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Cake Testers

Published June 2020

How we tested

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. 

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. 

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.


Methodology

  • Test four cake testers, priced from about $3.00 to about $6.50, comparing their performance to the tools we ordinarily use for the below tasks

  • Test the doneness of Olive Oil Cake at different times

  • Test the doneness of Classic Quiche Lorraine at different times

  • Test the doneness of Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake at different times

  • Test the doneness of boiled potatoes at different times

  • Wash according to manufacturers’ instructions 10 times

Rating Criteria

Accuracy: We evaluated the cake testers on whether they accurately displayed the correct doneness of the food.

Hole Size: We evaluated the cake testers on the size of the holes they made in the baked goods.

Ease of Use: We evaluated the cake testers on how easy they were to stick in baked goods of different heights and on how easy they were to properly use.


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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*