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What does “bake until just set” mean?

Cheesecake SliceOne very common phrase in baking is the direction to “bake until just set.” This phrase tends to mean slightly different things for different baked goods, although you’ll see the same instruction for brownies, cookies, cheesecakes and custards.

For cookies, baking until just set means that the edges of the cookie should be slightly firm or dry to the touch and the top of the cookie should no longer look wet. In other words, it shouldn’t still feel like raw cookie dough if you gently touch it with your finger. This instruction is most often given with chewy cookies, or fudgy and brownie-like chocolate cookies where you want to make sure that the finished cookie is not overdone and the amount of browning around the edge does not necessarily give you a definitive result on how done it is.

For cheesecakes and custards, where the term is used even more frequently, it is a little more difficult to  determine when something is “just set,” although with a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to spot it very easily. Cheesecakes and custards are never cooked until they are firm. Instead, you need to jiggle the pan slightly and see how the batter moves. It will jiggle slightly and evenly over the whole surface, not just at the center. If you’ve ever made jello and seen how it firms up more quickly at the edges than at the center, use that as a reference because that is exactly how cheesecakes and custards set up – from the outside to the center. So, watch to see that the center doesn’t look significantly looser than the rest of the cheesecake when you give the pan a nudge and you’ll have a cheesecake that is done perfectly when you take it out of the oven.

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  • A lot of people struggle with cooking (especially baking) terminology…and it leads to disaster in the kitchen or worse – a fear of trying! Great post.

  • dani
    January 20, 2010

    thanks for the explanation! i read a recipe yesterdya and was actually wondering what exactly it meant 🙂

  • Kristy
    June 6, 2010

    I’ve got my first cheesecake in the oven and wasn’t sure if it was done or not. This was very helpful, thank you!

  • Derrick
    December 9, 2011

    Verry helpful, the cookies I baked turned out perfect. Thankyou

  • David E. Wright
    March 11, 2012

    Thanks a bunch!
    I am retired and teaching myself how to bake cookies, sandwich cookies, muffins, brownies, biscotti, and banana type cakes, etc. . This has been one of the “mystery wordings” that kept coming up.

    Thanks to you, I now have the answer. You did an excellent job of putting the info into readable and understandable wording. No 200 dollar words or ones that needs a dictionary to understand.

    God job!!

    Thanks again,
    David E.

  • Ivonne Marie
    November 28, 2013

    Thank you so much. You have saved my life!

  • […] It is important for the oven cooking time has to be just right, especially when it comes to the custard. The experience was like eating a square flan, but with spices thrown in. Cinnamon and sugar were […]

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