How to Get Cut-Out Cookies to Hold Their Shape

Getting cut-out cookies to hold their shape in the oven isn't rocket science--it's just science!

cut out cookie recipes

When you're decorating Christmas cookies or making colorful treats for birthdays, July Fourth, or any other special occasion, there's nothing worse than painstakingly rolling the dough, carefully cutting out cookie shapes, and delicately placing the cookies on the baking sheet and into the oven only to wind up with a gigantic cookie blob. Whether you're baking up a batch of sugar cookies, gingerbread men, homemade animal crackers, or even dog cookies, you'll want to make sure your cookies don't spread when they bake. Here are the tips you need to get your cut-out cookies to hold their shape every time.

Be meticulous about measurements

Baking is science, so precision matters. Too much flour will make the dough dry and crumbly and hard to work with. Too much sugar can cause spreading.

Use cold butter

Most cookie recipes call for softened butter, but cold butter helps the dough keep its shape in the oven. Cutting the butter into small cubes or grating it makes it easier to mix with the sugar. Bonus: no waiting around for the butter to warm up when you decide it's time to bake.

Don't overmix the butter and sugar

Using a power mixer to whip the butter and sugar together too long will add air into the dough which can lead to spreading. Cream the mixture until the sugar is just incorporated into the butter.

Leave out baking soda and baking powder

Leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder help baked goods rise and expand, making them lighter and softer--ideal for cakes and muffins, disastrous for cut-out cookies. Leaving out the baking soda and baking powder will produce a denser, more durable cookie perfect for cookie decorating.

Substitute cornstarch for some of the flour

Cornstarch not only helps keep your cookies' edges clean, but it also makes the dough less sticky without making it crumbly--the perfect consistency for rolling and cutting shapes out of.

Chill the dough and the pre-baked cookies

Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for half an hour or the freezer for 15 minutes, then bring it back to room temperature before rolling it out so it will be easier to work with. After you've cut your cookie shapes out, lay them on a sheet and put them in the refrigerator or freezer for at least an hour to help the cookies keep their shape in the oven.

Make liberal use of parchment paper

Of course you'll line your baking sheet with parchment paper (do not grease your baking sheets), but rolling your dough between layers of parchment paper also keeps the dough from sticking to the rolling pin--no additional flour necessary.

Control for cookie thickness

In general, cut-out cookies should be between 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch thick--thinner than that and the cookies will be too fragile to decorate. Bake thicker cookies at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time to limit spreading.

Make sure the oven is the right temperature

It's important that your oven is pre-heated to the correct temperature, so check it with an oven-safe thermometer. If the oven isn't hot enough, the cookies won't set quickly enough and will spread. Even opening the oven to check on baking progress releases heat and can affect spreading.

Bake cookies until they change colors

For sugar cookies, the best cookies are a bit soft. They should not be baked until they're golden brown or they'll be hard and crunchy. Pull your cookies out as soon as they've slightly changed color.

Use cool baking sheets

Allow your sheets to cool in between baking batches of cookies. If your sheet is still warm when you place uncooked cookies on it the cookies will begin to spread before you put them in the oven.

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