Cakes are a dessert that have been part of countless traditions across many different countries. One of the most common cake-related traditions out there is serving a birthday cake to someone who has turned a year older.
With as popular as cakes tend to be, it should come as no surprise that there are many different ways to cook cakes and prepare them. The number of different cake types is endless and likely ever-expanding as people find more and more ways to create the cakes that they have always wanted.
Of course, with any type of food that has as many different variations as there are with cakes, there is going to be a chance that the cake doesn’t go your way. This is also especially likely if you are someone who is newer to baking, as baking can be an incredibly fickle hobby.
If your measurements aren’t exact when you are working out ingredients, there’s a good chance that your cake won’t turn out the way you want it to.
With that being said, if your cake is not turning out the way you want it to, it usually means that there is something off with the ingredient measurements, the temperature and environment that you are working in, or a combination of the two.
When you understand what the root of a problem is, you will have a much better chance of being able to solve the issue and return your cake to normal. For example, consider cakes that are too crumbly and cannot hold their shape very well.
There are many reasons why your cake may not be able to keep its structure together. In some cases, it might be a problem with the flour that you are using. Other times, it can be because of a disturbance in the cooking process (such as opening the door of the oven too frequently).
The following are some of the most common causes of a crumbly cake, as well as some ways to fix it.
Problems with the Flour
This is going to be the most common cause as to why your cake cannot keep its structure together.
As with many baked goods that need to rise in the oven, the gluten content of the cake can make all of the difference. Having too much gluten as well as too little gluten can lead to a cake that will not hold its structure together.
Gluten is quite the complex protein that is responsible for the way that most baked goods rise. The way it works, (simply put), is that when you knead the dough of your cake, you are helping the gluten proteins bind together with the dough.
When you have too much gluten in your cake, the gluten will end up binding itself together so tightly that it will fall off in chunks, leaving you with a cake that won’t stop crumbling.
Likewise, if you don’t have enough gluten in the cake (whether it’s due to poor all-purpose flour or a gluten-free alternative flour), there won’t be enough or any gluten in the dough to help bind things together.
Without a binding agent as strong as gluten, the dough isn’t going to be able to hold its shape very well, resulting in a cake that will not be able to form a firm texture and leaving you with a crumbly cake.
The best way to fix this is, obviously, to adjust the gluten content of the cake. For people who can consume gluten without a problem, you are going to want to aim for a type of flour known as “cake flour.”
This type of flour is usually made of about 7% to 9% gluten proteins, whereas your standard all-purpose flour is going to come in at about 10% to 12% gluten proteins.
If you are making a gluten-free cake, then purchasing flour with any gluten content is not going to be an option. Instead, you are going to want to opt from some additions that have been known to increase the firmness of the cake.
These can range from butter and oil to the healthier alternatives of applesauce and banana. You can also piece it back together with frosting and turn the cake into a trifle if you believe that the cake is unsalvageable as a cake.
Problems with the Baking Environment
Baking is a craft that tends to be extremely specific about every detail. Even aspects like altitude can affect baking, such as with pizza dough. Because of this, your cake may be having issues because its baking environment isn’t up to standards.
One of the more common reasons why is that there is something going on with the oven. There are a few different routes that this can go down though.
For some people, this is a matter of letting the cake bake in an oven that is preheating. For other people, it may be the location of the cake inside of the oven.
When baking a cake, you should always let the oven fully preheat first. This prevents the situation where the cake bakes at a too-low temperature, changing the texture and flavor of the cake in the process and potentially overcooking it in combination with the time set the cake needs to cook at.
Additionally, unless your recipe specifies otherwise, you should be baking the cake in the center of the oven so that it can get equal heat all around it to cook.
Finally, you will need to make sure that you leave the oven door closed as much as you can during the baking process. No matter how excited you are about looking and feeling your cake, you will want to try and rely on the oven light to watch the cake rather than opening and closing the oven.
Opening and closing the oven repeatedly brings in a lot of cold air (compared to the heat of the oven), which can drastically affect the cake’s baking process.
You should try and open the oven as little as possible, saving any instance of oven opening for times when you absolutely must take the cake out and for when you are testing the consistency of the cake to ensure that it is fully cooked through.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.