When a recipe says to 'bake until done', that sounds like a specific instruction, but in reality you must learn what constitutes 'doneness', and use your own judgment for best results. To one person, a bread that is dark golden brown and very crisp is 'done'. To another, light gold is the correct color, with a more moist interior.
Whatever your personal preference, there are standard doneness tests you must learn before you can begin experimenting.
First of all, always begin checking your cakes, cookies, or breads at the earlier doneness time specified in the recipe. In fact, I like to set my timer a few minutes earlier than the shortest baking time called for. You can always bake something longer, but over baked or burnt products are ruined!
Doneness Tests for Cakes
- A toothpick inserted in the center of the cake will come out either clean or with only a few crumbs clinging to it. If there is uncooked batter or many damp crumbs on the toothpick, return the cake to the oven and continue baking. Remember to set the timer again! I usually check after 3 to 4 minutes if the cake isn't quite done when I first test it.
- When a cake is done, the edges will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. This is an indication that the internal cake structure is firm and will hold after the cake is removed from the oven. Some people think this indicates the cake is over baked, but I do not like cakes with a gummy or under baked center.
- Usually cakes are baked until they are an even golden brown color over the entire surface. The edges can be slightly darker.
- Using your index finger, touch the cake lightly in the center. If the cake feels springy and the indentation fills up when you remove your finger, the cake is done.
Doneness Tests for Pies
- Most pies are done when they look done! The crust should be golden brown and look toasted.
- Fruit pies are done when the liquid in the center is bubbling. It's important that these pies be baked long enough so the center bubbles, because if they aren't they will be runny.
- Nut pies should be baked until the outer ring is firm, but there is an area about 1-1/2 to 2" in diameter in the center that is still slightly jiggly. This will firm up as the pie cools.
- Main dish pies should be baked until a meat thermometer registers at least 160°F. The crust should be well browned.
Doneness Tests for Quick Breads
- Quick breads should be golden in color, and slightly darker around the edges.
- A large crack running down the center of the bread is normal. The inside of the crack should not look wet.
- The edges of the bread will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- You can use the toothpick test for quick bread doneness too. It should come out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
- If you want to use a thermometer, the internal temperature should be 190°F.
Doneness Tests for Cookies
- Cookies should be evenly golden in color.
- Cookies usually cool on a baking sheet for 1 to 2 minutes before removing (always follow the recipe instructions). The residual heat from the cookie sheet will continue cooking the dough or batter, so if the cookies don't look quite done in the center, they will finish baking in this short time.
- When cookies look done, they are done. You can use the fingertip test, but you'll usually be able to tell they are done just by looking at them. Make sure to follow the doneness instructions in the recipe.
- Brownies are usually considered done when you 'observe a dry, shiny crust'.
Doneness Tests for Yeast Breads
- Use an instant read thermometer and be absolutely sure when your bread is done. The internal temperature of a loaf of crusty yeast bread when it is cooked to perfection should be 200° to 210° F. Soft breads and dinner rolls should be 190 to 200° F.
- The crust should be an even golden color. It's possible for a bread to test done via temperature, but not look done. Bake breads, even after they have tested at the correct temperature, until the crust is golden for the best flavor development
- The bread will pull away from the sides of the pan and will feel firm to the touch.
- The bread will sound hollow when you tap it lightly.