Visual Guide to Judging Bread Doneness

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2018

When baking bread, trust your eyes first and foremost.

Professional bread bakers judge the doneness of their loaves by looking for deep, even browning. They don't typically take the temperature of the crumb. That's because the internal temperature of bread doesn't tell the whole story.

To demonstrate how appearance is the critical factor when baking bread, we baked three loaves each of various styles, including enriched types containing fat and eggs and lean types containing just flour, water, and salt. We pulled one loaf of each type from the oven when it was 5 degrees shy of its recommended temperature (typically 190 degrees for enriched breads and 205 degrees for lean breads), one when it was 5 degrees past its recommended temperature, and one when it was right on the nose.

On the inside, all the loaves were just as they should be—neither too wet nor too dry and perfectly moist. But the exteriors were a different story: Many of the low-temperature loaves were soft-crusted and pale and lacked flavor, while some of the high-temperature ones were too hard and slightly burnt on the underside.

Bottom line: There is a wider window for doneness on the inside of a loaf than on the crust, so when you're baking bread, trust your eyes first and foremost. Bake bread until it looks right. Feel free to use a thermometer for reassurance, but if the bread is still pale, keep baking it, even if it's at or above the recommended temperature. And if it looks good, don't keep baking it, even if it is 5 to 10 degrees below temperature on the inside.

Too Light

Just Right

Too Dark