Why Don’t My Cookies Spread?

Some people like a crisp flat cookie, some prefer them tall, thick, cakey, and textured. I myself love a big fat cookie. The perfect cookie to me is a round, flat, classic chocolate chip cookie that looks exactly like the ones Cookie Monster eats on the show. Yum.

Of course, the perfect cookie isn’t always easy to achieve. You might come across a recipe, try your best to follow it, but end up with a cookie that looks completely different. Sometimes you can end up with cookies that are too flat, other times your cookies might not flatten at all. 

There are many reasons why cookies might not spread. The amount of dry ingredients, the temperature, and the leavening agent are key factors in determining how much your cookies will spread.

I’m Angie, I’ve been making cookies for over ten years. Sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, thin cookies, thick cookies, you name it. In this article, I’ll be explaining the reasons why your cookies don’t spread and share with you how you can remedy them.

Let’s get into it!

Before we jump into the reasons, let’s talk a little bit about the chemistry behind cookies. After all, baking is a science. 

Five Components

A classic cookie is made up of five main components: sugar, fat, gluten, emulsifier, leavening agent. Typically speaking, a cookie recipe starts with beating sugar and fat together to create an aerated base that will make sure the cookies are moist and spread out. 

Then the flour is added to give our cookies structure, along with a leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder) which would make our cookies expand in volume. All of this is then bound with an emulsifier and some liquid, in many cases, this is the part where we add in the eggs. 

All of the wet ingredients contribute to the spreading of your cookie while the dry ingredients are there to hold your cookie together. 

5 Reasons Cookies Don’t Spread and How to Fix It

1. Too Much Flour

The most common reason why your cookies don’t spread is that you’ve added too much flour. Adding more dry ingredients than the recipe calls for can result in a dough that is too stiff. Moisture and fat in the dough are soaked up by the excessive amount of flour which takes away its ability to spread.

This often happens to those who are using measuring cups incorrectly. Words like heaping, rounded, and scant in recipes to specify the amounts can make a huge difference in the result if they’re missed.

If your cookie dough needs to be kneaded or rolled out, you are most likely going to have to sprinkle flour to prevent sticking. In this case, sprinkling an excessive amount of flour can also contribute to your cookie not spreading. 

Remedy

The easiest solution to this is to follow metric recipes. Switching from imperial/cup measurement to a metric system has saved me from making many of these easily avoidable mistakes. You can never go wrong knowing the exact weight rather than the volume of an ingredient.

Another trick I have discovered is reserving around 10% of your dry ingredients and gradually add them in towards the end of your process. This way, you’ll be able to observe the changes in your dough and have better control over its texture. 

2. Dough Too Cold

A lot of cookie recipes require you to chill your dough before rolling them out into dough balls. This is because your dough has to stiffen otherwise it cannot be shaped. 

Depending on the type of cookie you are making, the chilling time can vary from half an hour to overnight. Cookie dough can also be stored in the freezer for up to three months. Because of its low temperature and even lower inside temperature, the cookie dough is going to take longer to bake through. 

Remedy

Sometimes, a tall cookie with a slightly undercooked center might be exactly what you want. other times you might want your cookie to spread out a bit more. If this is the case, make sure your frozen cookie dough thaws in the refrigerator before you lay them out on a baking sheet. 

If you’ve left your cookie dough in the fridge for longer than the recipe instructed, you can bring it back to room temperature by simply leaving it out for ten minutes or so before baking. Or, you also have the option of baking your cookies for a few more minutes longer in the oven. 

3. Cold Butter

Another reason your dough might be too cold is if you’re using cold butter. Again, you must pay attention to every detail of your recipe. I know your mouth’s watering and you don’t want to wait an extra second for these cookies but this is one of those times when you gotta have patience. 

Using cold butter in your cookie dough gives the final cookie a more textured and taller look as the milk content in the butter evaporates and creates steam. Softened butter, on the other hand, melts more quickly in the oven which leads to the spreading of the cookie. 

Remedy

If you’ve added cold butter to your cookie dough but realized you should’ve added softened butter instead, you can leave your cookie dough out at room temperature for about half an hour. 

Doing so will give your butter enough time to reach the same temperature as your dough. Just remember to knead it all together to make sure everything is well incorporated before you roll the dough into balls. 

4. Oven Temperature

Whether you’re baking cookies, cakes, or brownies, most recipes call for a preheated oven. Preheating your oven ensures that the temperature is high enough and doesn’t fluctuate. 

Most cookie recipes call for an oven temperature of 375°F. If your oven isn’t hot enough, the fats in your dough may not melt and this will result in your cookie not spreading. 

