There are lots of reasons why you might want your cookies to come out flatter. Flat cookies might be your personal taste preference, and that’s a good enough reason by itself to make them that way.
Let’s look at some tried-and-true techniques for getting a flatter cookie.
Find a Recipe for Flat Cookies
One of the easiest ways to get a batch of flat cookies is to find a recipe that is designed for that outcome in the first place. Luckily, there are many to choose from online and in cookbooks.
That’s not always an option though—you might have a favorite recipe already, or you might have to work around available ingredients, allergy information, or a number of other circumstances. Or maybe you’re designing your own recipe for (flat) cookies!
It’s also worth mentioning that you need to avoid recipes that promise cakey or thick cookies. That may seem obvious, but especially if you’ve been using the same recipe for a long time, double-check.
Let’s look at some of the science behind flat versus fluffy cookies so we can better understand how this all works.
What Ingredients Can Help Make Cookies Flat?
If you are already working with a recipe or writing your own, you need to know exactly what the function of each ingredient is and how to tweak it to get the results you want.
Let’s look at some of the most common ingredients in cookies and how they impact thickness:
Flour: Flour is an absolutely essential ingredient in cookies (and most baked goods). That said, the more flour you have, the fuller your cookies will be.
That means that for flat cookies, you need to limit the amount of flour. You can look for a recipe that calls for a scant amount of flour or try trimming a bit off of your favorite recipe. Always be careful not to overmeasure.
Baking soda: Baking soda is a rising agent, meaning that it makes baked goods puff up, which is exactly what you don’t want for flat cookies. You can eliminate baking soda from your cookie recipe entirely.
Keep in mind, though, that eliminating the baking soda from your cookies is going to make them flat, but also denser. This is because the baking soda gives off carbon dioxide that forces the cookie batter apart; you won’t get that process without baking soda.
Fat: Almost all cookie recipes call for some kind of fat. Typically, this is either oil, butter, or shortening.
You want to avoid shortening for flat cookies, since shortening will give the cookies a cakey texture and make them taller.
While we’re on the subject of fat, let’s talk butter for flat cookies. Part of the baking process involves the butter melting in the oven; if the butter is very soft or even already melted when you mix the ingredients and put them in the oven, it won’t need baking time to melt.
For cookies that spread fast, use very soft, room temperature butter or even melted butter. In addition, never chill your dough if you want flat cookies.
Sugar: Perhaps the most quintessential ingredient in cookies is the type of sugar you use. This makes a difference in the crispiness of the cookie.
A higher ratio of white sugar will yield a crunchy, crispy cookie that is typically flatter. Cookies made with more brown sugar will be chewy and soft, and often thicker.
You don’t want to eliminate all of the brown sugar, though, because it also provides some depth of flavor. Opt for light brown sugar over dark brown sugar (the darker the sugar, the chewier the cookie) and replace only some of the brown sugar with white.
Eggs: Ever heard of fluffy scrambled eggs? It’s a thing, and it isn’t just for breakfast.
Eggs can make baked goods fluffy, too, so for flatter cookies, you can eliminate an egg. You will also have to eliminate some of the flour since the egg is a wet ingredient and needs to bind to dry; that will take some experimentation, or you can substitute the egg with a banana or applesauce.
On the other hand, adding an extra egg white (no yolks, please) helps dry out the cookie, which will make it crunchier.
What Techniques Can Help Make Cookies Flat?
In addition to the ingredients in cookies, there are some mixing and cooking techniques that can also have a big impact on the size and texture of your cookies. Let’s look at what a few of those are.
Baking temperature: Cookies need to bake in the oven for a pretty precise amount of time at an even more precise temperature. Normally, we wouldn’t tell you to deviate from your recipe on this one.
However, if you want flatter cookies, you can try lowering the temperature a little bit. Try decreasing your temperature by 25 degrees first, and 50 on the next batch if that doesn’t work.
The science behind the temperature swap? A lower temperature allows the butter and sugar to melt before the cookie sets, causing the ingredients to spread out more and giving you a wider, flatter cookie in the end.
Cooking time: Cooking at a lower temperature also means leaving them in the oven a bit longer. That’s also going to make them crispier, which you might want if you like flat cookies.
Essentials for Experimenting with Recipes
Especially once you have some basic baking skills, learning how to customize or experiment with recipes is so much fun. There are a couple of steps that you can take to make this more successful for yourself.
First, use a kitchen scale to measure ingredients. You want your ratios of ingredients to be as accurate as possible so that you can adapt or replicate your methods next time.
Speaking of ratios, keep a calculator handy since you don’t want to round or approximate your measurements. In addition, refer to a conversion chart to help as well.
Invest in an oven thermometer to make sure your oven temperature is as accurate as possible and recalibrate your oven if needed.
Whether you’re working toward flat cookies or something else, don’t forget about the most important part of the process: have fun and enjoy!
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.