Should You Flatten Cookies Before Baking?

Should You Flatten Cookies Before Baking?

As a beginner baker, you might have come across online recipes that assume you know certain steps, such as flattening cookies before baking. So, should you flatten the dough or leave it as is and hope for the best? The answer depends on the recipe and the type of cookie you want to achieve.

Baking cookies is both an art and a science, and it takes a basic understanding of ingredients and their interactions to produce the desired outcome. In this article, we will discuss why some cookie recipes don’t spread, the ingredients that cause cookies to spread, and the types of cookies that require flattening before baking.

To Flatten or Not to Flatten?

Whether or not to flatten the cookie dough before baking depends on the recipe and the desired outcome. If a recipe calls for flattening the cookie dough, it most likely means that the dough lacks enough sugar or fat to spread naturally. Not flattening the dough will result in a hard, crumbly cookie.

On the other hand, if a recipe doesn’t mention flattening the dough, it means that the dough has enough fat and sugar to spread on its own during baking. Flattening the dough in this case will result in an overly flat, crispy cookie.

If you’re experimenting with your own recipe, try baking batches with and without flattening to see the difference. Understanding how ingredients interact will help you determine whether to flatten the dough or not.

Understanding Cookie Spreading

Cookie spreading refers to the widening of the dough ball during baking, resulting in a flat, crispy cookie. The ratio of ingredients such as flour, butter, sugar, and eggs affects the extent of the spread.

Ingredients That Cause Cookies to Spread

The sugar and butter content plays the most significant role in cookie spreading, but other ingredients such as leavens and flour also affect the spread. Sugar dissolves into a liquid state during baking, causing it to caramelize and not retain the dough’s shape, resulting in a wider spread. Butter or any type of fat contains moisture that prevents the dough from retaining its shape during baking.

Flour provides structure to the cookie, with cake flour having a low gluten content ideal for soft, cakey cookies, and bread flour producing bread-like cookies. All-purpose flour strikes a balance in gluten content. Leavens such as baking soda and baking powder also affect cookie spreading.

Cookies That Require Flattening

Certain cookies, regardless of the recipe, will not spread during baking due to the sugar and butter to-flour ratio or other ingredients that disrupt the chemical balance. These cookies include:

Sugar cookies: The dough lacks moisture, resulting in a hard, overly dry cookie. Flatten the dough balls before baking to achieve the desired texture.

Peanut butter cookies: These naturally dense cookies benefit from flattening before baking. The crisscross pattern on top, produced by a fork, also slightly flattens the dough.

Snickerdoodles: While the sugar and cinnamon coating adds flavor, it doesn’t encourage spreading. Flatten the dough balls before baking to achieve a crispy cookie.


In summary, whether to flatten cookie dough before baking depends on the recipe and desired outcome. Understanding the ingredients and their interactions will help you determine whether flattening is necessary. Flattening is required for certain cookies, including sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, and snickerdoodles, to achieve the desired texture and appearance.