Baking really is a science, so because there is nothing better than fresh baked bread right out of the oven, let's do some science. If you've tried to bake bread before but hard a hard time telling when it finished baking, you're not alone. Gummy, underdone bread is not a good thing, but if you're not an experienced baker, it's hard to know how to tell if bread is done.
Good recipes will give you some guidance, and a little practice will make it even easier. However, baking bread is like arms control: Trust, but verify. You have to use your senses of smell, sight, and sound, but double-checking the interior temperature is always the best idea to check the doneness of bread.
First, a small caveat. This guide is for yeast breads. Quick breads like muffins are a different thing, and you can usually use the cake method for them (if a knife or toothpick comes out clean, it's done). But you can't use that method for yeast breads. Fortunately, we've got three easy ways how to tell if bread is done, and one of them is absolutely foolproof.
Method one: The visual check
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It's impossible to miss the smell of baking bread, but when bread is done, you should be able to see it, too. Most breads will have a crispy, golden-brown crust when done. If it's a darker bread, the crust will be more on the darker brown end of the spectrum. If the surface of the bread isn't firm, the bread isn't done. The bread will pull away from the side of the pan, too, if it's in a loaf pan.
Method two: The soundcheck
This doneness test sounds strange until you try it and hear the hollow thump for the first time. To test this method, pull the bread out of the oven. Turn the loaf of bread upside down (if it's in a pan, take it out first). Hold the bread in one hand and use your other thumb to thump the bottom of the loaf. It's a little like tapping a watermelon to find a ripe one. If you hear a hollow sound from the center of the loaf, you can tell the bread is done.
Method three: The temperature check
Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread. This method is virtually foolproof because it doesn't matter what your oven temperature is, the size or shape of the loaf or what type of bread it is.
Your bread recipe should give you the ideal temperature range for your bread. Because baking time may vary if your oven isn't calibrated perfectly, check to see how your bread is looking and then use a thermometer (it doesn't have to be an expensive type of instant-read thermometer either) to test the exact temperature.
If the internal temperature of the bread says the bread is done, but the crust isn't golden brown yet, it's okay to put it back in the oven for a minute or two.
Now that you know how to tell if the bread is done, get to baking!