookies from spreading too much. These mats also promote even browning. Mats can get greasy! Here is how to clean your silicone baking mats.
  3. My tall cookie trick. Roll your cookie dough into tall balls instead of perfectly round spheres. Taller balls of cookie dough ensure thicker cookies. You see this photo? (Scroll down in the post.) Just like that.
  4. Cool your baking sheets. Never place cookie dough balls onto a hot baking sheet. Always room temperature baking sheets.
  5. Quality baking sheets are a MUST. Did you know the color and material of your baking sheets greatly impacts the way your cookies turn out? Dark metal sheets typically over-bake cookies and thin flimsy cookie sheets = burnt bottoms. I’ve tested many brands and my favorite is USA Pan half sheet baking pan. (Not sponsored!) They’re a wonderful size for baking a dozen cookies, have an edge so they’re great for other recipes like toffee, chex mix, and sheet cake. I suggest owning a few. I have 6!
  6. Cool butter. When butter is too warm, it is too soft. When butter is too soft, your cookies will spread all over the baking sheets. Room temperature butter is actually cool to touch, not warm. When you press it, your finger will make an indent. Your finger won’t sink down into the butter, nor will your finger slide all around. Soften butter to room temperature quickly with this trick!
  7. Correctly measure the flour. Cookies spread because the fat in the cookie dough melts in the oven. If there isn’t enough flour to hold that melted fat, the cookies will over-spread. Spoon and level that flour or, better yet, weigh your flour. If your cookies are still spreading, add an extra 2 Tablespoons of flour to the cookie dough.
  8. Don’t overmix the cookie dough ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar for only as long as you need to, usually about 1-2 minutes. Don’t begin beating then leave the room with the mixer running. I’m guilty of this too! Whipping too much air into the dough will cause those cookies to collapse when they bake. I guarantee that.
  9. One batch at a time, on the middle rack. I know that sounds a little crazy, but that’s how I bake every single cookie recipe. Here’s why: you get the best possible results when the oven only concentrates on that 1 batch. If you absolutely need to bake more than one batch at a time, rotate the baking sheets from the top rack to bottom rack a couple times through the baking process to encourage even baking. And turn the sheets around as well. Ovens have hot spots.
  10. Freeze for 10 minutes. We’re coming full circle back to tip #1! After you roll the cookie dough into tall balls, freeze them for 10 minutes. Here’s how I do it: after I roll cookie dough into balls to bake them, I place the balls on a plate and put the entire plate in the freezer. Then I preheat the oven. This time in the freezer firms up the balls which may have gotten a little soft while handling with our warm hands. Remember: the colder the dough, the thicker the cookie.

How to Save Your Flat Cookies!

Here is the trick I always use when my cookies begin to over-spread as they’re baking. I’ve actually never shared this with you before, so I’m excited to spill the beans. 🙂

  • Use a spoon. When you notice your cookies over-spreading, remove your baking sheet from the oven. Use a spoon to push the edges back towards the center of the cookie. A spoon can literally reshape your over-spreading cookies. Place back in the oven. Repeat during bake time if necessary, then repeat one more time when the cookies have finished baking.

Works every time.

Caramel cookie

What are your guaranteed cookie tips?

Pictured today are my salted caramel pecan chocolate chip cookies and soft-baked monster cookies recipe.

Soft-baked salted caramel pecan chocolate chip cookies! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

211 Comments

  1. Natalie Vaile says:

    My husband LOVES super thin and chewy chocolate chip cookies. I have found that using airbake cookie sheets with parchment paper are the only way to make sure that they stay chewy (aside from a solid recipe). Any time I try a different method, they don’t turn out.

  2. My cookies were coming out flat no matter what I did. Then I checked my oven temperature with an inexpensive oven gauge.. It was 35 degrees off! Instead of 350 degrees, it was around 315. Cookies never had a chance.

    Every oven has a setting to correct this problem, so the owner’s manual should be consulted.

