Let’s face it. Everyone at some point in their lives has been the person who’s sitting on the kitchen floor, peering into the oven window, trying to decide if your cookies, cakes or breads are under baked, over baked or simply done baking! The “doneness” factor in most recipes is the all time famous phrase, “wait until it’s golden brown in appearance”. But sometimes that’s not just enough information. Your baked good could look golden but not smell cooked, or is a little jiggly in the center (even though the edges look burnt?!) And unlike baking veggies or meats, where you can simply slide an under baked roast back into the oven, when it comes to baking pastries, you’ve usually only got one shot to get it right.
After many years of getting it wrong… and eventually getting it right, I’ve figured out some of the less obvious signs of doneness for different baking categories. My hope is, with this list you’ll no longer have to stand guard at your oven door or second guess if you might give your great aunt food poisoning. Hopefully, you’ll gain some confidence and feel good about your properly cooked, and beautiful baked creations.
How long you bake a cookie is largely up to personal taste. If you like a soft and chewy cookie you’d want to bake it for a shorter time, but if your preference is a crispy biscuit-like cookie then you’d want it to cook for longer.
The ultimate chocolate chip cookie for me, is a little crisp on the outside, while staying a little chewy in the center. This can be a little tricky to accomplish because in the oven the cookies can look a little under baked…but it will firm up once it’s been taken out of the oven and left to cool.
A good indication is to check that the edges of the cookie have gained some colour (yes, slightly browned or golden browned) and that they look “set”. What do I mean by set? Well, if you were to give the cookie a gentle poke, your finger will not leave an indentation on the cookie edge. For the middle of the cookie you’re looking to see that it is no longer shiny (because raw batter is shiny, while cooked batter is matte) and has a slight golden colour. However, if you were to give the cookie center a slight poke, you would see a small indentation.
If you want your cookies on the softer side, you’d want the cookie to be matte, not shiny, but this time be barely golden in colour. The edges of the cookie should not have much colour either. On the flip side, for a crispy cookie, the edges should be golden to slightly brown in colour, look fully set, and not yield if you give it a quick poke with your finger.
On the other hand, cut out cookies are slightly different because you want these to hold their shape and not break easily when removed from the baking sheet. My personal preference is a cut out cookie with a golden colour to it. There are a lot of cookiers out there that prefer a cookie with absolutely no colour. Again, your preferences will vary, but for me, a golden cookie is much easier to handle and less likely to break while decorating.
CAKES, MUFFINS AND QUICK BREADS:
If you’ve baked a cake before (this includes box cake) you’d be familiar with the toothpick test. This is where you stick a toothpick or some sort of skewer into the center of the cake and if it comes out clean then your cake is done. While that is a good test, it is not the only one, and it’s always a good idea to notice other indicators to corroborate the results of your toothpick test. If you would like an in depth instruction on how to turn out perfectly baked cakes every time, have a look at my other post, When Is A Cake Done? Learn The Foolproof Methods From A Pro Baker.
Making a pie from scratch is a long process, and the last thing you want to do is mess it up in the end. Luckily, it’s a lot harder to over-cook a fruit pie (short of burning it) than it is to under-cook one. A great tip is to bake your pies in a glass pie dish. This way you can get a good look at the bottom crust while it bakes. A very common mistake is to not bake your pie long enough, resulting in a pale, unflavourable and doughy crust. And if you couldn’t guess, that does not make for a yummy pie! You want the crust to be very brown on the bottom.
Another clue to look out for is that you want the pie filling to be bubbling for at least 6 – 10 minutes. This must be happening in the center of the filling as well as around the edges. If however, your pie has a full pastry top, you won’t be able to see the filling bubbling very well, so in that case refer to the earlier point, and make sure your bottom crust is properly browned. Keep in mind that this can take longer that you’d expect – well over an hour in most cases and sometimes even two hours or more being baked at 350 degrees.
Cheesecakes and other custard based pies, like crème brûlée and pumpkin pies are considered custard based pies because they are made from a mixture of milk and eggs. The eggs slowly cook to produce a smooth, creamy filling texture. If the eggs overcook, they will curdle, resulting in a cracked top. If the cheesecake is undercooked, it will not be set and instead be liquid-like when cut.
You want most of the cheesecake to be set, with the edges slightly golden in colour. The entire top of the cheesecake can start to take on a slight tan colour also. The center however, will be ever so slightly jiggly. I’m talking that if given a nudge, the middle gives a teeny wobble, or a slow moving ripple. You want the center ever so slightly under-cooked when you remove the cheesecake, because it will continue to cook as it cools. If the cheesecake is fully cooked coming out of the oven, then it will be over-cooked by the time it’s cooled.
For the most part, your baked breads should be a deep golden brown to brown colour. The crust should be dry and firm. The best way to ensure your bread is done however, is after you take the bread out of the oven, turn it out of the pan if it’s baking in one, and flip the loaf upside down. Give it a good tap with your thumb. You should hear a hallow thump sound in the middle of the loaf. If you don’t, then your bread isn’t done baking. Properly cooked bread sounds hallow when tapped.
Sounds crazy, but give it a go. If you’re new to this technique and really interested in a small experiment, you can try doing this every five minutes until the end of baking. You’ll hear how the sound changes as the bread becomes fully baked. Keep in mind though, that doing this will probably cause your bread to take longer to bake since you’re constantly disturbing the heat in the oven.
Brownies like cookies, come down to personal preference. Are you team cake brownie or team fudge brownie? If you like cake like brownies, you want to bake them until the brownies start to pull away from the sides of a pan (much like a cake), and when a toothpick or skewer is inserted, it comes out clean. The edges will be crispy and the center will leave no indent when gently poked with your finger, but instead the brownie should spring back.
If you prefer fudge brownies, you want to intentionally under-bake them to achieve that moist, fudge texture. The toothpick test should produce a few straying crumbs stuck to the pick, but not a smooth smear of batter. The edges should feel firm to the touch and a little crispy, but the center will form a slight indent if poked, and not spring back like a cake-like brownie.
Armed with the above information, you’ll be sure to be producing beautiful and well baked breads, cookies, cheesecakes and more. And over time, I hope that these steps will help you to become a more confident baker. I would love to see your bakes! tag #delyscioustreats in your photos so that I can see what you’ve made.