it Done Yet?
my breads, cookies, or cakes baked and ready to come out of the oven
The ability to tell
when products are baked seems to cause more consternation than almost
any other phase of baking. And of course, it is important. Over baked
cookies are dry and hard; under baked bread is soggy. But you can get
it right. In this article, we will give you the techniques and pointers
for baking your goods to perfection.
The tendency is
to under bake yeast breads. The internal temperature of yeast breads
should be 210 degrees and must be at least 185 degrees. The only way
to reliably tell what is going on inside that loaf is with a probe type
thermometer. Remove the bread from the pan and insert the thermometer
through the bottom crust into the center of the loaf.
(If you are going
to bake bread and you don’t have a thermometer, we strongly recommend
that you purchase one. You will need it to test the temperature of the
water, the dough, and the finished bread. You can buy one on our site.)
When the bread is
done, the crust color will range from a golden brown to a deep brown
for artisan breads baked in a hot oven. Breads with a higher sugar content
or in a hot oven will tend to brown more rapidly as the sugar caramelizes.
If the bread is browning too rapidly, make a tent of aluminum foil and
cover the top of the loaf.
In light colored
pans, the bottom crust is the last to brown. With a done loaf, the bottom
will color even in a light-colored pan.
My mother was a
bread baker. She tested doneness by tapping the loaf with her finger--a
done loaf will sound hollow when tapped. I don’t remember her
ever making a mistake. Though she taught me to do the same, I’m
not as good as she was. Out of habit, I still tap the loaf but I nearly
always follow with a thermometer probe and sometimes the thermometer
proves me wrong.
If the tendency
is to under bake breads, the tendency is to over bake cookies. Take
them out just before you think they are done; you won’t be wrong
My father is a consummate
cookie baker. If you ask him what his secret is, he’ll tell you:
“I don’t over bake cookies.” The difference between
a just right cookie and an over baked one is dramatic.
Make cookies uniform
in size. Not only are they more attractive but different sizes of cookies
take different times to bake.
Most recipe writers
tell you to leave the cookies on the sheet for a minute or two. Cookies
continue to bake on a hot baking sheet. Sometimes that’s necessary
for an easy release but for most recipes, we remove them as quickly
as we can.
If the cookies look
a little soggy in the middle, then leave them on the sheet for a few
minutes and they will firm up.
Most cookies should
be gold in color, not brown. Both the amount of sugar and soda in the
recipe will affect how fast a cookie browns.
represent another challenge: you can’t tell if they are browning.
If you are baking with a new recipe, bake a few cookies and check them
for doneness before baking the entire batch. Chocolate cookies will
tend to lose their “wet” look when done.
Many bar cookies
will have a dry, shiny crust when done.
For most baked goods--but
especially cakes--it is best to set the timer for a few minutes less
than directed in the recipe—different ovens or even different
positions in the oven bake differently. A dark pan bakes more quickly
than a light pan. When you find your cake not quite done and continue
baking, set the timer for three or four minutes and check again.
A toothpick inserted
in the center of the cake will come out clean when done. “Clean”
means a few crumbs. If there is wet looking batter clinging to the toothpick,
it’s not done.
If you don’t
want to poke a whole in the center of the cake, check for doneness with
your finger. There should be some resiliency to the touch and the cake
should spring back. When done, the cake will usually have a golden brown
color to the top though different recipes will brown more or less quickly.
When done, the cake will tend to pull away form the edges.
Quick breads are
basically cakes in a loaf pan. The same tests that you use on cakes
can be used with quick breads. Stick the toothpick or skewer right in
the open crack in the center of the bread. The area under that crack
seems to be the last area in the loaf to set up.
breads release from the pan easier if left to cool for few minutes before
removing. Because of the larger mass, a loaf does not continue cooking
as quickly as cookies do.
pumpkin pies—are a special problem. It takes quite a while for
the protein in the eggs to set and make the pie firm. Often, the crust
is becoming too brown before the eggs set. If so, cover the crust with
strips of aluminum foil to retard further browning.
When a custard pie
is done, a knife inserted in the center of the pie will come out clean.
If you don’t want a cut mark in the center of your pie, use the
jiggle test. Pick the pie up with two hot pads or mitts and gently shake
the pie back and forth. If done, all but the center should be firm—there
will be a little jiggle in the center. The center will continue to cook
and firm up after you remove the pie from the oven.
We hope these guidelines help. With practice and observation, you’ll
soon become very proficient at judging when your bread or cookies are
baked to perfection. Your baked goods will then be irresistible.