Friday, 30 March 2012

Dread Spread!

First... A little lesson in Trini-talk... When we say something is "dread" we use it to emphasize stuff... For example "he rel' dread boy!", which can mean he is awesome or he really sucks... It's just one of the things we say... Because I've titled this post as though I'm talking to a bunch of Trinis... I felt like I should explain... It's a real "bes' title"... Which means it's a great title... Two in one night! :)

Alright, down to business... Something we all hate and dread... Our cookies spreading! Spreading is second on my list of cookie-ing pet peeves (Air bubbles that show up after my icing is dry is my biggest, in case you were wondering). It works my last nerve because 99% of the time I make a stencil and then hand cut my cookies and if those cookies spread in the oven it ruins my design. I know it happens with cutter cut cookies too and it's annoying when it does but when I've spent hours hand cutting minute details and a cookie spreads I could kill someone! Not really but you get the level of piss I'm at!

So a couple things have worked for me and I haven't had a SINGLE cookie spread on me since! Yes that's right... Not even one! I've done some little experiments to illustrate the mistakes I used to make that maybe some of you are making too... I know my life got infinitely less stressful when I worked this stuff out :D Hope it works for y'all. Here they are in no particular order... "The Dread Spread Culprits"

Culprit One - Oven Temperature

Right... So, if you are anything like me you're a stubborn little bastard and you don't need to follow recipes to the "t" because you know better! When the recipe says "cook your cookies at 400 degrees" you just know that the people who's recipe you're trying are wrong... Screw the fact that the recipe comes from a long established and well respected industry bible like "The Joy of Cooking"... What do those guys know?! You laugh in their face for the obvious typographical mistake they've made and have not correct and preheat your oven at a much more believable 350 degrees and relax, confident in your genius, gloating the whole way that "The Joy of Cooking" folks don't know squat!

Boy are you stupid! But you don't admit defeat... Hell you don't even acknowledge the possibility of it! This is a great cookie recipe to tweak to your own liking and because you're new at this whole cookie thing, this is just how cookies bake right? Stueps (see next post for the definition and sound of that Trini word :D)

What you really are is an idiot! Because after reading cookie blogs on your path to cookie success you realize that there is a common thread on all of them and cookie-ers around the world all hate "the spread". So sugar cookies shouldn't spread? Huh! You don't say. Now you're even more convinced that those people at "The Joy of Cooking" don't know their bums from their elbows because not only are they wrong about oven temperatures but their recipes suck!

After months of trimming still warm cookies in to their proper shapes and burning your fingers in the process a penny drops... Maybe they aren't wrong... Maybe their temperatures were right? Your science trained brain puts two and two together... If you bake at a higher temperature the outside of the cookie is pretty much set and the inside will cook with in the confines of the cookie shell that's just baked... Genius!!!! 

So you do that...You cook at the right temperature and the spreading issues, they get better! But not PERFECT... And since you want the perfect cookie your brain starts whirring again! You break down the ingredient list in your head and start thinking about the ingredients... Baking powder is a leavening agent... Do you really need the full amount they're calling for? NO! No you don't! And that leads me to...

Culprit Two - Leaveners!!! 

Alright... Baking powder... I only use 1/3 of the amount of what I like to call "my jump off" recipe calls for... Sometimes I even leave it out entirely! In case you missed it, it was from "The Joy of Cooking" and the standard dough on my menu is nothing like this jump off recipe... I've tweaked that recipe to death... But it's still a great one if you're looking for your own jump off recipe :)

Where was I... Oh yes... 1/3 the amount of baking powder I "should" use! Okay, so I haven't noticed a difference in taste or texture at all when I leave it out of a recipe and therefore, I declare baking powder some what unnecessary! And since I've come to that realization... Nay! enlightenment!... I haven't had problems with spreading!!! Woot woot! Three cheers for baking powder being banished!

Culprit Three - Room Temperature Cookie Dough! 

I always, always, ALWAYS bake frozen cookie dough! Always... You know, once more to emphasize my point which is... ALWAYS! 

Here's how I roll (get it?!?!) roll? No? Okay... )... I roll my cookie dough out between large ziploc bags that I cut the zip off of and then open on the two sides (I use the best rolling pin known to man by the way... The Joseph Joseph adjustable rolling pin!), put the rolled out down on a small cookie sheet in the freezer... When it's frozen I cut my shapes, put the rolled dough with the cut outs back in the freezer to firm up before I peel away the dough scraps. Then and only then do I remove the cut outs and bake them. If I have a large order or a ton of orders for one day I freeze the cut outs in one layer, once their frozen completely I stack those up and start baking once all of the shapes are cut. Time saver right there. I'm digressing again though...

