Cake Mistakes…Find Out Why

Here’s a list of very common ‘Cake Mistakes’ and their causes. Below I have added a list of tips to prevent these mistakes from recurring:

1. Cakes that Sink/Fall in the Middle

  • Overbeating, which incorporates too much air into the batter
  • Under baking from either the oven temperature being too low or the baking time being too short
  • Over or Under measuring any of the ingredients
  • Baking Pan being either too small or too large
  • Moving or jarring the cake before it is sufficiently baked
  • Opening the oven door before the cake is at least half-way baked
  • If the recipe is one that requires you fold in egg whites, and they were not beaten fully or folded in too harshly
  • Under-creaming the butter and sugar
  • Baking powder being too old

2. Cakes that Crack on the Top

  • Oven temperature is too high. The surface of the cake will therefore set very quickly, before the inside of the cake has had time to expand fully. Then as the inside of the cake heats up and starts to rise it has to break through the crust to have the space to expand. This tends to give a volcano look to the cake with the inside of cake spilling out of the crack. Actual oven temperatures often vary from the setting on the dial and an oven could actually be running hotter than what the dial/setting indicates. Try setting it a little below the temperature stated in the recipe next time you bake a cake. Also take care to bake the cake in the center of the oven, not too close to the top where the temperature is highest
  • Over-dozing on leavener for example baking powder or baking soda.
  • Baking Pan being too small
  • Over or Under measuring any of the ingredients

3. Cakes that have Low Volume

  • Over or Under measuring of liquids
  • Over or Under-mixing of batter
  • Not properly alternating the flour and the liquid ingredients during mixing of the batter
  • Baking Pan being too large
  • Inaccurate oven temperature
  • Baking powder being too old or too little
  • Too much fat used in the ingredients
  • Use of ingredients that are cold

4. Cakes that have a Sticky Top

  • Covering the cake while still warm  
  • Over measuring of liquid
  • High humidity
  • Under baking from either the oven temperature being too low or the baking time being too short

5. Cakes that are Soggy 

  • Moving the cake before it sets
  • Under baking from either the oven temperature being too low or the baking time being too short
  • Cooling the cake in the pan (unless the recipe specifically requires it)
  • Over or Under measuring any of the ingredients, especially the fat and liquid ones.

6. Cakes that have Large Holes & Tunneling:

  • Oven temperature too high
  • Over or Under-mixing of batter
  • Too much leavening/baking powder

7. Cakes that Shrink:

  • Too little batter in pan
  • Pans greased too heavily
  • Pans too close together in oven
  • Extreme over mixing of the batter
  • Over baking – too long or at too high a temperature
  • Too much liquid

8. Cakes that are Dry or have a Tough Crust:

  • Over mixing the batter.
  • Over baking from the oven temperature being too low and the baking time being too long
  • Overbeating egg whites or too many of them
  • Pan too big
  • Cake cooled in a drafty area
  • Added more flour than the recipe called for
  • Added less shortening or liquid than the recipe called for
  • Not enough sugar

9. Cakes that are Burnt

  • Uneven heat circulation. Make sure the pan has at least 1- to 2-inches space between the sides of the oven and another pan, if using. Cakes should be baked in the center of the oven
  • Pans too close together in oven. Improper placement in the oven will cause cakes to bake faster on one side. Gently rotate the cake pans (don’t pick up the pans, spin them) about 2/3 into the baking time for an even bake
  • Excessive top heat

10. Cakes that Stick to the Pan

  • Pan not greased and floured enough.
  • The cake cooled too long in the pan before trying to remove it.
  • Cake not baked long enough.

To fix this, run a knife all around the cake to separate it from the sides then gently knock the pan on the kitchen counter a couple of times. Next, place a thick, clean towel in the kitchen sink and pour some boiling hot water over the towel to heat it. Once the water drains into the sink, set the cake pan on the hot towel and leave it for a minute or two, the cake should turn out easily.

11. Cakes with a Tough Crust

  • Too little fat
  • Too little sugar
  • Excessive mixing, especially after eggs were added into the batter
  • Batter too stiff (insufficient liquid)

Tips for avoiding Cake Mistakes:

All ingredients should be at room temperature.

Invest in good measuring cups/jugs for your dry and wet ingredients.

Use an oven-thermometer to make sure that your oven is running at the correct temperature that you set it at.

Preheat the oven first before starting to bake, make sure the rack is in the center of the oven (unless directed differently in the recipe) and keep pan in the center of the rack. If you’re baking more than one pan at a time, keep them at least 2″ away from the walls of the oven and from each other.

Unless the recipe states otherwise, use unsalted butter. If you have only salted butter on hand, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe by 1/4 teaspoon for every half cup of butter. Use regular butter, not whipped, and don’t substitute margarine unless the recipe gives it as an alternative.

Use dry measures for dry ingredients and wet measures for liquid ingredients. Measuring cups for dry ingredients come in individual sizes (1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup). You fill the cup completely with the flour or other dry ingredient and level it off. Liquid measures are marked with lines for various amounts (1/3 cup, 4 ounces, etc.), with some space at the top so the liquid doesn’t spill. You pour the liquid in up to the desired line.

To measure flour, stir up the flour, then swoop the measuring cup into the flour, and level the flour even with the top of the cup using a knife or the side of your hand. To measure sugar or cocoa, spoon it into the cup. To measure brown sugar, spoon it into the cup and pack it down with the back of the spoon. When measuring sticky ingredients such as molasses or honey, lightly oil the inside of the cup first.

You must sift flour for cakes and confectioners’ sugar when you’re using it in icing. For cakes, sift the flour, measure it, then sift it again with the dry ingredients.

Chocolate must be melted over low heat or it will burn. You can melt it in the top of a double boiler (a pan with two parts; the top sits in the bottom pan, which contains boiling water). You can also put it in a microwave-proof container and heat on 80 percent power for 1 minute. It should still be lumpy when you remove it; keep stirring until it is smooth. If it is still lumpy, return it to the microwave and heat in 10-second increments on 80 percent power until smooth.

To cream butter (with or without the sugar), beat it at high speed on an electric mixer for about 2 minutes, or until it is fluffy.

If a recipe tells you to fold in egg whites or cream, it means to spoon the egg whites or cream over the batter, then move a rubber spatula in a circular motion from the bottom of the bowl to the top of the batter, “folding” in the whites or cream. You can also use a wire whisk to gently whisk in the eggs or cream.

Use the size of pans indicated in the recipe.

Cakes should cool completely in the pan before being inverted onto a plate or cardboard round. Run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan first to loosen it.

If you take the cake out too soon, it will flop and sink deeply in the middle. Please don’t open your oven until at least the minimum recommended time has passed. The more items baking at the same time, the longer the baking time might be. Too much cold air coming in from an open oven door can cause cakes to sink or not rise properly.

Make sure that your baking powder and bicarbonate of soda have not passed their best-before date and are stored in an airtight container.

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