Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Do You Really Need a Cake Tester?

By Miye Bromberg Published

Restaurant cooks swear by cake testers. But are they useful for home cooks?

Cake testers are beloved by restaurant cooks, who use these fine metal probes to check the doneness of not only baked goods but also vegetables, meat, and fish. We were curious to see if these tools were truly as useful and versatile as we’d heard. So we bought four cake testers, priced from about $3.00 to about $6.50, and used them to test the doneness of Olive Oil Cake, Classic Quiche Lorraine, Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake, and boiled potatoes at different stages of their cooking times. Along the way, we compared the cake testers’ results to those of the tools we might otherwise use to check the foods’ doneness: a bamboo toothpick or bamboo skewer for the baked goods and our favorite paring knife for the potatoes.

Cake Testers Have Some Advantages

We liked a few things about the cake testers. At 4 to 6 inches in length, their probes were all fine for poking shallow quiches and tall Bundt cakes alike. They can be washed and reused, eliminating the need to keep buying new disposable toothpicks or skewers. And they allow for prettier, more presentation-ready baked goods. Because most of the cake testers had probes that were fine and narrow, with a diameter of about 1 millimeter, they made holes that were much tinier than those made by the toothpicks (which had an average thickness of 2 millimeters) and bamboo skewers (which had an average thickness of 3 millimeters). While it was thin, the paring knife also made larger incisions than the needle-like cake testers.

Cake testers do have one advantage: They leave smaller holes in baked goods (bottom) than do toothpicks or skewers (top), keeping the baked goods prettier.

Accuracy and Ease of Use Are Limited

Ultimately, these advantages were overshadowed by a basic problem: The cake testers didn’t always give an accurate reading of the foods’ doneness. They were fine for evaluating whether the potatoes were cooked or not. Trouble arrived when we were testing the baked goods. In the test kitchen, we deem most baked goods done when a probe comes out clean, indicating that the batter inside has cooked through and the crumb is fully set. But sometimes we look for a moister texture in certain cakes, including our Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake. For these, we want to see a few crumbs attached to the probe as proof that the cake is not completely dry. To our dismay, the cake testers came out clean every time we poked them into the cakes and quiche—except when the batter was still practically raw inside. By contrast, the bamboo skewers and toothpicks consistently gave us more accurate results, emerging clean when the cakes were fully baked and with crumbs when the interior was still moist.

For some cakes, we want to see a few crumbs sticking to the toothpick or skewer (bottom), because they indicate that the texture is still moist. Metal cake testers were too smooth to pick up crumbs (top), making it hard to know when to pull the cakes.

What was going on? It turns out that while cake crumbs catch easily on the rough, textured surfaces of the bamboo skewers and toothpicks, they just can’t adhere to the smooth metal surfaces of the cake testers.

Leave the Cake Testers to the Professionals

So what do restaurant cooks know that we don’t? To learn more, we turned to cake tester evangelist, former restaurant cook, and current senior editor at Cook’s Illustrated, Lan Lam. Lam explained that restaurant cooks don’t just look at whether the cake tester came out clean or crumb laden; rather, they use the cake tester to gauge changes in texture as they push the cake tester through the food at different stages of the cooking time. Similarly, they also use the cake tester to evaluate changes in temperature when cooking meat or fish, inserting the probe into the protein for a few seconds and then placing it against their wrist to see if the food has warmed through to the correct doneness.

Lam explained that there’s a learning curve to employing a cake tester in this way, requiring the user to develop a more precise, intuitive understanding of what different doneness levels feel like in each type of food. By baking batch after batch of specific cakes, pastry chefs build that knowledge base quickly. Home cooks, on the other hand, rarely bake or cook in enough volume to get that sense down pat.

With this in mind, we can’t recommend any cake tester. Unless you’re embarking on a culinary career, we think you’re better off using a bamboo toothpick or skewer to check the doneness of your baked goods and an instant-read thermometer to evaluate the temperature of your meat or fish. The holes will be slightly bigger, but you’ll get a more accurate and reliable reading—and you’ll get it instantaneously, without putting in years of service in a restaurant kitchen.

How to Use the Toothpick Test to See If Baked Goods Are Done

To determine if cakes, muffins, and quick breads are done, we often use the toothpick test.

Equipment Review Cake Testers

Restaurant cooks swear by cake testers. But are they useful for home cooks?

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.