Shortbread cookies are some of the easiest pastries to make, requiring only three ingredients. That said, sometimes, the baking process can get a bit rocky.
A common question for first-time shortbread bakers is, do shortbread cookies spread?
The short answer is yes, unfortunately. It’s not a problem you can’t solve, though! Read on to find out why your shortbread is spreading and what you can do to remedy this.
One of the three main ingredients of shortbread cookies is butter. It’s also the ingredient that’s most likely involved in spreading your shortbread cookies.
The two possible reasons behind the spreading are either you over-creamed your butter and sugar or there’s a problem with the ratio of the ingredients.
Over-creaming or over-mixing creates a lot of air bubbles in your batter. When you pop it in the oven, these air bubbles will expand and break your shortbread cookie’s form by spreading out.
On the other hand, since butter is 80% fat, it’ll inevitably melt in the oven. This is why ingredients like flour and sugar are added to help pastries hold their shape better.
If you get the ratios of the ingredients wrong, your shortbread cookies can spread because there isn’t enough to hold together the melting fat.
To prevent over-creaming or over-mixing, never leave your mixer unattended. Keep a close eye on your butter and sugar while mixing. It should be a smooth and voluminous mixture that’s pale yellow, not white.
Another important step to avoid spreading in the oven is to follow the correct ingredient ratios. The most accurate way to do this is through weighing scales.
However, if you don’t have one available, just make sure you know how to accurately measure flour without a scale. Use a spoon to put flour in your measuring cup and then level with a knife or any flat utensil to remove any excess.
Additionally, some recipes create perfect ratios for a certain number of shortbread cookies. You can use these as a guide so that you don’t have to experiment with different ratios.
Some recipes also incorporate other ingredients, like cornstarch and eggs. These are meant to help bind the batter so it holds its shape in the oven.
Despite these additions, most recipes stay true to the classic shortbread recipe because the primary ingredients are the same, and they don’t use any leavening agents.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to reverse over-creamed butter and sugar, especially if you’ve already popped your shortbread cookie batter in the oven!
The good news is that you don’t have to throw away shortbread cookies that spread. The spreading or melting does nothing drastic to the taste as long as the cookies don’t burn!
This means you can take a sharp knife and try to reshape the cookies by taking out some of the thin and browned edges. A cookie cutter also works wonders if the shortbread cookies are still warm.
Another fix you can try is to add two extra tablespoons of flour into your batter if you feel like the problem has more to do with the ratios than the creaming. However, be careful not to overmix to avoid incorporating too much air into your batter.
So, do shortbread cookies spread? Because of the amount of butter in this pastry, the chance of spreading is high. However, this doesn’t mean this baking issue is impossible to avoid.
First, find the root of the problem, which almost always has something to do with the butter.
If the reason for spreading is over-mixing the sugar and butter, keep a watchful eye on your mixture during the creaming process to prevent this the next time you’re making this buttery pastry.
It’s also important to stick to the golden ratios specified in whichever recipe you’re following. The butter, flour, and sugar should all work together to keep your shortbread cookies’ form.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.