Today I made a batch of sugar cookies using my new snowflake-shaped cookie cutters; when I pulled them out, they had puffed so much they became flower-shaped instead. What should I look for in a recipe to use cookie cutters on versus one that would be better for drop cookies or a sliced log? Specifically, I suppose I don't want them to rise much after cutting - do I want less leavening? Smaller flour to butter ratio? How much?
A couple of things will lead to less spreading:
Shortening instead of butter - butter contains up to 20% water. When it reaches 212F/100C, it turns to steam, expands, and causes things to rise/puff. Also, shortening, as a more processed/refined fat, has a more even melting point, which would cause it to spread less. If you want the flavor of butter, consider butter-flavored shortening. If you must use butter, use clarified butter instead, as it has most of the moisture removed.
Refrigerate the dough -- the fat will melt later, causing less spreading by the time the starches and proteins set.
Egg whites -- stiffens a dough.
White vs. brown sugar - brown sugar contains more moisture than refined white sugar.