How Much Spread to Expect from Good Sugar Cookie Recipe and Technique?

I know there can be such a wide variety of spreading results for so many reasons, but I want to know what results are "acceptable" in the eyes of my fellow bakers. Tonight my cookies came out with a 1/4" to 1/2" spread all around (see attached photo) even though the cut shapes were frozen and I've had less spread with this same recipe in the past. I am pretty sure my butter was too soft and then when I rolled out the dough, it was too soft as well. I have yet to find a sugar cookie recipe that has the flavor I want and holds its shape. How much spreading do you "accept"?  Would you redo this batch or just try to decorate it beautifully and hope customers don't mind the cookie shape not being so well defined?  Just curious how others might handle this amount of spread. I just rolled out 108 cookies with this dough and really don't want to redo all this work, but I am thinking I must . . . Thank you!

Sugar Cookie Spread

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I'd say if you're making generic hearts and other rounded shapes, just decorate what you have. No one will notice that the heart is bigger than the cutter. But, if they're shapes that are more unique and depend on the dough holding its shape so you can recognize the cookie shape, then you may want to re-bake. Sounds like you don't have a well formulated dough though, if your results are as variable as you say. So you may want to spend time trying other recipes (if you have the time) before you re-bake.

My recipe is very consistent; it has a mixture of butter and shortening, so it spreads less than it would if all butter. If I want no spread with it, I must cut back on the leavening though (but this has trade-offs - denser, pastier cookie).

Absolutely, the more intricate the shape, the worse they'll look with spread.  My poor unicorns and butterflies will lose so much definition they will be unrecognizable!  I wish there was a way to salvage the dough at this point.  I tried a higher temperature with one batch, but it made no difference.  Looks like another late night in the kitchen...

Econlady posted:

For my recipe I cut the leavening in half.  It didn't hurt the taste or texture and it cut the spread.  I read in a cookbook that most recipes use to much leavening 

The recipe I was using actually doesn't contain any leavening.  I live at high altitude and my experiments with it just seemed to result in even more spread and my cookies fell apart.

Deb Tebault posted:
Econlady posted:

For my recipe I cut the leavening in half.  It didn't hurt the taste or texture and it cut the spread.  I read in a cookbook that most recipes use to much leavening 

The recipe I was using actually doesn't contain any leavening.  I live at high altitude and my experiments with it just seemed to result in even more spread and my cookies fell apart.

I don't know your altitude, but I've baked mine in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, without any adjustments to the leavening, and they pretty much baked just as they do here in St. Louis.

Julia M. Usher posted:
Deb Tebault posted:
Econlady posted:

For my recipe I cut the leavening in half.  It didn't hurt the taste or texture and it cut the spread.  I read in a cookbook that most recipes use to much leavening 

The recipe I was using actually doesn't contain any leavening.  I live at high altitude and my experiments with it just seemed to result in even more spread and my cookies fell apart.

I don't know your altitude, but I've baked mine in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, without any adjustments to the leavening, and they pretty much baked just as they do here in St. Louis.

 This goes back to my theory that icing and cookies don't dare misbehave for some people.

I've baked cakes here with no adjustments to leavening - cakez that I also baked on the coast of California - and the results were same as at that lower altitude - so my conclusions with cookie leavening confused me too; although I have been too busy with be orders to question it.  Makes me wonder if I have something else afoot.  Perhaps my switch to H&R flour?  Costco unsalted butter?  The new oven?  I wish I could get any recipe to perform reliably.  Perhaps I need to start weighing every ingredient and head back to the drawing board.  I'm often trying to squeeze cookies in around other activities and frequent interruptions, so I think my techniques, dough temperature, and measurements may not be as reliably uniform as they ought to be - perhaps that's why I can't get a recipe to behave?  

Recipe I used was 1c butter, 1c sugar, 1egg, 1.5tsp flavor, 2 and 3/4c flour.  Rolled out on lightly floured surface.  Unusual this time: with this 4x batch, I used frozen butter which I had to soften in microwave.  Instead of room temp, the butter I used had some small segments of frozen butter, some perfectly soft butter, and in other places the butter had melted completely to liquid.  Also, my butter measurements may have been a little heavy handed.  Resulting dough was more sticky and soft than usual - easier to roll out but more flour required for rolling out.  Also may have let the dough become too warm before rolling it; had it in fridge overnight after mixing, but let it sit on the counter for hour or so before rolling and some had come to near room temp.  I figured it was the melted butter or temperature of dough while working it that caused my issue.  After cutting the cookies, I froze the raw cut outs in the hope it would help them hold their shape during baking, but they still spread.  I will try again in the morning with room temp butter, more careful measurement of ingredients, less working dough, and keeping dough colder throughout the process.  

Econlady posted:
Julia M. Usher posted:
Deb Tebault posted:
Econlady posted:

For my recipe I cut the leavening in half.  It didn't hurt the taste or texture and it cut the spread.  I read in a cookbook that most recipes use to much leavening 

The recipe I was using actually doesn't contain any leavening.  I live at high altitude and my experiments with it just seemed to result in even more spread and my cookies fell apart.

I don't know your altitude, but I've baked mine in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, without any adjustments to the leavening, and they pretty much baked just as they do here in St. Louis.

 This goes back to my theory that icing and cookies don't dare misbehave for some people.

LOL - my icing sometimes does!

My best guess would be too much butter. I have reduced the fat in my recipe over the time to the bare minimum and don't have many problems with spreading since. In about 80% of the times the cutter still fits on the baked cookies. And I don't re-chill / freeze my cutout cookies before baking.

I only have problems with shrinking sometimes. About the third time I roll out the dough, some cookies are smaller after baking... but this is a completely different story.

And yes, it could also be the different flour, different butter, new oven, or a mixture of everything together. Flour, eggs, sugar - they are all natural ingredients and differ slightly not only from brand to brand, but pack to pack. So I normally adjust the amount of flour to the individual batch I'm making. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, until the dough has the consistency I want.

Wow!  Thank you so much all!  I had the other "half" of the block of butter used in the bad batch.  By weight, I was able to see I actually used 10% more butter than the recipe called for because I simply cut the butter portion using the wrapper guidelines rather than measuring with a scale!  (I was in a hurry, but look how much time my shortcut has cost me!).  I am chilling my new, carefully measured batch of the same dough recipe now.  I will cut a few same shapes for comparison and let my mistake show the importance of weighing ingredients every time for recipe consistency!  Fingers crossed for this new, more accurate batch!

Shucks, my spreading results weren't vastly different.  The "bad" too-much-butter-dough turned out tough/crisp and cooked faster (perhaps because it went into oven on room temp cookie sheet).  The new carefully measured dough spread slightly less, but has the softer texture my customers like much better and also remained thicker/puffier.  So at least I'm back to square one of soft cookies, but still stuck as far as holding shape.Morebuttervsless

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