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I've been making peanut butter cookies, but skipping the step of pressing the top of the cookie down with a fork. What does this step do for the cookies?

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Great question, this is something I have always wondered. If nothing else, it's a convenient way to identify exactly what type of cookie it is. – JJ Caldwell Feb 22 '11 at 7:00
up vote 22 down vote accepted

Peanut butter cookies don't spread as they cook, so you have to flatten them before hand. This ensures that the middle will cook through before the outside burns.

As for the pattern created, it actually creates slightly more surface area, so you'll get more browning at the extra edges that you create. Think of it like a meringue, or the top of a shepherd's pie -- if it's too smooth, you won't get the little bits of browned crispy bits that you'd get if you rough up the surface.

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I believe the main reason is to help the dough spread out. Peanut butter cookies recipes typically don't go for a lot of spread, and therefore you need to manually flatten the dough in order to get a proper cookie shape and allow the cookie to cook properly.

It's not clear to me whether the non-spreading recipe is a requirement for some aspect of the cookie, or if the reason that a non-spreading recipe is used is specifically to allow the fork-marks to remain, so you could experiment with some of the factors mentioned in this thread on cookie spreading if you'd prefer the cookies to spread on their own and skip the fork marks.

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I actually just asked my wife about this! It turns out that the dough used for most peanut butter cookies is a little thicker than regular cookie dough. Pressing it can help it to cook more evenly. I don't know how much it helps, but she seemed to think it was pretty important!

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The fork lines are so you can tell the difference between the peanut butter ones and the sugar cookies.

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You know ... I was debating mentioning that part of it ... I mean, it's not like trying to decode what it's a box of assorted chocolates by the swirl on top, but it can be something you can teach to a kid with peanut allergies as a warning sign. – Joe Feb 22 '11 at 22:35
For my purposes, I can see the color difference between sugar and peanut butter cookies. Also, I use chunky peanut butter, so the peanut chunks are often visible. – KatieK Feb 23 '11 at 0:29

Nothing. It's just cosmetic. I didn't even know I was "supposed" to be doing that until I'd been making them for years.

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It's not just cosmetic - peanut butter cookies don't spread very well, so for most recipes, you will want to flatten them in some way in order to ensure that they cook evenly - nothing is worse than cookies that get burned on the outside, and are raw in the middles. – Ash Feb 22 '11 at 5:20
@ashley: Sure, but that doesn't require the little fork lines. You can just mush it flat with your hand, like any other cookie. – Satanicpuppy Feb 22 '11 at 14:25
Oh, I definitely agree. The fork lines are cosmetic, but the pressing isn't. :) – Ash Feb 22 '11 at 16:56

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