A dry, crumbly cake when you've been anticipating a wedge of tender perfection is a very sad thing. It can take practice (and a good recipe!) to know exactly when you've reached cake nirvana and should take it out of the oven, but here are four little clues to help you out.
1. When the Sides Pull Away: The cake is usually done when you see the sides of the cake just start to pull away from the pan. The outer edges will look dry and you'll see a gap forming between the edge of the cake and the side of the pan.
2. When the Cake is Pillowy: The middle of the cake should feel springy and pillowy if you gently press your finger against it. One of my baking instructors used to say that cakes are done when they're so pillowy that you could take a nap on it!
3. When a Cake Tester Comes Out Clean: Any thin skewer can be used as a cake tester, but many bakers just use a simple toothpick. If you insert it into the center of the cake, it should come out clean, with no streaks of batter. A few small crumbs are ok!
4. Take the Internal Temperature: If you're in any doubt, you can always take the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. The cake is done when the temperature in the middle is about 210°F.
If you err on either side, err toward under-baking. Personally, I always prefer an overly moist cake to one that falls apart on the plate! (Then again, crumbly cake is a great excuse to make cake pops...)
Do you have any other tricks for telling when a cake is done?