Is it done?
The scariest part of baking for me is knowing when cookies or cakes need to come out of the oven.
Cakes are done at 195 to 205 degrees F. Cheese cake is done at 160 to 165 degrees.
Soft breads like challah are generally done at 180 to 190 degrees. Other breads should bake to 200 to 210 degrees.
I have read that brownies are done anywhere from 165 to 225 degrees--not too helpful. Here I try to follow the recipe to the letter regarding pan size and baking temperature. For a fudgy brownie, a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the pan can have some wet batter on it as long as it has a few dry crumbs.
Cookies can be difficult especially if they're dark in color. We weigh out the dough for each cookie (usually an ounce). The dough has usually been chilled and comes out of the refrigerator about a half hour before baking. This consistency helps standardize cookie baking time. Look for "wetness" to disappear. Cookies that are more done looking can come off the tray early. Watch for edges just starting to brown on pale cookies. For dark cookies, just get to know the recipe and be consistent. If you handle the dough the same each time, the baking time should be the same each time.
Recipes and cookbooks often suggest various ways to check for doneness. Tapping on the bottom of a loaf of bread and listening for a hollow sound is a common one; "springing back quickly" when touched by a fingertip is a test for cakes. The color of cookies or cakes is another suggestion. But what does "hollow" sound like? How quickly is "quickly"? How brown is "golden brown" -- closer to gold, or to brown? Subjective measures aren't very helpful.
We have several different instant-read thermometers in our kitchen. Our favorite one is digital; there's no guessing as to what the temperature is, and it registers quickly. Best of all, it turns off automatically after a few minutes; we've had others that had to be turned off by the user, and we invariably would forget to do so -- and in 24 hours, the expensive battery was dead.Make sure your thermometer is accurate; an inaccurate thermometer is useless. You can calibrate your thermometer in ice water; the thermometer should read 32˚F. Instructions for calibrating are usually included with the thermometer.
Get a thermometer you trust, and have fun baking!