I’m often surprised how little has changed over the past hundred-years. I recently was browsing through a hundred-year-old home economics textbook, and came across a section on how to tell whether a cake was done. As I read, I’m mentally noting the similarities between then and now – cake springs back when lightly touched, toothpick comes out clean. And, then suddenly the text thrusts me into a whole different world of how to test whether a cake is done. . . .
Tests to Determine Whether a Cake is Done
Experienced cake-makers have various tests to determine when a cake is done. One touches the top lightly with her finger, and if the dent made springs back quickly she knows the cake is done. If the dent remains, she knows the cake batter is still too soft.
Another housewife depends entirely upon a broom-splint or one of the modern toothpicks. She thrusts one of these into the center of the cake, and if it is the least bit sticky when it is taken out she knows that the cake needs more baking. A box of toothpicks is rather a necessary part of kitchen equipment – not to be used as the name indicates, but for testing cakes and similar uses. It is much more sanitary to use a toothpick than a broom splint, unless a wisp-broom is kept expressly for this purpose.
How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie A. Long (1914)
56 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Ways to Tell Whether a Cake is Done”
I absolutely remember using broom splints to test for doneness!
Interesting. . . I don’t think I ever heard of using broom splints to test how done cakes are until I read about it in the old book.
Before I read your entry, I thought: finger, toothpick, edges. I have a couple of cakes that show their doneness by pulling away from the edges of the pan. Some cakes are overdone at that point, but it occurs to me that the ones I use that method for are heavily laden with fruit, etc.
Grandma called it a broomstraw, and used one regularly.
I agree- another good indication of when a cake is done is when it pulls away from the edges of the pan.
Never used a broom straw. Always did the finger touch test. Chuckled over the sanitary tip . 🙂
I also chuckled over the sanitary tip. People were becoming more aware of germs a hundred years ago.
I agree. It’s amazing how telling a cake being done is the same regardless of century or ingredients. Mom used toothpicks and had them always on the shelf at our house.
Every time I bake a cake, I think of my Mom and how she made us children behave when she had a cake in the oven, so it wouldn’t fall.
Your comment reminded me of how my mother used to say that I shouldn’t open the oven door to check on a cake until it was almost done because opening the door would jar the oven and make the cake fall.
I also thought the broom splint would be unsanitary. A thin butter knife works well too.
Good suggestion – I use a knife to check whether custard pies are done, but I never thought of using it to check whether a cake was done.
Just maybe better than broom splints!
I’m thinking they used the upper end of the broom straw to stick in the cake. Still…
I guess that the upper end of the broom straw is slightly more sanitary than the other end. . . still. . . 🙂
Broom splints? Nah, I’ll continue to use my mother’s old skewers which are almost certainly almost a century old.
It’s cool that you use the same skewers that your mother used years ago.
Toothpicks is the tool my wife uses in the kitchen. I can recall my mother and grandmother also using toothpicks.
Like you, I can only remember my mother and grandmother using toothpicks.
I have used touch and toothpicks on cakes, but I own several cake testers now. Only one is necessary, but I lost one several times and now have three or four if I can find them. They are slender metal probes with a plastic holder at one end. I’m enjoying your posts, Sheryl.
Thanks for the kind words. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoy the posts. I’ve never tried using a cake tester. Maybe I’ll have to buy one sometime.
I have a cake tester but wood or straw shows moisture better than smooth metal.
That’s good to know. I already have too many gadgets in my kitchen drawers. I think that I will just stick with toothpicks.
Simple is best!
None of the above. My recollections don’t go back far enough. I only remember the put the knife in and if it comes out clean…cake is done. If there remains some tell tale batter, cook a tad longer.
I’m not sure why, but I use a toothpick to test cakes and a knife to test custard pies.
Indeed not much has changed, except for maybe the use of “a broom-splint”… I found it funny when I read that toothpicks were considered “modern”. 🙂
I suppose that many modern things in 2016 will be considered old-fashioned in another hundred years. 🙂
I’m sure of it, just never though about toothpicks this way. 🙂
I do remember when people used broom straws. It seems insane. But today I just read that the new blow hand dryers in public restrooms shoot germs out 3 meters. I guess we can’t get away from germs, even if we use clean toothpicks for cake testing (which I just did yesterday).
I think that I read the same article you read. There are so many things to worry about. 🙂
That is so true!
My family has always used toothpicks.
So has mine.
I think I will buy a “wisp broom” especially for cake testing. Toothpicks are always too short for my bundt cakes. 😁
🙂 . . . or you may need to splurge on a modern “cake tester.”
Have used both a broomstraw (only the “top” end though) as well as toothpicks.
It’s interesting that you’ve used both. I don’t think that I ever heard of using broomstraw until I read about it in the old book.
I remember broom splints too. Now I use shush kabob sticks.
I’m surprised how many readers have used broom splints. The apparently were more commonly used than what I realized when I wrote the post. Shish kabob sticks sound like a good idea.
We had a special broom just for baking. But, the shish kabob sticks work too, they are just thicker so they leave a bigger hole.
I stick a sharp steak knife in the center.
I’ve never used a knife to test whether a cake is done. I may have to give it a try.
Nowadays, that is the only usage my toothpicks have😊
Once in a while I’ll also use them to clean dust and dirt out of a small crack.
Lol….ah yes, they are great for those small crevices😊
Aside from the broom splint, that’s exactly the way I was taught to tell if a cake is done. And I still do it that way. I wonder if this method will still be used one hundred years from now?
hmm. . . that’s an interesting question. I’m voting that they still use toothpicks to test for whether a cake is done in 2116. 🙂
These are the ways I’ve always tested a cake, too … well, the fingertip and the toothpick anyway. That is fascinating about the broom splint!
I also found the broom splint fascinating (and slightly alarming). 🙂
My grandmothers up in Sweden and Finland used matches to see whether or not a cake was done and I remember my mom using them as well. I had never heard of boom splints being used.
I never would have thought of using matches, but I bet that they worked very well.
Fun post. I think the broom straw went deeper, so they thought that the true test, and my mom used once in awhile but I don’t think she really used the broom so it seemed ok (she preferred the vac). But she taught me the toothpick thing and I still do that if I am not positive it is done.
Interesting. . . makes sense that since the broom straw is longer that it can better test whether the cake is done.
I remember my mother using a broom straw to test her cakes. Yes, very unsanitary!
Your memories (and the memories of several other readers) verify that people actually used broom straws to test whether a cake was done. It’s interesting how some of the methods for testing cakes have changed across the years.
Broom-splint is a new term for me. I’ve often wondered about the challenges of controlling temperatures (during baking) at the turn of the century and earlier.
My general sense is that it was very difficult to control oven temperatures in wood and coal stoves. They could control the fire somewhat to create a “hot” oven or a “medium” one, but was very different from our modern thermostat-controlled ovens.