Trying to make the perfect cookie?! Here are 9 reasons why your cookies are flat and spread too much in the oven.
Cookies are one of the best things to make from scratch. But despite the fact they only use a handful of regular ingredients, they can still be a little tricky to master. Over the past decade, I can’t even imagine how many cookies I’ve made – and along the way, I’ve made every mistake in the book.
I’ve had cookies that spread right across the baking tray – and ones that didn’t spread at all. And I know many of you have had the same issues. In fact, this is a question that I get asked ALOT by bakers around the world.
So let’s run through 9 common reasons why your cookies are flat.
1. Your butter was too soft
The most likely reason why your cookies spread in the oven is that your butter was too soft.
Cookies rely on the perfect ratio of butter (or fat) and flour. This ratio will help you achieve cookies that spread just the right amount in the oven.
When your cookie dough starts heating in the oven, the butter melts and causes the cookies to spread. When used in the right quantity and the right temperature, this causes your cookies to spread just the right amount.
But unfortunately, in some cases it means your cookies spread out too much and end up joining each other to form one giant cookie. Not ideal.
When a recipe calls for room temperature butter, make sure it’s just soft enough that it’ll make an ident if you poke it – it shouldn’t be squishy or melty.
If a cookie recipe calls for cold or chilled butter, use it straight from the fridge.
If a cookie recipe calls for melted butter, only then can you use butter that’s completely melted.
TEST: As an example, the image below shows two cookies. I baked them using the exact same cookie dough except for two differences. One used butter at room temperature, while the other used butter straight out of the fridge AND had 35 grams (1/4 cup) extra flour added.
Otherwise the rest of the ingredient were the same, the method was the same, neither dough was chilled and they were cooked on the same oven tray at the same temperature.
Just by altering the temperature of the butter and the slight increase in flour, you can see the first cookie spread a lot less than the second.
2. You over mixed your butter and sugar
If you’re sure you used butter at the correct temperature, you may have accidentally ‘warmed’ your butter by mixing it with an electric mixer for too long.
Many cookie recipes start by creaming together the butter and sugar – this is just to combine the ingredients.
If you do this for too long, your room temperature butter will get super warm – and then you’ll face problem 1. all over again.
Cookies are not like cake – you generally don’t need to mix them for a long time to incorporate air or completely dissolve the sugar. A quick mix of 1-2 minutes is fine.
Don’t turn your back on your butter and walk away.
3. You didn’t chill the cookie dough
Some cookie recipes will request that you chill your cookie dough. Please do it. There’s most likely a reason the recipe writer has added this step.
My Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe calls for melted butter, which means you need to chill the dough. If you don’t, it’s likely your cookies will spread too much. And if they don’t, it’s likely you added too much flour.
One trick I’ve learnt over the years is to bake one tester cookie. If you’re making a new recipe, follow the instructions and then bake just one cookie. If it spreads too much in the oven, pop your cookie dough in the fridge for 30 minutes or so (even if the recipe didn’t call for it). And then try again.
4. You didn’t use enough flour
As I mentioned above, cookies rely on the right ratio of ingredients. If you didn’t add enough flour, your cookies will likely spread.
Sometimes this can be remedied by letting your cookie dough chill or next time, adding a touch more flour.
I always recommend using a kitchen scale to measure your baking ingredients, especially your flour.
Because too little flour and your cookie will spread – too much flour and your cookies will stay as balls in the oven.
If you try a recipe and it didn’t quite work for you, don’t be afraid to use these tips to adjust it so you can make the perfect cookie for you.
5. Your cookies have too much white sugar
Butter isn’t the only ingredient that helps cookies to spread in the oven. Sugar, especially white sugar, does as well.
If your cookies have a high ratio of white sugar, chances are they will spread more in the oven. I often use a mix of white and brown sugar in my cookie recipes to help with this. Sometimes I just use entirely brown sugar if I want a really thick cookie.
Alternatively, you may just need to chill your dough before baking.
6. Your raising agent is expired
If your baking soda or baking powder is expired, your cookies won’t develop as they are supposed to – causing them not to rise but simply to spread across your oven tray.
It’s a good idea to regularly replace your raising agents as they are key to baked goods rising as they should when baked.
7. Your oven trays are too hot
Have you ever preheated your oven and realised you left your oven trays in the oven? If so, don’t be tempted to use the pans and scoop out your cookie dough while they are still hot.
If you place cookie dough on oven trays that are hot, your cookie will immediately start spreading.
Always use room temperature oven trays or cookie sheets.
8. You didn’t line your cookie trays
Using spray oil or butter to grease your cookie trays will create an oily surface which will again encourage your cookie dough to spread unnecessarily.
It’s best to line your cookie trays with baking or parchment paper to help prevent your cookies from sticking and/or spreading.
9. Your oven temperature isn’t right
One of the most important aspects of baking is making sure your oven temperature is just right. If your oven is too hot or too cold, it may influence how quickly your cookies spread.
I recommend buying an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is correctly preheated to the right temperature before placing your cookies in the oven.
Ready to bake some cookies?
If you love thick and chunky cookies, try my Copycat Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies.
For soft and chewy cookies, try my Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies.