You’ve gone though all the work of prepping and reading.
You’ve done your research and learned how to bake the perfect cake from scratch.
You’ve put it in the oven, and now you wait. The anticipation of the final product is killing you!
Then a little light flicks on inside your head and you wonder, “Wait, how do I know when it’s done?”.
Perfectly Baked Cake = Dynamite
A perfectly baked cake is dynamite: with its soft crumb, perfect texture, and flavours that will take you on a first class ride to flavour town. It’s moist, but not soggy, and holds it its shape without being dry or crumbly.
It’s easy to tell if your cake is ready or needs a few extra minutes if you know what signs to look for.
What’s the Magic Colour?
Most recipes state the basic, “Wait until your cake has a nice golden brown colour”. Great — but not helpful.
Lighter cakes, like white cakes, will turn golden before they’re finished baking, while dark cakes, like chocolate, won’t turn golden at all. So while looking at the colour is a good idea, it’s not the only way to make sure that your cake is finished.
Know Without Opening the Oven Door
We’ll first start by looking at these testing techniques that don’t require you to open the oven door (which is a great thing, because opening the door too often during the baking process can cause your cakes to fall.)
What’s That Smell?
Clue 1: Your cake smells fragrant.
This will be the first sign that your cake is nearing doneness. When a cake is baking, it will fill your entire house with the mouthwatering aromas of what’s baking.
It’s a smell that you and anyone who walks in will absolutely notice. The combination of caramelizing sugar and vanilla and sometimes chocolate (depending on what you’re making) is heavenly.
A raw cake doesn’t have the same wonderful smell though, so if you can’t detect an aroma you cake isn’t ready. When you can smell it though, know that it’s getting close to doneness.
Check Those Edges
Clue 2: The edges pull away.
After you noticed the wonderful fragrance of your cake, it’s time to peek through the oven door. This is when you check to see if you cake edges are starting to pull away from the pan.
The difference will be subtle. The edges would start to look firm and there should be a smallest of gaps starting to take place between you cake and the sides of the pan.
This is because the edges of the cake are the first part to become fully baked (since the metal pan conducts heat). They will start to shrink inwards as the rest of the cake bakes and the crumb tightens.
Are You Shining?
At this point it’s a good idea to have a look at the center of your cake.
Your cake should not be wet or jiggly looking in the middle. In fact, if your batter still looks shiny then your cake is not yet finished. Cooked cake batter is matte, while raw batter looks wet or shiny.
Clue 3: The colour changes.
So your cake is smelling incredible, the edges are pulling away and the center is no longer shiny. Now what? Well colour can be a good indication that your cake is nearing doneness.
It’s not the deciding factor by any means, but it’s a good thing to be able to recognize. If you’re baking a lighter cake, like a vanilla or white cake, your cake should have a golden brown appearance. This colour will be slightly darker for vanilla or yellow cakes, rather than white cakes.
But what about dark cakes? A chocolate cake can’t turn golden brown, since it was already a dark colour going into the oven. So how can you tell?
This is where the shine of the batter comes in. Remember, shiny batter is raw and matte batter is cooked. If your chocolate cake still looks shiny like when you first put it into the oven it’s not yet ready. A finished chocolate cake will have a matte colour and hold it’s shape.
Take The Test
Once you’ve reached this far, you can safely open your oven door and test your cake.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the toothpick test. For this test, you can use a toothpick, skewer, ice pick or paring knife. Gently use the tip of your knife to poke a hole through the center (thickest part) of your cake.
The idea behind this test, is that you’re checking to see if the crumb has set. If the tester comes out clean, your cake is done. If not, and the tester has raw batter or chunks of cake crumb stuck to it, then your cake needs a little more time in the oven.
It’s important to note two things here. At this point, your cake should not fall if you test it, then put it back in the oven. You can breathe a sign of relief!
Second, if you cake has just a few little bits of crumb sticking to the tester stick, then it’s generally safe to say it’s finished. This is especially true for chocolate cakes, that tend to be on the moister side.
Remember, your cake will continue to cook a little after you take it out of the oven. So a few, slightly sticky crumbs can mean the difference between a perfect cake and a dry one.
At this point, with the above tips, you should know if your cake is done. But here is a little extra credit.
Another way to gauge the texture and doneness of your cake is the “spring test”.
Gently press on the center of your cake with two or three fingers. Your cake should spring back against your touch. Once no indents are left behind, your cake is good to go.
This last hint may sound a little odd, but if you listen to your cake, it’ll tell you that it’s done.
Lean in and put your ear close to your cake. The cake will sizzle and crackle as the steam from the liquid ingredients is cooked out. This sound will become softer and slower as the cake finishes.
The sound is very faint, and brief, but it’s there. This is by no means the final answer to if your cake is done, but it’s a cool trick to try, especially since no one thinks cakes can talk back.
By learning all of these signs, you’ll no longer be second guessing your work.
It’s not hard to tell if your cake is ready or needs a few extra minutes if you know what signs to look for.
Use your senses to test and gather information as your cakes bake in the oven. Practice makes perfect, and soon you’ll have developed that “gut feeling” about the readiness of your cakes.
As time goes on this will be easier and the signs more recognizable. Now go bake up some delicious cakes!
Now would you like to know how you can tell if absolutely everything is done baking? Check out this post so you can make sure you’re a pro at baking everything from cookies to breads and everything in between.