Do you know how to tell if oatmeal cookies are done? How about peanut butter cookies or sugar cookies? Brownies? Because they have a relatively short baking time, cookies can go from doughy to just right to burned in only a few minutes. Taking them out of the oven at just the right moment is key, and doneness tests can differ depending on the type of cookie you're baking. Here, we explain the visual and textual doneness clues, starting with how to tell when sugar cookies are done, then moving on to other commonly baked cookies.

By Wini Moranville
Updated August 31, 2020
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Many cookie recipes give you a detailed description of how the cookies should look when they are finished baking. So even if you're an experienced baker, it's important to read your recipe before you start. Sure, you might be the type that's tempted to sample raw cookie dough, but it's good to know the cookie recipe you spent so much time on is baked to perfection. To ensure your cookies won't be undercooked or overbaked, always check cookies at the minimum baking time. While there is no test that works for every type of cookie, here are few common ways to tell whether the one you're making is finished baking.

The Best Sugar Cookies
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How to Tell When Sugar Cookies Are Done

Recipes for sugar cookie cutouts often call for baking until the edges are firm or set. If that’s the case with your recipe, your sugar cookies should be set (not brown) and no longer appear soft and melty.

The Light Brown Bottom Test

Some sugar cookies and pale cookie recipes such as Christmas sandies and thumbprint cookies call for light brown bottoms as a doneness test. Since the color of the bottom of a cookie is not apparent at first glance, you need to gently lift the edge of one of the cookies from the cookie sheet using a spatula ($8, Target) and peek at the bottom.

How to Tell When Oatmeal Cookies Are Done

Many drop cookie recipes, including oatmeal cookies, specify baking until the edges are golden or light brown; often, the recipe also specifies that centers should appear set (not jiggly and raw). In these cases, you can usually tell by simply taking a look at the cookies. Do not let the edges become dark brown, or the cookies will be overbaked.

Credit: Jason Donnelly
Try Our Classic Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

How to Tell When Peanut Butter Cookies Are Done

Like other drop cookies, peanut butter cookies and peanut butter blossoms are usually cooked until the edges are light brown. Because the peanut butter itself can make the cookies appear light brown, you might need to turn on the oven light or even take them out of the oven briefly for a quick closer look to check out the edges.

How to Tell When Gingerbread and Other Dark Cookies Are Done

When your cookie ingredients are especially dark in color (as is the case for molasses and gingerbread cookies), it can be hard to tell when the edges or bottoms are truly golden or dark brown. That’s when a touch test might help: Gently nudge them with a spatula or gently press the edges to make sure the edges are firm. A hint of brown may be noticeable on the edges.

Our Best Basic Chocolate Chip Cookies
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How to Tell When Chocolate Chip Cookies Are Done

Chocolate chip cookies are done when they have a firm golden edge or bottom and appear slightly set on top. If the edges become dark brown, they are overbaked. If edges aren't golden and tops are soft and shiny, bake a little longer.

23 of Our Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes

How to Tell When Brownies Are Done

Cake brownies, including buttermilk brownies (aka Texas sheet cake) are done when they are firm and start to pull away from the edges of the pan. These recipes may recommend inserting a toothpick into the center of brownies. When the toothpick comes out clean, the brownies are done! Fudgy brownies don't have a specific doneness test because there's no easy way to check that they are done. In most cases, these recipes give only one baking time and should be removed from the oven once the timer goes off.

How to Tell When Crumb-Topped Bars Are Done

Bar cookies with a crumb or streusel-type topping are done when the topping turns light brown. Even toppings made with brown sugar take on a golden color when the sugar caramelizes. Sometimes the bottom crust is partially baked before the filling and topping are added. Be sure to remove the crust from the oven as directed or the crust will burn when the bars are returned to the oven for the final baking.

Fudge Ecstasies cookies
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How to Know When Cookies Are Done in Special Cases

Although many cookies share similar characteristics and indications of doneness, others require entirely different visual cues for doneness. Here are two special cases in point:

Fudge Ecstasies: Fudge Ecstasies are chocolaty cookies that contain little flour, so the typical indicators for doneness won't work. These cookies are done when the edges are set and the tops have turned a dull color and crack. Always be sure to refer to the recipe to know how to test the cookies.

Shortbread: Although shortbread cookies are often done when the bottoms are brown, shortbread that is baked in a round or a wedge may break if you try to lift it to check the bottoms. These cookies are tender by nature and are fragile when warm. A good indication of doneness for these and other butter cookies is that the centers will become set and firm.

Troubleshooting Tips for Baking Cookies

If you find your cookies are always either underdone or overdone (even though you follow recipe timings to the letter), there are ways to guarantee a better bake next time.

  • Use an Oven Thermometer: An oven thermometer ($6, Bed Bath & Beyond) will help ensure that your oven temperature is accurate.
  • Use the Best Cookie Sheets: Our Test Kitchen offers spot-on tips for selecting cookie sheets to yield the best results. The cookie sheet ($15, Target) should be a light to medium color and have only one raised side (two max!) to allow air circulation.
  • Measure Dough Accurately: Make sure you make exactly the right amount of dough per cookie, as specified in your recipe. If you use more (or less) dough per cookie, you can easily underbake or overbake them. Try using a cookie scoop ($13, Crate & Barrel) to ensure perfectly portioned cookies.
  • Space Your Cookies Correctly: Be careful to places cookies on the cookie sheet as specified in the recipe. The spacing has been worked out to allow for spreading as well as even airflow around the cookies.
  • Bake One Sheet at a Time: Bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven, and bake only one cookie sheet at a time.
  • Let Cookies Cool on the Pan: If specified in the recipe, be sure to allow the cookies to stand on the cookie sheet after baking. This helps them set a bit more before you remove them to a wire rack ($10, Michaels) to cool.

Check out our full list of Test Kitchen tips for baking cookies. After you've got all your cookies cooled, make sure you store them properly to keep them tasting fresh. You can also freeze your cookies so none of that precious dough goes to waste.

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