Baking is a science. Following a good cookie dough recipe exactly usually ends in a great result. Adding a pinch of this or that to your dough can result in a cookie that is less than satisfactory.
When making sugar cookie dough, it should be not too wet and not too dry- just wet enough to form a ball. The cheaper the butter, the more water the butter retains. When the butter has more water content, the dough has more water content, resulting in a dough that will spread too much in the oven.
Even though it's more expensive, I recommend using organic butter or grass- fed butter like Kerrygold. Not only will the butter have less water but the dough will have more depth of flavor.
3. Baking Powder
The more air in the dough, the more the cookies will spread in the oven. Omitting baking powder in a cookie recipe sounds crazy but it works! Try it and see what you think. If you're really freaked out then go with 1/4 tsp at the most.
Most of the time you'll see recipes calling for fine sugar. For sugar cookie dough, I've found that using a larger grained sugar works better because it takes longer to melt in the oven. This keeps the dough from spreading too quickly.
5. Mixing the Dough
Just like using baking powder, the more air incorporated in the dough, the more the cookies will spread. When creaming the butter and sugar, make sure to use room temperature butter and mix into sugar just until the ingredients come together. Then add the other ingredients just until incorporated and fight the urge to turn your mixer on high and beat the crap out of it!
6. Oven Temperature
It's imperative to get an oven thermometer. They are between $4 and $10, so pretty affordable. Even if the oven is new, depending on the oven thermostat is a crap shoot. If you have the temperature right in the oven then you can rule out temperature as an issue if something goes wrong with your recipe. Too hot and your cookies will bake too fast on the outside and be raw on the inside. Too cool and your cookies will not set on the outside and will spread.
7. Chill Out
Chilling the dough is one of the most important things you can do to get a perfect sugar cookie. A lot of recipes say to chill the dough for at least an hour. I recommend at least 4 hours but preferably over night, wrapped well in the fridge. Then, after you've cut your dough with cutters, put the cut cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment (not wax paper because it will catch fire in the oven- I know from experience.) back in the fridge for 30 minutes or in the freezer for 15 minutes and then straight in the oven.
A Good Recipe
3 C all purpose flour
1 large egg
1 C granulated sugar (larger grained)
1 C butter (Kerrigold)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder (or omit)
1 TBSP vanilla extract (organic tastes best)
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Mix together the butter and sugar just until incorporated.
- Mix in the vanilla extract and egg just until incorporated.
- In another bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder and mix together.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients a little at a time until combined and mixture comes together.
- Knead by hand until smooth but just. Separate it into 2 flat disks. Wrap in plastic wrap twice and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
- Place the dough on a piece of parchment. Add another piece of parchment on top and roll out dough 1/4" inch thick.
- Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut out the shapes, then use a metal spatula to transfer the shapes to a parchment lined cookie sheet. Put in freezer for 15 minutes or fridge for 30 minutes.
- Transfer pan to oven and bake for 13-15 minutes (depending on your oven) until edges are slightly golden.
- Let cool on pan for 2 minutes and then transfer cookies to cooling rack.