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Testing for doneness: Brownies


Originally uploaded by chefrb

Nina asks: For some reason, I can’t make good brownies.   Even when I use the boxed mixes and follow the directions, the brownies are either underdone or overdone.   What is the solution?  Should I be making brownies from scratch?

Baking S.O.S. says: I have the same problem, too!  Brownies are tricky–it is always hard to tell when they are done, whether you bake them from a box mix or from scratch.

Keep in mind that no matter what you are baking, the recipe baking time is only a guideline.  Ovens vary in how hot they actually bake, so it is always a good idea to test your oven’s actual baking temperature with an oven thermometer periodically.

But oven variances aside, brownies are still one of the most difficult items to tell when they are done.  Regardless of whether you use a box mix or bake from scratch, there are 2 primary methods for testing the doneness of brownies:

  • the brownies should start pulling away from the sides of the pan, and
  • a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the pan should come out with moist by crumbly-looking crumbs on it.

If the wooden toothpick comes out still looking wet and gooey, the brownies are not done yet.

bottom toothpick: underbaked

top toothpick: done / bottom toothpick: underbaked

To test these methods further, I baked a box of brownie mix and followed the directions for the recommended baking time (24-26 minutes).  At 20 minutes, I checked the brownies, and they were still wet and gooey in the middle.  I returned them to the oven for an additional 5 minutes, and found that they STILL needed a little more time, so I baked them for 2 more minutes (for a grand total of 27 minutes), and then they were finally done.

The directions on the box mix said to use a toothpick inserted near the EDGE of the pan to test for doneness, but I disagree.  Every baked good will bake from the outside edges first and finally in the center last.  So the best place to test for doneness is always in the center–especially with brownies.  Even when brownies appear to be done near the edge of the pan, they can still be very wet and gooey in the center.

One other thing to keep in mind when checking for doneness on any baked good: If you do what I did and check frequently towards the end of the baking time, remember that your oven will lose quite a bit of heat every time you open and close the oven door which will in turn take more time for your oven to recover back to the original baking temperature.  The loss of heat will also cause your brownies (or other baked goods) to take longer to bake.  So the best way to test for doneness is not by baking time but by other methods (such as visual appearance and color, testing with a toothpick, etc.)

To avoid overbaking brownies, I would suggest that once you think the brownies are done, do not continue baking them “just to be sure.”  With any baked good, there is always a little bit of “carry-over baking”–meaning that the product will continue to bake a little further even after you remove it from the oven.

Good luck.  I hope this helps!

4 comments to Testing for doneness: Brownies

  • Ernest Lynn

    Excellent guide. MY wife has just finish calling me an idiot because I cooked her brownies another 2-3 minutes until toothpick was clean.

  • Audrey Adora

    Oh God! Thanks for the tip. I baked a recipe three times since yesterday and i still get that gooey thing in the middle. It is kind of disheartening. 🙁

  • Mark P

    I hadn’t baked brownies in probably a decade and I always had good help (mom or grandma). And I am all about the finished product when baking. My wife even generally asks me to do the baking part for our other baked goods. I don’t do a lot of baking, but I don’t recall ever getting that precise of a detailed set of instructions for when brownies are done! Awesome tips and it just worked for me!!
    Thank you.

  • Great! Happy to help 🙂

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