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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?

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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.

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I did refrigerate the dough, though it warmed up some as I rolled it out and cut the shapes, so I probably could have stuck the cut shapes back in for a bit. They used white sugar, but we did use butter rather than shortening. I could make that change and probably toss an extra white into the recipe I have rather than look up a new one... Thanks! –  Yamikuronue Nov 30 '11 at 14:01
    
Here's a trick -- put a parchment-lined sheet pan in the refrigerator while you're rolling the dough. When you're done rolling and cutting, transfer to the sheet pan, and put back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or more. When ready to bake, transfer the parchment with cookies on it to a room-temperature sheet pan, and bake as normal. Keep in mind, if you do add the additional egg white, it will make the resulting cookie a little tougher. –  Aaron Traas Nov 30 '11 at 15:26
    
Made christmas cookies over the past weekend; I had dough that had been refrigerated overnight prior to rolling, then popped trays of cut cookies into the fridge and (later, in desperation) into the freezer. Still lost all shape. These were butter cookies, so unfortunately shortening didn't seem appropriate. The picture had nice complex oak leaf designs, whereas even simple stars turned into circles in my kitchen :( –  Yamikuronue Dec 12 '11 at 15:57
    
@Yamikuronue, many butter cookie recipes use a mix of butter and shortening (often butter-flavored shortening). Another thing you can do to prevent spreading is use higher-fat European-style butter. American butter is typically about 20% water. Alternatively, you can use a mix of clarified butter and shortening. If you're concerned about the lack of butter flavor in the cookie, you can brown the butter a little; it'll develop more flavor. –  Aaron Traas Jan 3 '12 at 15:57
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