7 Easy Errors That Mess up Your Cakes and How To Prevent Them

You may think nothing of them, but simple mistakes can make for sad cakes.

Are your baked goods more worthy of a scene on "Nailed It" than "The Great British Baking Show?" From producing flat cakes to burnt tops, we've been there and felt that. But after decades of practice, we've come up with a handful of tips that can prevent seven of the most common cake baking mistakes before they happen. Read on and follow our lead so you can create a cake worthy of a Paul Hollywood handshake.

1. Not Obeying the Order of Operations

Your cake baking Rx: Before you begin step one, read through the entire recipe and gather all of your ingredients and equipment. Then take a deep breath and remind yourself: You 👏 can 👏 do 👏 this! Okay, now that we're in a positive, organized headspace, be sure to follow the recipe instructions in the order they're written. Does it say to cream the butter before adding other ingredients? How about adding one egg at a time, incorporating each completely before moving on? Both of these steps are crucial to mixing in enough air to ensure a fluffier, lighter cake texture. You may be tempted to dump everything in at once, but resist that disastrous urge and try not to rush things.

2. Using Too Much Flour

Your cake baking Rx: A crumbly, heavy or dry cake is often the victim of using too much flour. If you scoop your measuring cup directly into the flour container, chances are you'll pack it down and accidentally pick up about 30 to 50 percent more than what is called for in the cake recipe. Instead, either measure by weight (1 cup of flour clocks in at 130 grams) using a kitchen scale (such as this GreaterGoods Digital Food Kitchen Scale: $14, Amazon). If you're sans-scale, use a spoon to fluff the flour up in the container, then use that spoon to scoop the flour into a measuring cup. Use a knife to level off the top.

measuring flour by spooning it from a jar into a measuring cup

3. Making Too Many Ingredient Substitutions

Your cake baking Rx: Yes, we know food allergies and preferences can make it tempting to make a little tweak here and there. But we recommend one ingredient swap max per recipe. (For example, white whole-wheat flour instead of the all-purpose flour, or canned pumpkin in place of half of the butter.) This way, you have an answer pretty much immediately about which ingredient threw you off — or hopefully, what worked wonderfully!

4. Using Ingredients at an Improper Temperature

Your cake baking Rx: It might sound like a line from Goldilocks's fairy tale, but for many cake ingredients, you don't want them too hot or too cold; you want them just right so they blend together correctly. If a cake recipe specifically calls for room temp butter, eggs, or milk, allow them to come to room temperature on your kitchen counter before proceeding. (In a hurry? Try our tricks to bring eggs to room temp quickly and safely, and here are five ways to soften butter ASAP.)

5. Overmixing or Undermixing the Cake Batter

Your cake baking Rx: Just as with pie crust or homemade bread, you don't want to overwork or underwork the mixture. Too much stirring will likely lead to a tough cake, while too little may cause it to crumble. The majority of cake recipes — regardless of what pan you cook it in or what flavor it is — will suggest mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately, then will recommend alternating as you add these separate blends to the creamed butter. While this might sound fussy, it will create a bakery-quality (read: not-too-tough yet not flour clump-filled) cake.

6. Using the Wrong Pan

Your cake baking Rx: The wide variety of cakes — from Bundt cakes to sheet cakes to layer cakes to pound cakes — are designed specifically to be baked in the matching pan. And before adding the batter, grease the pan even if it's non-stick so the cake is more likely to release after it's baked and cooled. For extra insurance, you can add a layer of parchment paper to your pan if the surface allows.

7. Baking By Time Only

Your cake baking Rx: Yes, we know we said to follow the recipe instructions, but this is one time you want to use your gut. Since many ovens aren't exact in terms of temperature and the humidity and temperature of your kitchen can make a big impact, check your cake about 10 minutes before the baking time suggests. Insert a skewer, toothpick or cake tester (like this The Pampered Chef Cake Tester and Releasing Tool: $11; Amazon) into the center, and if it comes out clean or with just a small crumb or two, remove the cake from the oven. If any raw batter appears, place the cake back in the oven and check for doneness in the same way every 5 minutes until the stick comes out clean.


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