Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cookie Dough Spreading - Solutions Finally!

I have finally baked an entire batch of sugar cookies that didn't spread!

Is this issue solved forever or solved temporarily? Not sure yet. All I know is that this is the first time that I've baked cookies and every single one of them baked up perfectly. Nice, crisp edges and no spreading. I'm so thrilled!

I've written a few posts about this whole spreading thing. Trying to figure out what was going wrong. With each experiment / post, I've gotten closer to a solution.

The first post on this issue was about chilling dough. You can read it here.

Then I wrote a post gathering all of the tips I could find on how to stop dough from spreading. That one's here.

Then I put those tips into practice here and ran a whole bunch of experiments.

And last, but not least, I wrote a post about calibrating my oven here.

Finally I put all of that together and I've baked a perfect batch of sugar cookies! With each cookie sheet that I pulled out of the oven, I couldn't believe my eyes. Every cookie sheet, every cookie - no spreading. Wow. Unheard of in this kitchen.

So here's what I did this time to achieve no spreading. . .
  • Used bleached all-purpose flour . . .This was a shot in the dark. I always buy unbleached flour. I read somewhere that unbleached is better for bread making. I love to bake bread so I just always buy unbleached and use it for everything. It never occurred to me that it could affect any of my other baking. Maybe it should have.

    Somewhere in my cookie reading, I saw that it said to use bleached flour. That's when the light bulb in my head went off. It was sure worth a shot. Maybe this was a factor in my spreading. Maybe not.
  • Increased the amount of flour I had been using.
  • Started with cold butter . . . Before, I had been softening my butter. Sometimes I'd leave it out for a few hours. Other times just an hour or less. This time I decided to take the butter out, cut it into cubes and wait 15 minutes before getting started. I'm looking for something that works and that I can be consistent with.
  • Didn't over beat the butter and sugar . . .I beat it just until the sugar was incorporated. Nothing was light and fluffy about it.
  • Used less baking powder . . . I didn't omit it all together. I just decreased it.
  • Chilled the dough after rolling and again after cutting.
  • Used flour to roll the dough between waxed paper . . . I often use plastic wrap. I think they're interchangeable.
  • Floured the cutters with every cut.
  • Calibrated my oven to +20 degrees.
  • Baked in a cooler oven. 350 instead of 400.
  • Used my oven thermometer to be sure my oven was holding the temperature.
  • Put a pizza stone on the top oven rack while baking . . . This was a big ol' "doh" moment. If you read my post about calibrating the oven, I thought I'd need a third oven rack to use the pizza stone. Wrong! I put one rack at the top of the oven - pizza stone on top, oven thermometer hanging from it. The other rack was in the middle of the oven - just below the dangling thermometer. This is the one that I baked the cookies on. Could the pizza stone have helped with cold/hot spots and keeping my oven's temperature up? Maybe.

Maybe all of that's over-kill and I can do without some of the above steps. Just maybe I can remove only one variable at a time (like flouring the cutters) and I'll still achieve the wondrous state of non-spreading cookies.

I wish I knew for sure exactly what it was that made these cookies turn out this way. I'm betting that as I bake new batches, and possibly omit some of the above tips, I'll get a clearer picture.

Here's what I didn't worry about with this batch that I thought might cause spreading. . .

  • I didn't worry about over-crowding the pans. I baked 6 medium cookies per sheet or 8 smaller cookies. No problems.
  • I didn't worry about re-rolling. There was no difference between the cookies that had been re-rolled and the ones that hadn't. Actually there was no difference in the spreading. I did see some raised bumps on a few of the cookies that had been re-rolled. I think that had to do with using flour in the rolling and not kneading it back together fully. The bumps were like a flaky layer that raised during baking. Not a big deal to me. I'll take that over spreading any day.

Did I mention that I'm thrilled beyond belief?

So thrilled that I just HAD to show you each and every cookie in this batch?

Do you have spreading issues? If so, I hope that some of these tips will help you!

Edit: I JUST thought of something else different that I did with this batch. I used fresh dough. Often times I'll freeze my cut out shapes. In fact, lately I've been doing that a lot. I wonder if using frozen/defrosted in the fridge dough makes any difference. Experiment time again? You bet!

And one more thing...I just noticed that Bake at 350's sugar cookie recipe specifically calls for *unbleached* flour.

Oy. So many variables!

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