Remedy

The solution is straightforward, you just have to make sure your oven is at the right temperature! Most ovens either come with a thermometer or a screen that tells you its inner temperature, if not a light that indicates whether it is done preheating. 

That can be enough but I do highly suggest you buy an oven thermometer such as placing it in the inner corner of your oven just to be extra sure it is the accurate temperature. 

5. Leavening Agent

Some cookie recipes call for baking soda as a leavening agent, some call for baking powder, and in some cases, both. Whatever the case is, there are a few common things you need to be mindful of when it comes to adding your leavening agent.

First, you need to make sure it isn’t expired. Obviously for your leavening agent to do its job, it needs to be within its expiration date. Expired leavening agent would have lost its leavening power so it would not have the strength to help your cookie expand and spread.

The amount of leavening agent also matters. Putting in too little would mean not enough leavening, putting in too much will cause your cookie to rise too much too quickly and end up deflating before it comes out of the oven. 

Remedy

To remedy this, check the expiry date of your leavening agent to make sure it’s not expired before adding them in. You also need to make sure that you are following the recipe to a T, that you’re putting in exactly the amount of baking soda or powder the recipe calls for. 

FAQs

If you are wondering why your cookies don’t spread, you might also want to know the answers to the following questions. I’ll answer them below. 

Why are my cookies spreading out so much?

Adding too much of the wet ingredients can result in overly spread-out cookies. This is because fats, be it butter or shortening, will melt when exposed to heat.

Do cookies flatten while baking?

If you’ve got your ratios correct, your cookies should flatten while baking to your desired flatness. 

How to fix cookies that spread too much?

If your cookies are spreading too much, try gradually adding more flour to your dough to absorb some of the moisture. You can also put your dough in the fridge for half an hour as chilled dough take longer to spread in the oven.

Final Thoughts

I know, we all want cookies that taste AND look perfect. It can be disappointing when you just can’t get it right. 

I hope you’ve learned something from my article. Next time you bake cookies, try following these tips to get a nicely spread cookie. If you’re a perfectionist, it might take a few tries just to tweak the recipes to your liking, but I’m sure even if they don’t look perfect, they will still be delicious. 

Do you like your cookies flatter or taller? How do you achieve it? Share with us your tricks to get the perfect cookie down below.

About Angie
I am a self-taught baker. I’ve been baking for over 10 years and started my own home baking business as a side hustle. I was born in Hong Kong and spent a pretty big chunk of my life in Canada. If you’re ever looking for me, I am probably there whisking vigorously away in the kitchen.

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  • Sheen

    I made chocolate chip cookies batter, and sadly my baking soda was expired. So my cookies never flattened. Is there a way to save the remaining batter?

    Reply
    • Michelle

      Hi Sheen,
      I’d start with a fresh batch using a new package of baking soda.
      Happy baking,
      Michelle

      Reply
  • Lydia

    I wonder if certain brands of butter are to blame…..can the moisture content and what is fed to diary cows be the cause? Apparently some farms feed with a mix of palm oil.

    Reply
    • Michelle

      Hi Lydia,
      Using a different brand of butter can alter the result of your cookies. Yes, a high moisture content *can* be to blame, especially if there is too much flour in the batter. It’s better to go with higher fat and less water content.
      Happy baking,
      Michelle

      Reply
  • Elaine Rosenfield

    I use the ame exact chocolate chip recipe in my home in Los Angeles and when I visit my niece in southern Florida. It seems that in Florida, the cookies stay in the same shape as when they came out of the scoop. in CA, they spread out. I’m wondering if, since I bake at 350, my niece’s oven isn’t calabrated correctly. Curious what you think can be the problem. Same recipe, same ingredients…I’m stumped.
    thanks for your help

    Reply
    • Michelle

      Hi Elaine,
      Try using an oven thermometer to make sure that the oven is displaying the correct temperature. Also, you must account for changes in humidity levels. Humidity can impact baking significantly. You can trial-and-error by reducing the liquid content a bit, allowing for a few extra minutes of baking time, or reducing humidity in the kitchen by running a dehumidifier or A/C unit.
      Happy baking,
      Michelle

      Reply
  • Jennifer Morris

    Thanks Angie! that was very helpful information and easy to access..
    we are baking chocolate chip cookies in Hong Kong and with your expert information we solved our problem of cookies not spreading…
    success!!

    Reply
    • Michelle

      Hi Jennifer,
      The BakingHow team is so happy to hear that!
      Happy baking,
      Michelle

      Reply