Baking is an activity that involves all of your senses. You have to look at your dough to see if it has doubled in volume, feel the bread as you knead it in order to nail the right level of elasticity, and smell the air to make sure nothing’s burning. Taste… well, obviously. And according to Peter—the first star baker of this season of The Great British Bake Off—you should listen to your cakes to see if they’re done baking.
Actually, this slice of wisdom goes back further than this season. As he explains in his voiceover, Peter (a 20 year-old accounting and finance student from Edinburgh) learned the trick from a series three (“season three” in American) contestant when he was but a tween:
“John Whaite on series three of Bake Off—he said that his mum taught him to listen to it. If it’s still wet, then it’s going to sound like it’s boiling away. But if it’s just a nice, moist cake it’s just got a gentle, gentle sound to it.”
This makes sense. If your cake still has a lot of water inside of it, that water is going to be changing from liquid to vapor, and it’s going to make noise. After most of it has evaporated or been absorbed by starch, etc., it’s going to make less noise.
You may have to calibrate your ear the first couple of times, so listen to your cake at a couple of different points, taking note of how it sounds when you know it is definitely under-baked, and use other cues to help you identify that perfectly done point. (Wait to listen towards the end of your baking time however, otherwise your cake may fall.) Once you’ve got it dialed in, you’ll have one more sense you can use when baking—and as someone who still experiences a fair amount of anxiety around baking, I personally welcome this sonic yardstick.
Updated 10/01/2020 12:58pm EST: Changed language to more accurately represent what is going on inside the cake and to caution against opening the oven too soon.