When it comes to knowing just when a baked item is perfectly done, the term "golden brown" rings true to most. However, there are times when that isn't correct or times when you'd prefer your baked good just a bit less brown than usual.
So, what really is the definitive way to tell if a baked item is perfectly cooked? Here's a compilation of the common categories of baked foods and tips that'll help you determine their level of doneness quickly:
1. Brown Butter and Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cookies should be allowed to bake the appropriate duration depending on the texture you want the finished product to have.
For crispy cookies, you'll have to bake for longer while a chewy texture requires less coming time. The classic chocolate chip typically bears a contrast between a crispy outside and a chewy center. To attain such perfection can be difficult because the cookies will seem under-baked when you check them on the baking tray but will firm up as it cools.
The trick is to make sure the edges are visibly browned and rigid, so it feels hard to the touch. To avoid under-baking to the point of rawness, ensure the center has lost its sheen and taken on a golden color, but unlike the edge, it will feel soft to touch.
2. Custard (and Custard-Based Pies)
This category includes cheesecake, crème brulée, and pumpkin pie, that are a mix of eggs and dairy. In the oven, the eggs slowly set to produce a soft, silky, scoop-able texture. Because the eggs will eventually overcook and curdle, you want to remove the custard from the oven at the very point it's done.
When removed, the residual heat continues to cook the eggs, so the vital tip is knowing when the custard is just set enough in the oven that it will finish cooking, not overcook, as it cools.
For example, if you poke a pumpkin pie while it's baking and its center produces large, slow-moving ripples, it's done.
Note: you're looking out for a slight wobble and not a runny one. Removing the pie from the oven too early will result in a runny — and unsightly — pie.
3. Fruit Pies
Experts say fruit pies are the most difficult to over-bake or burn because the tell-tale signs of doneness are easily detected on sight.
Glass pie plates are highly recommended because you can easily check the bottom of the pie to determine if it's browned enough. This typically takes well over an hour, sometimes two hours or more, at 350°.
4. Cakes, Quickbreads, and Muffins
The most common test for this category is the toothpick test, where you insert a toothpick, skewer, or knife in the cake to check for rawness. However, it isn't the only one you can do.
The color and surface texture of a baked item are good indicators of its doneness. The surface should have uniformly browned across, not just around the edges for white or yellow cakes.
Also, note that a raw batter is shiny because of the butter or oil content, while a well-cooked batter is matte.
Another method is to tap the center of the cake lightly. If thoroughly cooked, the site should feel firm and lightly springy to the touch.
5. Brownies and Blondies
Last but not least are the tricky brownies and blondies. Experts advise intentionally under-cooking these to achieve that ideal moist, fudgy texture.
Still, you want to make sure that they are "just" under-baked, neither too much nor too little. To ascertain, when is the right time to remove them, perform a toothpick test. You should see a few crumbs stuck to the tester, not a greasy smear of batter. The edges should also feel firm to touch (crispy), and the surface, soft when pressed with no spring.
Now, you can confidently prepare your favorite pastries. Good luck!