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. Just in time for Christmas!

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

149 Comments

  1. I love the suggestion for tall ballston Over the weekend, I baked triple chocolate (milk, dark & cocoa powder) cookies with caramel chips and pecans. Despite chilling the dough overnight, using parchment and cold pans, the cookies spread excessively. They taste wonderful and look aweful I froze half of the dough, so on the next bake I’m going to use the “tall ball” method. Again, thanks for the great tip.

      1. I’ve found also adding the flour by thirds or fourths and beating after each addition to the creamed mixture helps keeps the cookies from spreading also.

  2. I have a question about silicone baking matts. I placed cookies on that edge thinking their weight would hold it down I have one that will not lay flat. but noooo, instead the bottoms never browned. I have placed it between two baking sheets and placed my Lodge Cast Iron frying pan on it for three days. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. I usually use Silpat brand mats and they always lay flat (even when stored rolled up). You might be using a different brand that I am not familiar with. Maybe try storing them rolled the opposite way and then if they straighten out store them flat in the future.

      1. You are correct it is not a Silpat, and I tried rolling the opposite way too. That didn’t work either. thanks for sharing your thoughts. I will stick with Silpat brand going forward.

  3. Sally, I’d call myself an experienced baker. But I’ve learned more from you over the years than I’d thought possible. Thank you for your detailed instruction and easy to follow tutorials and…humor, lol, all sifted into one. We all have a tendency to skip over some of the “words” at times when following a recipe. But that’s where the “meat and potatoes” are and I’ve acquired so much knowledge just slowing down and absorbing the words before rushing on to the bake-athon hehe. I just wanted to say thank you. P.S. I do have your cookie cookbook and just love it. Just thinking about warm cookies makes me want to whip up a batch stat! Have a sparkling day Sally.

  4. I made a batch of CChip cookies back 40 years ago or more but everyone remembers those cookies! this article is one of the best, saving others from hearing many years later about those cookies that could be Frisbee!

  5. Hi Sally! I’ve tried this to the letter but my cookies keep spreading. I’m using earth balance vegan butter and I suspect that may be the flaw. What do you think? Any tips for bakers who have to use a lactose free butter option? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Jen! I wish I had more experience baking with dairy free butter! Would you consider using half Earth balance butter and half shortening in the cookie recipes? Shortening has a higher melting point, so the cookies will considerably hold their shape better. Or you can try adding a little extra flour to the cookie dough, maybe 1/4 extra cup.

  6. My freezer isn’t big enough to put in a plate of cookies. Would putting the dough it in the fridge for a longer amount of time work?

  7. What are my guaranteed cookie tips? I guarantee that if you place any cookies near me they will disappear quickly. The tip is to keep cookies away from me if you want them to see a sunset.

  8. Spreading cookies is my nemesis! I can’t wait to add the “tall” method as well as the 10 mins in the freezer tip to my next dropped cookie bake. While we’re on the successful cookie baking topic, I made your Coffee Toffee Shortbread Cookies recently. The first pan lost it’s cookie cutter shape. I figured they were too thin so I measured the next batch and the same thing happened. 🙁 They didn’t look anything like the lovely picture in your book. The edges lost their definition it seems because of the melting toffee pieces? Any tips on shortbread?

    1. I’m so glad you tried that recipe, but I’m so sorry they over-spread for you! Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the toffee. Are you using Heath brand toffee “bits o brickle” ? You can find them in the baking aisle next to the chocolate chips. Go a little lighter on them inside the cookie dough. When the cookies cool, dip them in chocolate and sprinkle with LOTS of toffee bits.

  9. Hello! I love the look of your cookies! They are just perfect. I tried to adapt another recipe a brown butter cookie recipe from -another site- (I’ve learned my lesson as you will see to stay with your recipes) and they completely flattened on me :(. I used quality pans. Let the dough chill over night then put it in the freezer in tall balls(they could be taller), and did most of the other things like letting the pan cool etc and using parchment paper (I don’t have silpats). I think they flattened on me for several reasons. I think I over creamed the butter due to the way the recipe was written/ directions. Then I also made my own brown sugar by making in a food processor molasses and granulated sugar. (I could have added possibly too much molasses maybe but it looked like light brown sugar just fresh and soft). Next – this is where I think it failed) The recipe was written in cups not grams (I hate this!!!!! since I always measure in grams (or convert Oz to grams) for every ingredient unless it is like a Tsp etc) – So I used KAF’s written measurement converstion chart on cups to oz to grams. It felt very lacking flour. I know these cookies were naturally going to spread but still I was hoping with all the tricks they would do better. Sadly I believe due to the mistakes I made with the molasses ( again likely higher molasses (I’m guessing bc it browned more by the time it fully cooked) and the likely lower amount of flour I used bc I weighed and measured it instead of how that person probably packed their cups (I know thats not what you are supposed to do but I am guessing that is what they did do), and the creaming issues I got a very flat but tasty yummy cookie. I tried to up the temp in the first 5 min and then lowering the temp to get a spring action which I believe you said to do or someone else did, and that didn’t work either. In all, thank you for your recipes that dont do this to us! lol. Thank you for the tips to try to help us when things go crazy. I know how to approach things better next time!

  10. Sally, your corn bread muffins and honey butter were the best we have tasted! Awesome recipes, we can’t thank you enough for sharing them. They are a HUGE hit!

  11. Hi I want to know if I don’t have cookie baking tray can i bake them in flat tray that is mostly present in gas ovens would that be ok?

  12. Hi Sally, I totally agree with you about chilling the dough, as well as lining the cookie sheets with either a Silpat or parchment paper. After years of making cookies and through trial and error, I came about those same conclusions myself, but who knew that was the way to go — LOL! Thanks for those tips, as well as some of the other tips that you listed here. Please keep them coming, and have a good day!

  13. Hi Sally! Thank you sooooo much for those tips. Yesterday I applied most of them and the result was very deliciouss! Please keep them cominnng, literally my favorite baking website.

  14. I love your site. Just ordered your cookie cookbook from Amazon last week and am waiting for its’ delivery. I have high hopes.

    1. I’m so happy that you enjoy the site and thank you so much for supporting my cookbook! Let me know the fist thing you bake from it!

  15. I made flat cookies last week, I know some of my mistakes, melted butter when warming. Recipe called for shortening. Also used gluten free flour which takes some adjusting. I tried to rectify by adding more oatmeal and some oat flour and freezing dough balls. It worked! Tip to pass on- I took cooked completely flat cookies, cooled, rolled into balls and they look like no bake cookies and taste great! The original cookie was chocolate chip oatmeal cookie. Thanks for the suggestions. I can’t find pic of tall cookies though.

  16. This is a tip from DisneyLand Bakers for cookie recipes that melt or flatten too much.
    They suggested to form ‘thick rings’ out of dough:
    -Measure out 1/2 Cup of Dough.
    -Roll into ball, then flatten the dough to stand approx 1” inch tall.
    -Finger a hole (1”-1 1/2” inch diameter) in the middle to make a doughnut.
    -Double check that it still stands at 1” inch tall.
    -Freeze.
    -Bake.
    (When the large cookies bake, the dough will flow & fill the hollow centre. It creates an even bake without burning the edges and you get a huge cookie.)

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