We all know that baking doesn’t always go as planned. You want to make a nice fluffy cake and you end up with a dense block that barely resembles a cake. Or, your cake looks perfectly golden brown and when you go to take it out of the pan, you realize the middle is still completely unbaked. What to do?!?
Don’t worry, I am here to help! After years and years of baking cakes professionally and at home, I have seen just about every problem there is and have come up with solutions to help!
So let’s dive in to some common cake baking blunders.
1 – Too Dense
A cake that comes out of the oven very dense simply did not get enough air in the batter. This could have happened in a number of ways so you may need to troubleshoot your batter to find out how to add the air back to your cake. Here are a few solutions to begin with.
First, make sure you are beating the batter long enough, especially at the beginning of a recipe which instructs you to cream butter and sugar- make that mix nice and fluffy! If your batter uses oil instead of butter, be sure to really mix the batter well and do not rush it- let the air bubbles form!
Another reason for dense cake is a bad leavener. Maybe your baking powder or baking soda are old and no longer working. You need a good leavener to help the batter rise and lock that air in during the baking process. A cake that rises well will not be dense!
Too much flour in a cake will also cause it to be dense. Flour is loaded with heavy gluten that can weigh a cake down. Check to make sure you measure your flour accurately and use cake flour which has less gluten than all purpose flour (it’s called cake flour for a reason- it’s perfect for cakes!).
Preheat your oven for at least 20 minutes before putting your cake in. When the oven is at the right temperature, your cake will rise quickly in the nice hot heat. In a cool oven, cake will not rise right away and the batter will begin to cook before it has a chance to puff up (baking soda and baking powder need heat to work!). A cold oven will definitely make a dense cake.
2 – Cake Overflows
I have definitely opened the oven to check on my cake only to find the batter pouring over the edge of the cake pan and onto the bottom of the oven (I may have started a small oven fire this way as well….).
The easiest solution to this cake problem is to fill your pan with less batter. A good rule of thumb is to fill a cake pan half way to two thirds of the way up the sides of the pan. Anymore and you could easily have a cake explosion in your oven!
3 – A Sunken Cake
This is a problem I have experienced all too often. Your cake looks perfect, picture worthy! You take it out of the oven and set it to cool. Then, you come back 5 minutes later to find a collapsed cake that is completely sunken in the center. What happened?!?
First and most likely problem here is that your cake was not actually fully baked. While a cake may look fluffy and golden brown on the outside, the center may not be completely cooked.
Use a toothpick or knife to test the center of the cake. If the utensil comes out cleanly with no sticky, wet batter on it, then it’s done! If the center is still unbaked, leave the cake in the oven a little longer. Easy enough!
Sunken cakes can also be caused by the oven temperature being too cool or fluctuating too much. If you open and close the oven door to frequently to check your cake, the oven temperature will be going up and down as well which makes it tricky for the cake to bake. The outside will bake faster while the center takes too long to get hot.
Cakes can also sink when there is not enough structure to hold the cake together. By structure, I mean eggs or flour, ingredients that bind the cake batter and hold it all together. If you are short an egg or skimp on an ounce of flour, your cake batter will not be firm enough to hold its shape when baked and sink down once it is out of the oven. Don’t be sparing with important ingredients!
4 – Stuck to the Pan
Once again, you think you have baked the perfect cake… until you try to take it out of the pan. The cake is completely stuck to the edges and the bottom (where it is really hard to get to) and all of your efforts to remove it from the pan are futile.
Of course, you learn the hard way that you should always grease a cake pan well. However, don’t just grease it, flour it as well! This will definitely help the cake pop out of the pan after it bakes. Placing a parchment circle in the bottom of the cake pan is probably the most effective way to keep a cake from sticking to the pan as the paper will help lift the cake right out.
If you are wondering how to get that cake that you already baked out of the pan, I have a solution for that as well! Place the stuck cake bake in the oven, in the pan, for about one minute. The heat will loosen the cake and help release it from the pan. Your cake can still be saved!
5 – Crusty Edges
Maybe the middle of your cake is nice and fluffy but the edges are very crunchy and burned. This is most likely caused by too much pan spray or an over greased pan. When the pan has too much grease, the edges of the cake literally get fried. Yes, it is important to grease the sides of the pan but a little big goes a long way!
6 – Cake Batter is Too Stiff
When you are stirring cake batter and it feels like you are mixing cement, you have probably added too much flour or have just simply been mixing too long. Stiff, sticky batter is usually due to too much gluten in the batter. Too much flour will add a lot of gluten and over mixing will help develop the gluten. So an easy fix- measure the flour correctly and stir the batter just to combine it nicely.
7 – Fruit Falling to the Bottom
A cake baked with fresh fruit is a true delicacy. However, just mixing fresh fruit into any old cake batter won’t always work well. Fruit tends to be heavy and sink to the bottom of the cake where it sits, dense and unappetizing.
Fruit will sink to the bottom of the cake when the batter is too light and fluffy or there is not enough flour in the batter to hold the fruit. When making a cake with fruit mixed in, it’s best to choose a nice sturdy batter rather than something light like a chiffon cake.
Fruit will also sink if it is too wet and dense itself. Whole cherries or strawberries are both perfect examples of large, moist fruit that will sink in a cake. If you have your heart set on these types of fruits, chop them up into small pieces before adding them to your cake batter.
8 – Cake Sides Caving In
When the sides of a cake are sunken in and your cake looks like you put a tight belt around the center, you know you have a problem. Cake sides sinking inward can be caused by one of three things- liquid, grease or moisture.
First, check to make sure your cake batter recipe has the correct amount of liquid and that you measured any liquid ingredients correctly. Cakes that add buttermilk or coffee at the end, for example, can be finicky so double check your liquids before freely pouring them in.
Next, make sure you are only using a small amount of pan spray or butter to grease your pans. While you want your cake to easily pop out of the pan once it’s baked, the cake still needs to be able to “climb” up the sides of the pan in order to rise. Too much grease and the batter will simply slide down the edges. A little spray goes a long way- don’t overdo it!
Lastly, try not to let your cake cool in the cake pan for too long. Moisture can build up inside the pan as the cake cools and cause the sides to sink inward. Let the cake cool for a few minutes, then remove it from the pan and transfer it to a cooling rack. Problem solved!
9 – Cake Top Cracked
If your cakes are always coming out of the oven with cracked tops then you definitely have a temperature problem. When the oven is too hot, the outside and top of the cake will bake quickly and form a crust. Then, when the batter in the center of the cake is still cooking and rising, it will burst through the top crust causing the cake to crack.
A simple thermometer inside your oven will accurately tell you what the temperature really is and help you ensure your appliance is not running too hot.
While these cake baking problems can be frustrating, they all have easy fixes that will ensure your cakes come out perfectly. Baking cakes really is an art, a science but also a ton of fun. Of course, they are completely worth the effort when you bite into an impeccably baked cake. Happy Baking!
For another common cake baking problem that’s too large to put in this article, check out our post about making a cake when you don’t have all the ingredients.