I have this massive problem with simple. I just can’t do it. Give me something simple to do and I guarantee I will somehow manage to (possibly unwittingly) turn it into the most complicated, convoluted thing you’ve ever seen.
But this here? THIS is simple.
Three simple steps to check that your cake is cooked perfectly, every time.
Have you ever baked a cake, given it a quick poke with a finger and had it spring back, or stabbed with a skewer that comes out clean, then let it cool, cut it, and become completely dismayed to see that it’s undercooked?
Many dense cakes like mud cakes can give you the illusion of being cooked even when they’re still undercooked in the middle, so it’s great to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make sure those hours you’ve spent preparing and baking that cake aren’t wasted.
Obviously the baking time suggested in the recipe is the best starting point for how long your cake will take to bake, but that’s only a good indication when you’re making the exact recipe, in the exact size cake tin they used when writing the recipe. What if you’ve increased the batter amount to make a bigger cake in a bigger cake tin? Or split the batter between two tins?
And if you’re using baking strips then your cake will take a little longer to bake, since you’re slowing down the baking of the outside of the cake to let the inside catch up.
No one likes eating undercooked cake (well, except for licking cake batter off the spoon) and certainly no one enjoys having to rebake a cake that is supposed to be cooked but isn’t. Luckily there are a few little tips and tricks so you can have confidence that when you take the cake out and turn the oven off, your cake will be cooked right through.
So to check your cake, you’ll need three simple tools:
1. A skewer/cake tester/other kind of pokey stick (I prefer metal but a bamboo skewer is fine)
2. A thin bladed knife (make sure it is a thin blade, right up to the handle, or you’ll make a giant hole in your cake. A small slit in the cake is ok, but a bigger hole may make your cake layers more likely to break.)
3. An instant-read/probe digital thermometer (This step is optional, but it does give you peace of mind to know that your cake has reached an internal temperature that indicates it is fully cooked in the centre.)
If you’re baking the same size and shaped cake as your recipe and it has a stated time range, start checking the cake at the shortest time. But how do you know when to start checking if you’re baking a bigger/smaller sized cake than the recipe? The “I can smell delicious cake now” test is usually a pretty good indicator.
If when you go to check the cake you look in the oven and the cake is clearly not cooked yet then don’t open the oven door, if the cake hasn’t started to set on top yet then opening the door will cause the oven temperature to drop and your cake may well do the same, sinking in the middle.
Before you start poking things into the cake, make sure it has most of the other signs of a cooked cake – the top crust should be fully set, the edges may have browned and be pulling away from the sides of the tin, and if you gently press the top of the cake with your finger, the cake should spring back.
Once the cake passes the finger press test, insert the skewer into the centre of the cake, right down to the bottom. If it comes out with cake batter and/or very sticky crumbs sticking to it, then the cake needs to cook for longer. When the skewer comes out clean…
…then you can insert the thin bladed knife into the centre of the cake. Often even if a skewer has come out clean, the extra surface area on the knife may show some uncooked batter, usually on the tip.
In the picture below obviously the knife is pretty clean, with only a few little crumb specks (which are most likely dry little crumbs from the top crust. I was lazy when baking this cake, and didn’t follow my own good advice from my baking strip tutorial to pop a foil lid on the cake. Told ya the lid is important for mud cakes!)
You can stop here if you’re feeling confident the cake is cooked, but if you’re still not 100% sure then…
Insert the digital thermometer into the centre of the cake, using the hole the skewer and knife created to avoid having your cake look like a pincushion. Don’t let it touch the bottom of the cake pan or you’ll get an inaccurate reading from the metal, hold it slightly above the bottom. The cake should have an internal temperature of at least 99℃ (roughly 210℉).
Final step – write down how long the cake took to cook! This way, the next time you bake that cake, in that tin, at that temperature, you’ll have a better indication of how long it will take to cook.
(And let’s face it, if you’ve minimised one thing that could make it unhappy, then that happy is lookin’ more likely, right?!)