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Are you over-baking your gluten-free cakes?

Why the toothpick test can be deceiving...

Written by
Robyn Harrison
Published on
July 24, 2022
Time to read

I love cake. Any kind of cake; I’m not picky. I love gluten-free chocolate cake, lemon cake, carrot cake—gimme cake, and I’m happy. What I don’t like? Gluten-free cakes that are dry.

If you’re wondering why your gluten-free cakes are turning out dry, there may be a couple of reasons why… and the toothpick test could be one of them.

Ah, the toothpick test: one of the classic ways of determining whether your cake has finished baking. Just pop that toothpick—or a fancy “cake tester”—into the centre of your cake, and if it comes out clean, it’s ready!

But does this hold true for gluten-free cakes?

Short answer: sometimes.

Long answer: if you want to ensure you’re not over-baking your gluten-free cakes, read on!

Why your toothpick may be lying

With gluten-free baking, we use a combination of gluten-free flours, starches, and a binder (like xanthan gum). These ingredients take longer to set than regular gluten-containing flour, meaning they may remain slightly “gummy” or sticky until they have cooled.

That’s why when you test your gluten-free cakes with a toothpick, even if it looks done, your toothpick might not come out completely clean!

Certain combinations of these ingredients may take longer to set than others. For example, if you’re using a gluten-free flour blend that is chickpea-based, it may set more quickly than one that is rice-based.

That’s why the toothpick test works sometimes, but if you rely on it exclusively, you risk over-baking your cakes.

Here’s what to do instead:

Set your timer

This is probably obvious, but I’ll say it just in case: the best way to have your cake turn out on the first try is to set a timer and follow a tested recipe. If the recipe gives a range, like 25-30 minutes, check on it after 25 minutes using the tips below, and leave it in longer if necessary.

Check the edges

The first thing I look for to assess if my gluten-free cake has finished baking is to check and see if the cake has pulled away from the edges of the pan.

Robyn points out the slight gap that appears along the edge of the pan when a gluten-free cake has finished baking

If it’s a yes, then move on to the next step:

Touch the centre

If your timer has gone off and the edges have pulled away, lightly touch the centre of the cake with your finger (don’t burn yourself… I’m not liable!). If it gently springs back when you touch it, it should be ready to take out; if it doesn’t spring back, give it another few minutes in the oven.

Robyn gently taps the top centre of the gluten-free chocolate cake to check that it is has finished baking

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

Never fear: I’m not suggesting you throw out the toothpick test altogether. There’s no harm in giving it a try! Heck, I still use it when I’m testing out new recipes to check doneness (apparently that’s a real word‽).

Ultimately, the toothpick test is just one data source to rely upon: with the trio—toothpick, edges, & centre—you can reliably know your gluten-free baked goods are, well, baked!

If your toothpick comes out with wet batter on it, your cake definitely needs more time. If it comes out with a couple of crumbs stuck to it—but passes the edge check and centre check—it should be ready to come out of the oven.

Learn to make the perfect gluten-free cake

Can’t seem to find the perfect gluten-free cake recipe? Or totally new to baking and want to learn how to make a never-fail, versatile gluten-free cake? Check out The Essentials Course.

(You’ll also learn how to make gluten-free french bread, pizza crust, biscuits, cookies, and pie crust! 🤤)

Here’s what people are saying about my scrumptious gluten-free chocolate cake:

"I couldn’t believe how easy this was to make and how fantastic it was to eat. My husband and our friends all agreed that this is the best chocolate cake they have ever had. And it’s even good the next day!” — Susan
“The cake was AMAZING! … I have made another rice flour cake before ... and my mother-in-law didn't care for it. She really likes this one. A lot of other family members liked it as well and were surprised it was gluten free.” — Melissa
“My chocolate cake turned out amazing this weekend! I used the chocolate cake recipe and filled it with a raspberry buttercream and raspberry curd. It was delicious and loved by everyone! No complaints about it being gluten free ☺️” — Natalie

If you have any questions about baking gluten-free cakes (or just baking gluten-free), please don’t hesitate to email me.

Happy baking!

Robyn Harrison

Robyn is a baker based just outside of Toronto, Canada. She comes from several generations of award-winning bakers. After her celiac diagnosis in 2016, and her doctor's advice to “Say good-bye to bread!”, her gluten-free journey began. She is the founder of Robyn's Gluten-free Baking Courses and Robyn's Gluten-free Living. Her mission is to raise the bar for gluten-free baking; “good enough” is no longer good enough.