  3. Very good tips. Doing more baking at this time. Lol
    Thanks

  4. Natalia Pena says:

    Sally !!!! You are amazing , inspirational and have the beet recipes and tricks . I been baking your soft chocolate chip cookies lately but I wanted to make them thicker and this helps !!!!! They come out amazing already and with these tricks even better .

  5. Hey Sally, I am a college student recently getting into baking. I am a total newbie and tried to make some brown butter sugar cookies and I added half a cup extra granulated sugar. Could this have made the cookies flat? they came out very thin and chewy and definitely overspread. I thought it was because I used brown butter that was cooled on the counter, but the dough I left in the fridge overnight still came out the same way.

    1. Hi Kevin! Yes, granulated sugar melts in the oven and creates spread in cookies. (While brown sugar, which is a bit more compact and dense, keeps them chewy and a bit thicker.) Definitely follow the exact recipe for the best results each time.

  6. My cookies ALWAYS spread. I tend to use a scoop and not shape by hand. This would make them less compact and more likely to spread correct? Also, can you cut sugar without compromising a recipe. The current chocolate chip one I am making is too sweet. 2 cups packed brown sugar. Can I try 1.5 cups next time?

    1. Hi Kiki, I usually shape cookie dough balls by hand and recommend it for most drop cookies. I use a cookie scoop for oatmeal cookies because the dough is usually sticky and textured. Reducing sugar will affect how the cookies bake (as well as the flavor, of course). You can slightly reduce, but sugar supplies structure so don’t cut too much out. Hope the tips in this post are helpful!

  7. Thanks for your suggestions.
    My question is this:
    My cookies puff up in the oven and don’t spread- I put them in the fridge for 10 min before baking them. However as soon as I take them out they fall in height. What can I do to prevent this? I use margarine. Should I be using oil?
    Thanks for your reply.

    1. Hi Colleen, If a recipe calls for butter it is best to use real butter and not margarine or oil. Also, be sure you are Measuring your Ingredients Properly, especially your flour.

      1. So I am using margarie and not butter and will try this again using butter.
        I am careful with measuring things properly so I don’t think that is the issue.
        Could you share a good chocolate chip recipe with me that uses margarine?

      2. Can we add flour after the chocolate chunks have been mixed into the cookie dough. And can we add baking powder with baking soda to have them rise a little bit

  8. Wendy Brown Reilly says:

    I love your tips! I use some, but learned a few more today….thank you!

  9. Connie ballentine says:

    I like to use the store bought rolls of sugar cookie dough in a pinch But they always flatten too much! Can I mix in cornstarch or flour? And if I do will it compromise the taste of the cookie

    1. Rita Schwartz says:

      Cookie dough freezes beautifully. If you aren’t happy with the cookie dough rolls you’ve been buying, just create your own. Freeze it flat if you’re going to scoop it (it defrosts quickly because it’s flat) or make a log to slice (you don’t need to defrost it, just slice and bake). Added benefit, you control the ingredients.

  10. Karen Houlihan says:

    These are terrific! I have been using my Aunt Irene’s recipe for 60 years and, although it is nearly the same, this is better. Sally’s recipe had double the oatmeal and a larger ratio of brown sugar to white. I used dark. No molasses. I made them a bit smaller than the recipe and chilled dough and kept chilled. My husband has already snatched three!
    Thank you!

  11. Kathryn Thomson says:

    Regarding your suggestion for cookie sheet, I once read, and it made sense to me, where you do not want to use a baking sheet with sides on it when you are baking cookies as this interrupts the flow of heat. Is this true?

    1. Hi Kathryn! It hasn’t seemed to be a problem for any cookies I bake.

  12. Kathryn Thomson says:

    Good to know. Thanks bunches!

  13. Thank you for your tips. You said not to use margarine but instead to use butter. I need my cookies to be dairy free so I substituted the margarine for the butter. What would be better to keep the cookies dairy free? I measure all the ingredients properly and take the dough straight from the fridge to the oven already rolled but they are still flat.