I just have found that when I bake dough that's room temperature I get spreading. Maybe it's the butter loosening up? I live in a VERY hot climate so it doesn't take long for that to happen. Since I started baking frozen dough, yup, you guessed it... No issues with spreading!

Culprit Four - Dough Handling!

Here's the deal... When you've cut your dough and picked it up off of whatever you've rolled and cut your dough on, chances are, you've stretched it. Not sure if I'm describing that right. I've just noticed that when I lift dough and put it on my cookie sheet it looks kind of wonky once I've laid it down. And on the occasions when the perfectionist side of my personality has gotten the best of me and I've put my stencil on my cut dough that's been put on the cookie sheet the dough is ALWAYS (I like the word "always") pulled out of shape! ALWAYS! Maybe your cookies aren't spreading, right? Maybe when you laid them down you just didn't notice that you unintentionally pulled them out of shape in the first place?! Maybe?!?!?!

I PEEL my ziploc bags off of my cut and frozen cookie dough rather than pick my dough up off of anything and guess what... Since I started removing the plastic from my cut and frozen cookie dough and THEN placed the cut dough (still frozen :D) on the cookie sheet NO! ISSUES! WITH! SPREADING!!!!!!

And now that I have babbled incessantly about my spreading issues/triumphs I wish you all good no-spreading-luck from here on out! 

I'd love to hear if anyone else has any more tips or if anyone else has found the same things I have through trial and error so feel free to bombard me with comments because I love hearing from y'all :D


  1. Sounds perfect! I have been trying to tell people to turn up the temp. I upped mine from 350 to 400, reduced my baking powder by half and I always chill my cutouts in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I don't put them in the freezer because we have a side by side and my pans don't fit in there and there is hardly room anyway. And I start heating my oven at the 15 minute point. I don't put the cookies in right when the preheat cycle (electric oven) is done. I let it get REALLY nice and hot. So, it heats for at least 15 minutes, THEN I put the chilled cookies in. Oh, my fridge gets super cold, so they are rock hard when I put them in. So, I LOVE your ideas, cuz I do the same things! LOL Oh and you should keep your day job too! <3 Keep up the GREAT work!

  2. Here's what I do, and I have no problem with spreading:

    Roll your semi-cool dough between two sheets of parchment. When you get it to the thickness you like, put the bottom sheet of parchment (with the dough on it) on a cookie sheet in the frig. Continue until you've rolled all the dough. Put another sheet of parchment on the top of the stack of rolled out dough sheets just in case you knock over a bottle of white wine on the rack above your cookie dough (DON'T ASK!) Leave the dough sheets in the frig for at least an hour to get REALLY cold. Pull out the first sheet of dough, cut it with cutters and put each cookie on another parchment-lined cookie sheet and put it directly in the frig. Repeat with the remaining dough sheets. Put all the scraps in a bowl and put the bowl in the frig for later. Let the dough cool at least another hour. Start the oven. When it's ready, slide a sheet of parchment with the cut-out cookies out of the frig and onto another cookie sheet. Pop that baby in the oven. Your cookies SHOULDN'T spread and they won't be tough because you didn't use flour to roll them out.

  3. Totally need pics of your roll out/cut out procedure. Not quite making it out in my head.

  4. I knew there were other temperature geniuses out there! Lol! Jodi would you believe that my temperature comes up so fast that by the time I light my stove all I do is turn around, grab my cookie sheet and I can stick it right in the oven! One of those island benefits :) Now if only I could have y'all's humidity level we'd have an almost perfect cookie climate :D Oh and my aunty happens to have the BEST standing freezer in the world that I freeze my cookies in...It's heaven and I have one on order at the store she got it in... EIGHT sliding bins (I can fit over 1,000 stacked 5" round cookies in those!!!) and three deep shelves! It's awesome!

  5. Hi Carla, funny that we spoke about a similar topic to this earlier tonight.

    I follow my cookie recipes to a T. The basic sugar cookie recipe, which can be found here has a lot of exceptions to it. Although it calls for 2 tsp baking powder, the dough firms up on its own as the gluten develops so it doesn't have to be frozen to prevent spreading. Yet, I still freeze my cuts 5 minutes before baking and they don't spread. Only thing is if the dough is not rolled thick enough I risk losing the shape when I'm picking it up with the scraper.

    Until I have the luxury of a large freezer I'm going to work with this recipe. Seems to work well so far.

  6. Hi there!
    Your sweet is up on Sweetopia's Sweet of the Month.
    Good luck!
    p.s. I have a post on spreading here if you'd like to check it out: