Ultimate Guide to Perfect Brownie Doneness

No matter if you’re making a box mix or from-scratch brownie recipe, it can sometimes be a little tricky to hit that perfectly fudgy or cakey sweet spot between undercooked and over-baked brownies. While I believe that essentially any brownie is a good brownie, making sure you know when to take the brownies out of the oven can make the difference between a good brownie and great brownie.

What Is the Toothpick Test for Brownies?

To test for doneness with a toothpick, insert a toothpick into the center of the brownies and pull it back out. 

For fudgy brownies, you’ll want to see some moist crumbs attached to the toothpick when you pull it back out. If it looks like it’s covered in brownie batter, the brownies will need to bake a bit longer. If the toothpick is totally clean, the brownies may already be over-baked. 

For cakey brownies, you’re looking for a toothpick that is clean or has just a few crumbs attached. 

How to Tell if Brownies Are Done Without a Toothpick

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No toothpick? No problem. For cakey brownies, you’ll be looking for brownies that are evenly dry on top with edges that are starting to pull away from the sides of the pan. 

Fudgy brownies can be a bit more difficult to judge without using something to test for doneness in the middle. You can use a butter knife to test for doneness – as with the toothpick, you’ll want to make sure you don’t have an excessive amount of batter clinging to the knife. Just know that it can be harder to look for that “few crumbs attached” level of doneness with a butter knife. Other alternatives for toothpicks include cake testers (they’re reusable!) or wooden skewers, like you might use for kabobs. 

Fudgy vs. Undercooked Brownies

Want to make sure that your brownies are still fudgy but not raw? The truth is, fudgy brownies are slightly undercooked. The key is to make sure the center of the brownies is set and that the toothpick doesn’t look too gooey when you remove it from the brownies.

How Long Should You Let Brownies Cool?

It can be difficult to resist a warm, gooey brownie straight from the oven, but letting the brownies cool for at least an hour before cutting them helps the brownies set in the middle, especially if you’re following a recipe for fudgy brownies.

For a perfect cut on your brownies, try refrigerating them before cutting – it’s much easier to achieve perfect squares when a brownie is firm from the fridge.  

If you’re adding a frosting to your brownies, you’ll want to make sure the brownies are fully cooled first, or the residual heat from the brownies will melt the frosting. 

When Should You Remove Brownies From the Pan?

Brownies will be easiest to remove from the pan when they are fully cooled, because they will be fully set and firm. If you want to be able to remove the brownies from the pan without cutting them first, you can line the pan with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides of the pan. Once the brownies are fully cooled, use the parchment to carefully lift them out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board.

More Tips for Making Sure Your Brownies Will Be Perfectly Cooked:

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  • Make sure you’re using the same size pan that the recipe does. Shifting from a 13×9-inch pan to a 9×9-inch pan will give you thicker brownies that will likely take longer to bake (if all of the batter even fits into the smaller pan). Note that the material your pan is made out of will also make a difference, as brownies in a glass baking dishes or pans with a very dark coating tend to bake a bit faster than a lighter-colored pan. 
  • Start checking for doneness at the beginning of the bake time range, or even a minute or two early. Most home ovens are not perfectly calibrated (running at the temperature the oven is set for), and if your oven is running hot, your brownies may bake faster than what the recipe says. 
  • Speaking of oven temperatures, use an oven thermometer to check how hot your oven really is when it says it’s reached the temperature listed in the recipe. Check your manual – some ovens can be calibrated easily by yourself, but if yours cannot, you can make adjustments by setting your oven higher or lower as needed.