How-To & Diy

Why Toothpicks Are the Best Cake Testers

March 24, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Our foremothers were on to something -- Alice explains why we should ditch our metal cake testers.

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I’ve always heard that our foremothers used broom straws to test cakes. I’m not old enough (or perhaps rural enough) to have actually seen this done, but I have always trusted that the straws used to test cakes were clean and had not yet been turned into a broom, or, if a straw was plucked from a working broom, it was the top end that was used for cake testing rather than the sweeping end.   

Today, a wooden toothpick or skinny bamboo skewer (such as those used for making satay) is my cake tester of choice. Forget those metal things sold as “cake testers”. I would rather pluck a broom straw from (the clean end of) a working broom than use one of those. 

Here’s why: Different types of cakes require different kinds of “doneness”. For some brownies and gooey chocolate tortes we might want the cake tester to come out with moist crumbs or a bit of thickened (not too runny) batter, for other cakes we may be looking for a clean dry tester or a moist-but-clean tester. Moisture shows, and batter and moist crumbs are more likely to cling to a straw or wooden tester. Metal testers are too slippery -- they don’t reveal as much of what is really going on inside the cake as a toothpick, or bamboo skewer, or (probably) a clean broom straw!   

More: 14 chocolate cakes. Get testing.

Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 


Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joyce Falvo
    Joyce Falvo
  • Carrie Earl Williams
    Carrie Earl Williams
  • citlalnahuac
  • joan
  • THEToughCookie
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Joyce F. October 9, 2017
Can you tell me what the cake in the tube pan is, where there is the toothpick tester? It looks like a chocolate marble cake or maybe cream cheese? Looks delicious!
Carrie E. June 28, 2015
Every other year I buy my sister, the Chef, and myself a new "cake tester" broom from an Amish broom maker who comes to our school's Christmas Bazaar - it's made specifically for that purpose and comes with a hangar as well to keep it on the side of the fridge! Perfect cakes and brownies every time!
citlalnahuac April 30, 2014
Well, I guess I'm older than you… My grandmother _did_ use a broom straw, which she pulled out of the broom and washed off before starting to mix the cake. She was a Missouri farm girl at the turn of the 20th century, though, so maybe the 'rural' part has something in it, too.
joan March 25, 2014
My Mom always used a toothpick, and so have I.
THEToughCookie March 25, 2014
You know who benefits from metal cake testers? Their manufacturers.
Tereza March 25, 2014
It's how my mother taught me to test cakes! Works everytime
ButterSugarFlowers March 24, 2014
Agreed! Toothpicks or skinny wooden skewers are the best.
Kathryn March 24, 2014
I've found that a piece of spaghetti or angel hair pasta can work well in a pinch!
Erica B. March 24, 2014
Totally agree! Also, I've had cakes fall to pieces using a knife as a cake tester! Back to the toothpick!