Hundred-Year-Old Ways to Tell Whether a Cake is Done


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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

    1. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

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