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How do you know when bread is done baking?

baked loaf of sourdough

With cakes and muffins, it is easy to stick a toothpick into the top to check for doneness, or to simply touch the top of the cake with a fingertip and see if it has set and springs back into place. With cookies, you can usually tell just by looking at them, and if you can’t, you can again touch an edge to see if it is slightly firm and set. Breads are much trickier. They have thick outer crusts that you can’t see through or feel through, and it is incredibly disappointing to let a loaf cool down for hours, finally slice into it and discover that it is underbaked.

Pro bakers (and many ammies) have baked enough bread to know when bread is done through feel and repetition. For the rest of us, the generic “tap the bottom of the loaf and if it sounds hollow, it’s done!” direction given in some cookbooks isn’t exactly enough. Nor is it enough to rely on the time range given without some kind of test, because ovens can vary widely in baking ability.

Fortunately, there is one reliable way and all you need is a meat thermometer. A fully baked loaf of bread will have an internal temperature of about 200F (or 94C), so just insert the thermometer into the center of the loaf and check the temp. If it’s not quite up to 200F, leave it in the oven for another few minutes. I always insert the thermometer through the bottom of the loaf, not the top. A chef once told me that this was simply the proper way to do it, so the steam inside of the bread doesn’t ruin the top crust. I don’t know how accurate this reason is, as I’ve never had any steam problems with my breads since I’ve been using a meat thermometer on them, but because I’m concerned with the aesthetic problems that putting a hole in the top of a loaf would cause, I’ll stick to going through the bottom of the loaf just in case.

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  • breadchick
    February 22, 2008

    200 F is good for white breads but whole wheat/whole grain breads will still be slightly gooey at 200F in the center. 205 – 210 is better for these breads. For sweet breads you really only want 190 degrees as if you wait to 200, you will over cook them and make them tough.

    Even as dedicated bread baker, I always check with a thermometer

  • RecipeGirl
    February 22, 2008

    Good info. to know (and the additional from Breadchick’s comment too). Thanks!

  • a. grace
    February 22, 2008

    thanks for the tips, nicole and breadchick!! i’ve had trouble in the past with doughy bread. it’s just not what i would call appetizing…

  • Ella
    February 22, 2008

    Anyone have a tip on getting to the proper internal temp without getting a burnt crust? I bake sourdough most often and I always check with a thermometer. I know that taking it out when the crust looks right will result in a doughy loaf, but leaving it in until it’s the right temp always gives me a charred crust. The crumb is great but the crust isn’t. For other yeast loaves, both the crust and crumb are fine but they always take way longer than the recipe calls for. I do have an oven thermometer so I know that’s not the problem. Thanks for any help!

  • Gretchen Noelle
    February 22, 2008

    Great info on the brink of a baking weekend for me. Thanks!

  • breadchick
    February 22, 2008

    Ella, when i notice my crust is getting too dark but my internal temp isn’t where it needs to be, I just put a sheet of foil over the top in a tent shape (you don’t want to seal it because it will trap steam in the bread) It keeps the crust from getting to dark and lets you bread finish.

  • Curt
    February 23, 2008

    I have gotten so used to using a thermometer for doing barbecue that it just seemed natural to do it for bread, too… and I’m really glad to have a Thermapen for quick checks so I don’t lose too much heat while checking.

  • HoneyB
    February 23, 2008

    Hi there, I have never heard of the thermometer test before, but I like it! Another hint: My mom always told me that I should tap on the loaf of bread and if it sounded hollow, then it was done. That has always worked for me.

  • Mary
    February 23, 2008

    I always use the thermometer after reading about it on an earlier post of yours….the bread in your picture is too distracting…I want some!

  • Elyse
    February 24, 2008

    Instant read thermometers are very inexpensive. They don’t even have to be digital. Professional cooks use their instant read thermometers constantly. Using one would be much better and more accurate than using a meat thermometer – which is slower to register and makes a big hole

  • lcsa99
    February 25, 2008

    The one I just ordered for myself should hopefully arrive this week 🙂 I’ve never had the need for it before, but I’ve been cooking bread so much more this year so now it is a necessity.

  • Julie
    March 10, 2009

    Thanks a lot for the advice. I only have the doughy problem with dark bread and will try the thermometer and the tent foil. This was great, thanks for posting it.

  • Jena
    June 21, 2009

    I’m making cinnamon bread today, and as I pulled the bread out, I realized that I couldn’t tell if the bread was done or not. (It’s been months since I last made bread by hand.) Thanks for this post! My husband bought me an all-purpose digital thermometer a couple weeks ago while I was doing something that required boiling sugar and water (and my candy thermometer broke after just one use)–it’s been pretty handy to have on hand, just in the last two weeks!

    January 22, 2010


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    March 22, 2010

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  • Myles
    April 21, 2010

    yoooo i bake bread by cooking it with 1000 degrees celcius and then i cool it with a blow dryer then go on world of warcraft for 10 minutes, put some cow meat on it and enjoy but quite yuk 🙁 try it now!

  • Jeff
    April 21, 2010

    I added tomatoe sauce, lots of garlic, olive oil, and oregano. Yuck, the crust tated awful. Any idea why?

  • Jeff
    April 21, 2010

    I added tomatoe sauce, lots of garlic, olive oil, and oregano. Yuck, the crust tated awful. Any idea why?

  • Missay
    November 22, 2011

    Thanks for the suggestions. I beak bread often so I put the temps for the different types of bread on the inside cover of my cook book.

  • warren
    October 13, 2012

    thanks for the tip

  • lou
    May 23, 2013

    hi, so where do pro bakers insert the meat thermometer? through the top? or the side? your artical is not very clear on this.

  • lou
    May 23, 2013

    breadchick- i have a recipe for a cinamon swirl white bread, would the temp for this be the same as for white bread?

    also the temperatures youve given for breads i assume are degrees f?


  • Nicole
    May 24, 2013

    Lou – Once you have baked a particular bread recipe a number of times, you’ll get a feel for when it is done and that is how professional bakers work. And yes, the temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

    This recipe might help you out when it comes to baking times and temperatures for cinnamon swirl bread: http://bakingbites.com/2005/11/cooking-school-cinnamon-swirl-bread/

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