A Guide to Common Cake Fails
Is your cake too dry? Too dense? Consider this your cake troubleshooting guide.
Baking is both a science and an art. There's a lot that can go wrong if you don't follow the rules, but with a little creativity you can turn mistakes into beautiful culinary creations. Let's face it. We've all made these cake mistakes from time to time, and if you haven't, your time is coming.
Save yourself from epic cake failure with this troubleshooting guide. Here you'll learn why your cake failed, what to do differently next time, and how to salvage your cake so you can still enjoy it.
1. Your Cake Is Dry
Dry is never a word you want associated with your cake. Most of the time, dry cake can come as a result of two things: using too much flour or using too little butter and/or eggs. Be sure you're measuring your flour correctly — by spooning flour into your measuring cup rather than using your measuring cup to scoop flour straight out of the bag. This way you won’t accidentally pack in too much flour.
The surest way to measure the right amount of flour is to use a digital food scale to measure it. One cup of all-purpose flour will weigh about 4.25 ounces.
But if you're reading this after pulling your dry cake out of the oven, there are a few fixes to get some moisture back into your cake. If it's dry, but still edible, add a heavy layer of buttercream frosting to bring some moisture. If your cake is dry to the point of being inedible, you can always crumble it up and mix it with buttercream to make cake pops!
2. Your Cake Didn't Rise
There are a number of reasons you might have ended up with a flat cake. 1) You forgot to add baking powder, or you used expired baking powder. 2) Your pan is too big, so the mixture can't rise enough to fill it. Or 3) You over whisked.
Next time, make sure to use baking powder, and pay attention to the expiration date. An expired leavener is only going to give you a flat cake. Always be sure to bake in the pan specified, and only whisk until your ingredients are combined, not any longer.
To salvage a flat cake, you can always cut it up and serve it as mini cakes (masked with a little icing), so long as it's not over baked.
3. Your Cake Is Too Dense
A dense cake can usually be traced back to too much liquid, sugar, or leavening agent. To combat this make sure you're using separate measures for wet and dry ingredients.
You'll also want to make sure your oven is hot enough, because a cake that bakes low and slow may fall, giving you that undesirable dense texture. You can still put your dense cake to use by making trifle or cake pops.
4. Your Cake Overflowed
Potentially the messiest of all cake fails is when your cake overflows in the oven. But there are a few ways to avoid the headache of having to clean your oven.
First, never fill a pan all the way to the top with batter. A baking pan should only be a ⅔ of the way full when it goes in the oven so it has ample room to rise. And if you want to be extra safe you can always place a baking sheet under your pan to catch any overflow.
To salvage a cake that's had a little spillage, simply trim off the edge crust and cover it with icing. No one will ever know!
5. Your Cake Stuck to the Pan
I don't know about you, but for me the most anxiety-inducing part of baking a cake is trying to get the finished product out of the pan. But fortunately, the fix is pretty easy.
Simply run a rubber spatula around the edges of the cake, and give the pan a pat around the edges and on the bottom. For more info refer to our guide on how to get a cake out of a pan in one piece.
To prevent this from happening in the future, be sure to properly grease your pan, or you can even line it with parchment paper to ensure no sticking will occur. If you do end up with a crumbly mess, you can always use it to make trifle, cake pops, or even ice cream toppings.
6. Your Cake Has Crusty Edges
It can be hard to judge when a cake is finished. You may have even found that the outside looks golden brown, but your toothpick is still not coming out clean. If you find your cakes are always ending up with hard, dark edges, this usually means you've overbaked.
There are a few ways to ensure an even bake and avoid hard outer edges. First, use light-colored aluminum pans, because they aren't prone to creating darkened crusts. You should also use an oven thermometer (like this $6 Amazon best seller) to check the temperature in your oven, because most ovens aren't actually accurate, and yours could run hot.
To salvage a cake with crusty edges, use a bread knife to cut off the outer layer and slather on loads of icing to hide any imperfections.
7. Your Cake Top Cracked
For some cakes, like pound cakes, cracking is normal because the cake is so dense. But if you're making a birthday cake that you plan to decorate with icing, you probably prefer to have a smooth base, rather than a cracked one.
Cracking is caused by the temperature of your oven being too high. Not to sound like a broken record, but an oven thermometer is the best way to ensure your temperature is accurate. You'll also want to avoid opening and closing the oven door too much, in order to prevent the temperature from fluctuating.
The good news is, cracked cake will still taste just as good, and it's nothing a thick layer of buttercream won't fix.
8. Your Cake Is Greasy
There are two levels of greasy when it comes to cake: a little greasy on the top, which is an easy fix with a layer of icing, or greasy all the way through. Unfortunately the latter is probably best tossed out.
But next time, there are some measures you can take to avoid this conundrum. Avoid using too much oil or butter, and make sure you aren't letting butter get too soft. Refer to our guide on how to soften butter without ending up with a melty mess.
9. Your Cake Is Burnt
This might be the worst one of them all, because if your cake is burnt (I mean really burnt, not just a little crusty on the outside) then there's really nothing you can do to salvage it. There are many health risks associated with eating burnt food.
So if you want to avoid a future burnt cake fiasco, follow these tips. First, it may sound obvious, but make sure your oven is at the right temperature before you bake. Again, using an oven thermometer is the best way to be sure that it is.
You can also stop burning in the act by covering your cake with foil or parchment paper if you notice it's browning on the top but still raw inside.
10. Your Cake Is Soggy in the Middle
This is a problem that has plagued me in the past, because oftentimes a cake will look golden brown on top, but inside the batter is still raw. Ugh! The best fix for this is to cover the cake in aluminum foil or parchment paper and continue to bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This way the top will be protected while the inside continues to bake.
11. Your Cake Browned Unevenly
This issue all comes down to your oven. If your cake comes out with uneven browning, it’s likely because of hot spots in your oven, or overcrowding.
To avoid this, you'll want to make sure your cake is placed in the center of your oven racks, and you should also rotate your pan halfway through baking.
Luckily, it's pretty easy to fix this issue with a little frosting. If any spots are burnt simply cut them off before frosting.
12. Your Cake Has Sunk in the Middle
Nobody wants a concave cake, but it's a very common problem. There are a couple of reasons for this. You could be opening the door too much before the cake has set (so towards the beginning). You may also be using too much leavener. And finally, your batter may have been sitting out for too long before baking. Be sure the batter goes in the oven as soon as you’re done mixing.
If you want to rescue a sunken cake, you've got a few options. If your cake is sinking ever so slightly, you can easily cover it up with frosting. If you've got a sinkhole for a cake, you can scoop out the center and fill it with a mixture of frosting and fresh fruit! You meant to do that, right?
- 15 Common Cookie Baking Mistakes You Might Be Making
- How to Store a Frosted Cake
- Browse our entire collection of Cake Recipes.