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

Many cookie recipes give you a detailed description of how the cookies should look when they are finished baking, so it's important to read your recipe before you start—even if you're an experienced baker. 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.

How to tell if sugar cookies are done? Give them a nudge with a spatula. The edges should be firm.

How to Tell When Sugar Cookies Are Done: The Spatula Test

Recipes for sugar cookie cutouts often call for baking until the edges are firm. If that’s the case with your recipe, this is how to tell when sugar cookies are done: The cookies should look set up and no longer appear soft and melty. To determine how firm a cookie's edges are, you can gently nudge them with a spatula or lightly press the edges.

For Peanut Butter Blossoms and some sugar cookies, light-brown bottoms indicate perfect doneness.

How to Tell When Sugar Cookies Are Done: The Light Brown Bottom Test

Some recipes for sugar cookies, as well as pale cookies like spritz cookies, sandies, and peanut butter blossoms (pictured) 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 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 also specifies that centers should appear set (not jiggly and raw). In such cases, you can often tell by simply taking a look at the cookies. Do not let the edges become dark brown, or the cookies will be overbaked.

How to tell if peanut butter cookies are done? Take a look—the edges should be light brown.

How to Tell When Peanut Butter Cookies Are Done

Like other drop cookies, peanut butter cookies 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.

A quick poke with your figure can help tell if the edges of dark-colored cookies are firm.

How to Tell When Gingerbread, Molasses, Chocolate Cookies, or 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.

The toothpick test works for cake brownies, but not for fudgy brownies.

How to Tell When Brownies Are Done

Cake Brownies: 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: 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.

A light brown topping is what you’re looking for with crumb-topped bar cookies.

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 are done when the tops appear dull (not shiny) and crackled.

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:

How to Tell When Fudge Ecstasies Are Done: 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.

Bake It: Fudge Ecstasies

How to Tell When Shortbread Is Done: 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.

Cookie sheet with one raised edge for better airflow

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—perhaps you need to bone up on these cookie-baking basics:

  • Use an Oven Thermometer: This will help ensure that your oven temperature is accurate.
  • Use the Best Cookie Sheets: For best results, use shiny, heavy-gauge cookie sheets with low or no sides. Avoid dark cookie sheets, which can cause cookie bottoms to overbrown. Do not use jelly-roll pans or other pans with high rims; such pans will not allow your cookies to bake evenly. Also, to ensure even baking, use a cookie sheet that fits in the oven with at least 1 inch to spare all around.  Finally, replace cookie sheets that are warped or dark from too many years of baked-on grease.
  • 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.
  • Space Your Cookies Correctly: Be careful to places cookies on the cookie sheet exactly as specified in the recipe. The spacing has been worked out to allow for spreading of the dough 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 rack to cool.


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