There are few smells as good as the smells made by homemade baked goods. And there are few disappointments so full of treachery like cutting into a beautiful lavender-glazed blueberry-lemon poundcake to find the center is still doughy—it’s the things we do to ourselves that hurt the most, right?
Did you know that baked goods have doneness temperatures? They do! Just because our Grandmothers didn’t use fast and accurate digital thermometers to gauge the doneness of their banana bread, sandwich bread, cupcakes, or chocolate chip cookies doesn’t mean that you in a technological age can’t use one to get consistent, repeatable results with every bake.
Here we’ll break down the doneness temperatures for a whole slew of baked goods and the thermometers you can use to check them. Baking is about to get a whole lot more accurate.
- Baking doneness and safety
- Bread doneness temperatures
- Quick bread temperatures
- Doneness temps for cakes
- Custard temperatures
- Baked goods temperature chart
Baking and food safety: do I even need to test the temperature?
Some people may ask if doneness temps are necessary when baking. After all, we’ve all eaten raw cookie dough, right? Well, there are two separate things going on here, one is safety and the other is quality.
Let’s just go ahead and address the raw-dough elephant in the room here. Yes, I have eaten cookie dough and brownie batter without getting sick. But I have also probably gotten sick from it. When people think of the risks involved in eating raw dough, they usually think of the potential for salmonella contamination in eggs, and they should think of that, but in fact, there is just as much danger, if not more, in eating the raw flour. Flour is a raw food that poses a risk of pathogenic contamination, specifically from E. Coli. For that reason, flour should not be consumed unless it has been cooked.
Incidentally, chocolate chip cookies are done at 180°F (82°C).
Bread doneness temperatures: 180–210°F, depending on the dough
It is a sad relic of bread-baking history that even in our technologically advanced times, many recipes for bread call for checking its doneness by turning the loaf over and thumping the bottom. “If the bread sounds hollow” they say, it is done. There can be a number of thermal problems with this, depending on what kind of bread you’re baking, but also there is the problem that most of us don’t bake bread enough in our homes to know what “done” bread is supposed to sound like. Yes, it was good enough for your great-great-Grandmother in the village in the old country at the communal ovens, but she was probably baking at least 12 loaves a week, if not more, since she was 10 years old. She knew what bread sounded like!
Bread can be temped either with an instant-read thermometer like Thermapen®® or, by probing it after the first 15–20 minutes of baking (after the oven spring has occurred), with a leave-in probe thermometer like ChefAlarm®.
Rich-dough breads—those with significant fat or sugar content, such as brioche, dinner rolls, challah, or even tender sandwich bread—are done when they reach 180–190°F (82–88°C). Lean dough breads—those with minimal or no fat or sugar, such as baguette, sourdough, most kinds of rye bread, or Cuban bread—cook up at a slightly higher temperature of 190–210°F (88–99°C).
(Within those temps, there is room for variation, of course, so when you find a doneness temp for a certain bread that you think is just right, be sure to note that in your recipe.)
Quick bread doneness temps: 200°F
Pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, muffins, even cornbread and Irish soda bread—these are what the baking world calls quick breads. They are thus named mostly for their leavening: rather than waiting for these to ferment and become light due to yeast action, they are leavened with baking powder or baking soda and acid (this group of leaveners is professionally referred to as chemical leaveners). Double-acting baking powder contains baking soda (a base), cream of tartar (a dried acid), and another dry acid, such as sodium pyrophosphate, which does not react with the baking soda until it is heated. This causes the batter to spring up and lighten in the oven.
Quick breads are, generally speaking, much closer to a thick batter than a cohesive dough, and that higher hydration changes the doneness temp. Quick breads have a doneness temperature of 200°F and up to 205°F (93°C up to 96°C). Your recipe almost certainly gives the time to cook rather than the temperature, so start checking the internal temps with a Thermapen at the low-end of the provided time scale, i.e. at 20 minutes on a recipe that says 20–30 minutes. Pull the cake/bread when it gets to 200°F (93°C) and you’ll never face another soggy-centered banana bread again.
Cake and cupcake doneness temperatures: 200–209°F
How many recipes have you read that say to check the doneness of a cake with a toothpick? I’ve read lots. But a toothpick isn’t actually the best test. Cakes are ultimately only a step or two away from quick breads, and they (mostly) share a common set of doneness temps.
For a “regular” cake that is still moist and tender but isn’t undercooked, use your Thermapen to check the temperature of your cakes. Pull them from the oven once they reach 200–209°F (93–98°C) and ditch the toothpick test. (Use this temp for a delicious pineapple upside-down cake!)
Some cakes, however, are different. Molten chocolate cakes, for instance, are done at a mere 160°F (71°C). At that temperature, the cake has achieved food safety, but the gooey center hasn’t finished firming up. This is certainly one place where the toothpick test won’t tell you everything you need to know! And because of its super-high fat and sugar percentages, pound cake isn’t done until 210°F (99°C).
Custard temperatures: when is it done?
Custards are liquids (usually milk-based) that are thickened by cooking with eggs. Knowing when to pull them from heat can be tricky, as they are often still quite jiggly in their centers when they are done (they congeal more as they cool), and overcooking them leads to grainy textures and unsightly cracking on the surface. But the temperatures these things finish at are not mysteries!
Custards with a high percentage of milk or cream—crème brûlée, flan, and pumpkin pie (as well as other custardy pies) —should be taken from the oven once their internal temps reach 170–175°F (77–79°C). They will still seem rather liquidy, but if you cook them in the oven until they seem solid, you’ll be too late.
Eggy dishes with a higher percentage of eggs, have less milk in the way of their proteins binding together. So things like quiche, bread pudding, and meringue pies are done at 160°F (71°C). A quick check with a Thermapen® will let you know when you get there.
Cheesecake doneness temperature
Because of its unique composition and size, cheesecake has its own doneness temperature, 150°F (66°C). Pulling your cheesecake form the oven at a mere 150°F (66°C) will prevent cracking and will help keep your cheesecake moist and tender, not gritty and dry. For a bang-up recipe, look to our post on New York-style cheesecake.
Baked goods temperature chart
|Chocolate chip cookies
|Quick breads, muffins, cornbread, biscuits, scones
|Cake, cupcakes, angel food cake
|Molten (lava) cake
|Crème brûlée, flan, pumpkin pie
|Bread pudding, quiche, meringue pies
There’s no reason to leave the outcome of your favorite baked goods to chance or poorly written recipes. Use an instant read thermometer that is fast and accurate, like the Thermapen, to make sure none of your baked goods come out as baked bads. Forget the disappointment of bad bakes and enjoy the results of real temperature monitoring and control.
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