Here's How to Check If Your Baked Goods Are Done Without Opening the Oven
Deciding when to open the oven door and gently poke and prod your baked goods to test for doneness is a tricky dance. Opening can impact your bake, but how else can you check if the treats inside the oven need more time? We consulted the pros to help you determine whether or not your baked goods are done and when (or if!) you should open the oven door. Read on for info that will help you bake better every time.
Why You Should Avoid Repeatedly Opening the Oven Door
We know it can be tempting to crack the oven door to get a better look of what's going on inside, but overdoing it you can actually slow down the baking process or compromise the rise of baked goods. Kierin Baldwin, chef-instructor of pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, stresses the importance of leaving the oven door closed as much as possible. "It takes time for the oven to reheat and you will slow down the bake and get less than ideal results if you are constantly letting the heat out of the oven by checking your bake," she says.
The Smell Test
If your kitchen is filled with the lovely smells of a fresh baked good, it's typically a good indicator that whatever you're baking is close to being done. "When I start to smell my cake, I will usually turn on the oven light and peek through the window to see if it looks like it's risen and is browning," Baldwin says. "If it does, that is when I will open the oven door to check it."
While you certainly can peek into the oven window as often as you like, Sarah Carey, our editorial director of food and entertaining, recommends turning on the oven light and taking a look around when you read the lower end of the suggested baking time in the recipe. Classic visual clues to look for are if the edges of a cake start to pull away from the pan and the top is browning, but do remember that not all cakes brown. "Sight and smell are not going to give you an accurate picture of whether your cake is done, though they will tell you if it's getting close," Baldwin explains.
For pie, visual cues will vary depending on the type of pie you're baking. Baldwin notes that the two big signs that a double crust fruit pie is ready to be taken out of the oven are a nicely browned crust that isn't wet or raw in any spots and a bubbling filling. "Be wary of egg washed crusts, since these can easily fool you into thinking your crust is nicely browned when it is really just the egg wash that has taken on color and not the crust underneath it," she says.
Visual cues for cookies will also vary widely. "Since there are so many different types of cookies, coming up with one universal rule for how to judge them is pretty much impossible," Baldwin says. For drop cookies, like chocolate chip, she looks for slight souffléing in the center of the cookie. "When that happens, I pull the cookies out since it means they're cooked through."
Time and Temperature
Once three quarters of the suggested baking time has passed, Baldwin says that it should be safe to open the oven door to check on your bake. At this point in the baking process, she opens the oven door and gives her treats a visual check. If it looks like the bake needs more time, she turns it 180 degrees to help even out any hot spots in the oven. And though visual cues noticed through the door are great, at the end of the day, you really do need to open the oven door to truly know if your baked goods are cooked through. "If it looks like it's getting near being done, you really have to test with a cake tester or toothpick or by pressing lightly on top," Carey says. She recommends opening the oven door, taking out the pan, and testing it right then and there (while it's still partially in the oven). "That way you aren't losing oven heat!"
The crumb test (poking into a cake with a paring knife or toothpick) is the most common way to test, but Baldwin prefers using a digital thermometer for a more accurate measurement. "It gets rid of the guesswork and tells you whether the cake has reached the internal temperature where the eggs and starch have gelled," she says. "Egg protein and most starches gelatinize at around 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, but sugar and fat delay this process, so I usually like to leave a cake to bake until it reads between 175 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and then pull it out." When measuring the temperature of a baked good, make sure you take the reading from the center. The thermometer test also works for brownies and blondies––a temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit means it's done.
If you're baking a custard pie, Baldwin recommends giving the pie plate a little nudge. "You want the filling to jiggle back and forth like Jell-O rather than move up and down and side to side like a wave," she says. "A wave means it's still liquid, while a horizontal jiggle means that the egg proteins have set enough to hold the liquid in place." For most cookies, Baldwin checks the bottoms (where the cookies touch the baking pan) to see if they are lightly browned. "Some cookies you may want more or less brown, but so long as you are baking them at an appropriate temperature and it's not a huge thick cookie, light browning at the bottom should mean it is cooked through," she says. For macarons, she gently jiggles one of the shells to see if it's set and no longer gooey inside.