How to Keep Cookies on a Baking Sheet from Crumbling and Sticking

Learn why those cookies and bars are falling apart or sticking, then follow our expert tips for delicious (and whole) cookies.

A fresh, warm batch of homemade cookies or cookie bars is a perfect little treat to offer family and friends. But it's no fun when you spend time and money making sugar cookies or whoopie pies only to have them spread into one giant cookie or, perhaps worse, get stuck to the pan.

Thanks to our Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen's years of practice in the cookie-making department, we've got some easy tips you should always follow. We'll help you determine whether you need to bake your cookies on a greased or ungreased cookie sheet and share how to let them cool long enough so they won't break. Then, come Christmastime, you'll have dozens of chocolate chip cookies, layer bars, and more flying off the pans.

White Chocolate-Raspberry Cookies
Blaine Moats

1. Follow Your Recipe

Cookie and bar recipes are generally more forgiving than cakes, but all baking is based on chemistry. Making substitutions that aren't noted in your recipe (or not using proper amounts of ingredients) could lead to your cookies spreading too much or a hard, crumbly texture. Here are some common issues that could lead to undesirable cookies if the recipe isn't followed exactly:

  • Bars and cookies on a baking sheet can become too tender to remove if you use too little flour or too much sugar.
  • Use the exact type of fat (butter, oil, or shortening) called for in the recipe. Don't substitute shortening for butter or butter for shortening. It changes the consistency of the cookie or bar and yields unpredictable results.
    You can substitute high-fat (at least 100 calories per tablespoon) stick margarine for butter, but never use low-fat margarine, as it can make cookies and bars flat and harder to remove from the pan.
  • Unless specified, use large eggs for baking, so your cookies and bars keep their structure.

2. Grease Your Pan

Greasing bottom of pan
Jason Donnelly

Some recipes call for ungreased pans or cookie sheets because there's enough fat in the crust or batter to keep the cookies or bars from sticking. If you grease the cookie sheet when the recipe calls for an ungreased sheet, your cookies could spread too much (we're looking at you, chocolate chip cookies) and turn out thin or flat. If the recipe calls for a greased pan or sheet, our Test Kitchen recommends using shortening, which spreads less than butter because it melts at a higher temperature. Here's how:

  1. Apply a little bit of shortening to a paper towel or piece of waxed paper. (You can also use a pastry brush to spread softened shortening.)
  2. Spread the shortening in a thin coating over the bottom and sides of the pan.
  3. Coat the crevices where the sides meet the bottom of the pan.

3. Line Your Pan or Cookie Sheet

Lining a pan with foil
Scott Little

Whether your recipe calls for a greased pan or not, you can line your pan or cookie sheet with foil, parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat. Foil or parchment paper will enable you to lift the whole batch of bars from the pan at once when it's time to cut them. To make a foil liner:

  1. Tear off a piece of foil that is larger than the pan (allow for overhang on either end) and shape over the outside of the pan, folding foil at the corners
  2. Gently lift the foil off the pan and turn the pan over. Fit shaped foil in the pan, leaving the overhang to use as "handles" to lift the recipe out of the pan. If the recipe calls for a greased pan, be sure to grease the foil just like you would the pan.

3. Give Your Cookies Time to Cool

Carefully follow the cooling directions in the recipe. Bars often cool in the pan on a wire rack. Some cookies need to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before you move them with a spatula to a cooling rack. With enough cooling time, both cookies and bars will firm up nicely.

4. Cut the Bars and Remove Cookies from Sheet

If you grease your pan, you can cut your cooled bars into squares or diamonds. Then use a thin metal spatula to loosen bars around the edges of the pan. Use a spatula to gently lift the bars from the pan. If you used a foil liner, use the overhang to lift the bars (foil and all) from the pan; cut the bars into squares or diamonds. Gently lift each bar from the foil, pulling down on the foil as necessary to remove it from the bottom of the bars.

Once you remove the cookies, let the cookie sheet cool and use a spatula to remove any crumbs. Or rinse the cooled cookie sheet with cool water and dry thoroughly. Once the cookie sheet is cool, clean, and dry, you can use it for another batch. You want to make sure it's cool before putting the dough on for another batch so the cookies won't spread before getting a chance to bake.

Get a head start on your holiday baking plans by making some freezer-friendly cookies. Or try making copycat Girl Scout cookies to hold you over until next season.

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