  14. Farzanah_bayat says:

    Hi thanks for the tips on the cookies. I use a basic biscuit recipe 250g butter 3/4 icing sugar 3/4 corn flour and normal flour to make a manageable dough but my biscuits spread. What am I doing wrong?

  15. Hi! My mother in law is telling me that the only reason my cookies are coming out flat (the last two batches are pancakes and usually this recipe is great and I have no issue getting lofty cookies), is that I have bad flour. Is that possible?!

  16. Hi! I’ve been trying to make some cookies spread and they stay almost the size as I place them on the cookie sheet. They just deflate a bit. The recipe says that the dough does not need be chilled, so I’m not doing that. What can I donto make them spread???

    On the other hand, another cookie recipe spreads and becomes very thin even if its chilled. If I add cornstarch, would the cookies stay thicker?

    1. Hi Claudia, cookies will (or won’t!) spread depending on the ratio of dry to wet ingredients. If there’s too much flour soaking up the fat (usually butter), the cookies won’t spread. Make sure you are spooning and leveling flour instead of scooping it. My How to Properly Measure Baking Ingredients video and guide should help. If your cookies are spreading too much, use some of these tips to help. Cornstarch helps, but a little more flour would as well.

  17. Hi Sally! I’m having the complete OPPOSITE problem! My cookies won’t spread at all, they stay in the same shape I initially put them on the cookie sheet. They were fine and then one day they just became so chubby and puffy. Based on my research, the problem is usually caused by oven temperature but I have an oven thermometer and the temperate is the same as it’s always been. Do you have any idea what might have happened?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Terese, We actually have a blog post with all of Sally’s cookie tips and a section just for this! 5 Cookie Baking Tips to Improve Your Next Batch See “What if cookies aren’t spreading” under tip #2.

  18. These always look so good when I pull them out of the oven, but they deflate every time. Any idea what could be causing them to lose their puff?

  19. Latisha Cothran says:

    Can using fine granulated sugar instead of regular granulated sugar make a cookie turn out flat? My cookies have been fine until recently and that’s the only change I can think of.

    1. Hi Latisha! The finer the sugar, the more cookies can spread. So that could be the issue!

  20. Hi Sally,

    My cookies look great when they come out of the oven, but as they cool they flatten and spread. Any ideas on how to keep them nice and puffy as they cool? I’ve chilled the cookie dough, spooned my flour (added an extra 2T), followed your tips, checked my oven temp., but no luck keeping them nice and puffy like your photos.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Amanda, which cookie recipe are you making when this happens?

  21. Barb from NH says:

    Sally, I used the method you recommend with regards to using a spoon to push the edges back. That worked like a charm! Thank you for always providing the best recipes and tips!

    1. So glad that worked out for you! I use that trick a lot.

  22. Hi Sally, I love the look of Spritz cookies but I don’t really like the flavor. I am trying to tweak the recipe. I was thinking of a chocolate chip cookie dough without the chips and cutting the butter by half to prevent spreading. What do you think? Or I was thinking of adding 1/2 cup more sugar to original recipe, would that cause spreading?
    I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tracy, It would take some additional recipe testing for us to confidently suggest adjustments. If you don’t wish to use the Spritz Cookie Recipe, I recommend these Homemade Butter Cookies which are just as beautiful but are piped instead of using a cookie press. Let us know what you try!

      1. Tracy Engebretson says:

        Thank you for the suggestions. I will try your spritz recipe, then go from there.
        Thanks again.

  23. Would it be OK if I decrease the amount of butter ? My chocolate chip cookies have a greasy flavor and although it is not disgusting at all, it is a bit discouraging to continue eating.

    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Daniela, You can certainly try, or add an extra tablespoon of flour. Be sure you are using real butter (not margarine, or buttery sticks) and that if the recipe calls for room temperature butter yours isn’t too warm.

      1. Thank you! I do use butter (unsalted butter) but I’ll add a tablespoon of flour and give it a try ❤️

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