When the timer is about to buzz on a cake in the oven and you realize you have no toothpicks to test cake doneness, fear not! There’s a good chance you have something else in your kitchen that will work. Learn about our favorite toothpick substitutes plus a few other tricks for when you have no toothpicks to check your baked goods.

By Wini Moranville
Updated January 08, 2021
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When testing to see if cakes are done, toothpicks are the go-to tool. For the classic cake toothpick test, you simply insert a wooden toothpick near the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Yes, the baking toothpick test is really that easy. Provided, of course, you have a toothpick at the ready. If you open your cupboard to find you've run out of this no-tech tool, we have other options you can use to check your baked goods. Still, it's not a bad idea to add toothpicks to your shopping list.

Credit: Andy Lyons

Our Favorite Alternative to Toothpicks

If you’re in the middle of making, say, your best-ever chocolate cake and you don't have a toothpick to check cake doneness, a thin, sharp knife ($12, Target) is our Test Kitchen's favorite work-around. Look at your knife set and find the one with the thinnest blade. Then insert the blade into the center of the cake. If the knife comes out clean, the cake is done. If batter or crumbs stick to the blade, let your cake bake a few minutes more and retest with a clean knife.

Other Ways to Test Baked Goods Without a Toothpick

We know you've got a knife in your kitchen already, which is one reason it's our favorite alternative to toothpicks, but there are additional options.

  • Thin bamboo skewers. Wooden skewers ($2, Target) you might use for grilling, are a little thicker than toothpicks, but they’ll work just fine for a cake test.
  • Cake-testers. Yes, there is a tool specifically made for testing cakes. These metal picks, like this OXO one ($5, Sur la Table) work great as cake toothpick test alternatives. Plus, you can wash and reuse them, so you’ll always have a toothpick alternative on hand.

What about the fork toothpick trick? Truth be told, most table forks have tines that are too close together to work as a good alternative to toothpicks. A better is choice is a carving fork ($10, Bed Bath & Beyond). Thanks to the wide space between the two tines, you’ll be able to easily see any telltale crumbs or batter.

Credit: Scott Little

Beyond the Baking Toothpick Test

For some cake recipes, a toothpick test isn’t the best way to determine doneness. Be sure to read the recipe method closely to find out exactly what kind of doneness test to use.

For example, when baking a sponge cake or a chiffon cake, you can determine doneness by touching the top lightly with your finger. If the top springs back, the cake is done. You’ll need no toothpick to test cake doneness when baking angel food cakes, either. Instead, an angel food cake is done when it turns a golden color and springs back when lightly touched.

The cake toothpick test has saved many of us from overbaking cakes; in fact, it remains the doneness test that our Test Kitchen uses most often. And, yet, there’s a reason toothpicks are not on our list of essential baking tools every home cook needs: There are great alternatives to toothpicks that work just fine.


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