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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake It: Make-It-Mine Oatmeal Cookies
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.
Bake It: Peanut Butter Cookies
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bake It: Classic Shortbread
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: