How do I know it’s done?

One of the major changes during quarantine seems to be a huge increase in home cooking and baking. I had another call yesterday about an under-baked cake so this seems like a great time to review just how to know when your baked product is done.

Freshly baked loaves of bread.

When cooking meat or poultry, we always suggest purchasing an instant read thermometer to check for doneness. We know that it is difficult to look at meat and know if it is cooked thoroughly enough to be safe to eat. With baked products, it is mostly a quality issue if a food has been cooked long enough to be done.

Over the years, there have been various methods for checking to see if a cake or pie has been cooked long enough. I have done a bit of research to learn what temperatures indicate your product has cooked long enough.

I received an instant read thermometer for a Christmas gift. I had been baking bread weekly for a year and a half and I wanted to know the internal temperature of my loaves so I could bake a more consistent loaf. I know that a loaf of bread should sound a bit hollow if it is cooked but it was really a guessing game until I sliced into the loaf. I have learned that the degree of browning can not always be considered as bread recipes vary as do bakers preferences. Now that I have a thermometer, I check to see if the internal temperature of a loaf of bread is between 180-190 °F. If I make a crusty, rustic loaf, the temperature should be 200-201 °F.

The internal temperature for cakes varies quite a bit depending on the type of cake you choose to make. The old stand by of using a wooden toothpick is still a valid way to check for doneness. If you use wood, cake crumbs will stick to the toothpick and you can see that the cake is baked and not doughy. If you choose a metal or plastic toothpick, crumbs will not adhere making it difficult to know if the cake is ready to take out of the oven. You can also lightly press near the center of the cake with a fingertip to gauge doneness. If the cake springs back, it is done. If you wait for the cake to pull away form the side of the pan, it may be overcooked.

Cookies are another product that can be hard to know if they are done. Some cookies appear under-baked when they are actually done. Start peeking at cookies about 5 minutes before the recipe indicates they should be done. If you want a soft, chewy cookie, take them out a bit earlier than a cookie than a cookie you want to have crisp. You can tell a cookie is done if you gently press it with a finger and it leaves a slight imprint. A crispy cookie should be more firm and be lightly browned around the edges. Brownies, which I think land in the cookie category, should appear slightly underdone in the center. Test with a wooden toothpick; you should have a few gooey crumbs stuck to the toothpick.

Custard pies can be a challenge to know when they are done. We always advised inserting a knife half way between the edge and the center of the pie to detect doneness. The knife should come out mostly clean and the pie should still have a bit of “jiggle” when moved. Now I find advice to use the thermometer instead of the knife. The slit from the knife can cause a crack in the pie filling. Internal temperature for the custard pie should be 170-175°F. If you are baking a fruit pie, make sure that the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling throughout the pie. If you do not see the bubbling, then the pie likely will not thicken. Starchy thickeners like flour, cornstarch, or tapioca need to heat long enough to bubble or they will not thicken when the pie cools.

I do not have room to cover every baked product so I tried to cover the most common foods. Please call or email us at AnswerLine if you have questions when you are baking. We enjoy helping others with a hobby that we all love.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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5 thoughts on “How do I know it’s done?

  1. Okay, I made Apple Jelly using 5 cups of bottled sugar free juice, and 7 cups of white sugar, and 1 box of pectin, When I dumped my sugar it clumped, so I took a whisk to it. Now I have 100’s of tiny bubbles in each jar. Is it safe or should I reprocess it? No more whisked in jelly for me.

  2. Karen, while whisking the sugar to get it to incorporate into your jelly, you also whipped air into the gel. While the air bubbles are a bit unsightly, they shouldn’t be a problem or safety concern if the jars were processed correctly and the jars sealed when cooled. Overtime, do keep an eye on the jars, however. If you notice that the bubbles are moving, then there is a problem. If they move, that indicates some sort of fermentation or other undesirable thing happening. Isn’t it interesting the things we learn in life!

  3. I have such a terrible habit of cutting into things before they come out because I don’t know how to tell when its done. This was really helpful, thank you.

  4. Your post provides essential tips for determining when baked goods are done. Using an instant-read thermometer for bread, checking cakes with a toothpick, and offering temperature ranges for items like custard pies are practical insights. Your advice on cookies and the availability of AnswerLine for baking questions make your post concise and helpful. Well done!

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