Baking the Perfect Cake - Why things go wrong!

Baking the perfect cakeOur very own ‘madeitwithlove’, has been extremely helpful in answering many baking questions posed on our Q&A section and now kind enough to take the time to write a blog on her experience baking cakes, which makes very interesting reading….

I learned to bake as a tiny twelve year old at school, in what appeared then, to be a massive kitchen come classroom. Teacher was a harridan when it came to following ‘HER’ recipes, and woe betide you if you waivered from her instructions! I hated domestic science classes with a vengeance, especially since in those days we had to beat all cake ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon. The school of thought at the time was to have all the ingredients straight out of the fridge, to cream solid block margarine with sugar for a mere weakling like me was a daunting task. Years later, I began to appreciate the harridan’s constant nagging, and I wished I had paid more attention! Although thankfully today we have our ingredients at room temperature and have the assistance of marvellous kitchen aids.

I have never been what you might call an ace baker, other people however, for some reason, laud my efforts and I suddenly find myself having many, many friends, (I wonder why?). Throughout my baking journey, I’ve made, and continue to make, hundreds of mistakes in the endeavour to baking the perfect cake! (believe me, it doesn’t exist!). What I have learned however, through scrimping and saving snippets of information, is why certain things do go wrong, and I thought it might be fun to share.

So guys, if the recipe has been followed pretty much closely, ingredients weighed, tins properly greased and lined, the oven preheated and set to the accurate temperature, you’d think great! the cake will be baked perfectly. This is not always so, the most common complaints and  frequently asked questions after all that hard work are as follows:

My cake has sunk in the middle!  What happened?

Most common reason is when the oven door is opened too soon and the cake hasn’t set up and baked properly. The mixture could be too soft due to not enough ingredients or if there is too much liquid added. Using too much raising agents can make the cake rise too much too quickly and it implodes on itself.

My cake has got a dome bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral!!

Cakes which dome or peak and crack are usually as a result of the butter and sugar not being creamed together for long enough. Give the ingredients a good five to seven minutes of creaming, this incorporates air into the mix making it light and fluffy. Baking in too small a tin restricts the expansion of the mix, so up it goes and pops!  Also baking  too close to the top of the oven will make the centre rise before the sides have had a chance to catch up. However, it is natural for madeira cake to dome and crack.

Now my cake is too dry

Maybe you’ve over baked it, or didn’t use enough liquid/ not enough eggs, if the recipe says use large eggs and you haven’t got large, use an extra egg, size matters! Using too much raising agents will also make for a dry cake.

Got holes in my cake

Again the culprit is not enough creaming, this time sugar, eggs and butter/marg. Oven temperature too high and too much baking powder will also cause holes and an uneven grainy texture.  Add eggs into creamed butter/sugar mix one at a time,  cream well so the mix is smooth and incorporated.  If the mix starts to separate add a tablespoon of flour with each egg. The rest of the flour should be carefully folded in with a large metal spoon so as not to lose any of the air in the mix.

Why should a cake be heavy with a closed rubbery texture?

Over mixing cake batter can result in a heavy, closed rubbery texture. Over mixing acts on the gluten in flour and will make cakes hard instead of the lovely soft spongy texture we associate with a good cake. Insufficient  creaming of sugar and eggs will also make a tight texture because there isn’t enough air trapped in the mix to give it a lift.  Adding too much liquid will make it dense and pudding like.   Genoise sponge will become heavy if the melted butter is too hot when added and if it is not folded in evenly.

Sugary crust?

This is usually an indication that sugar and fats have not been adequately creamed but it may also be caused by using granulated sugar which doesn’t dissolve as well as caster. Too much sugar in the recipe can also make a sugary crust and speckling on the top, in which case try reducing the amount of sugar by approx 60/70 gms. I’ve done this without compromising the quality of the cake. In fact, I forgot to put any sugar at all in one of my chocolate cakes,  it didn’t rise but was perfectly edible with a dash of liqueur and a dollop of clotted cream!

Last, but my no means the least is the fruit cake which has it’s own problems. As with all cakes, the methods of incorporating ingredients into fruit cakes is the same, the only difference being that fruit should be of good quality, washed and dried if the recipe asks for this, and sticky fruits such as glace cherries, and angelica should be washed, dried, and floured before adding to the batter other wise they just sink to the bottom. Dried fruit can be plumped up by soaking overnight in a couple of tablespoons of liqueur or warm water. I soak dried fruit for three days, but that’s personal choice.  Adding too much liquid to fruit cakes can also result in the fruit sinking to the bottom and can cause a creamy wet stickiness to the baked cake which can’t be remedied. Following the recipe and a little common sense will pay big dividends. Different fruit cake recipes have their own method of how to bake. Some will advise baking at a higher temperature for the first hour and then reducing the temperature for the remaining baking period. Others will bake at an even temperature throughout the bake time, this advice should be adhered to for a successful result.

Obviously these are just a few things which can go wrong in cake baking.  Most mistakes can be remedied, but in my book there is no such thing as a baking failure, just a learning curve. More experienced bakers will have come across all these problems through their baking journey. For the less experienced baker, those who are starting out, baking can be a mystery and some disappointment is inevitable. Baking is a science, ingredients all have an interactive role to play although small discrepancies in weights and measures won’t affect the overall quality of your baked creations, it is advisable to follow recipes accurately and enjoy your baking!

 

Comments

  1. Fatima

    October 21, 2014

    Hi,
    love your tips! You are very supportive. Thanks for your guidance and i am learning a lot from your tips. please keep on writing and guiding us. I made chocolate cake last week. However the mixture was very stiff so I added one medium size egg and then one tablespoon of vegetable oil. It became a bit better but the cake was very hard. It didnt turn out to be a soft chocolate cake.

    • Andy (Staff)

      October 23, 2014

      Thanks Fatima,

      There’s loads of discussions regarding the moist chocolate cake and some great tips and advice here

  2. shola

    September 24, 2014

    What happen if insufficient proportion of raising agent is used in cake? Pls reply me now

  3. Emelike joy

    July 28, 2014

    Gudevening ma today was my first time of baking cake but it was too strong and it did nt rise pls what is the cause ?

    • Andy (Staff)

      August 6, 2014

      Hi Emelike,

      It’s possible a case of the oven being opened during baking or the temperature not being quite right – Take a look on this page for some advice and post a question if you’re still stuck x

  4. Lola

    March 29, 2014

    Hmmmmm so helpful. Tnk u so much. But please can you tell ow to measure or give some examples of how you measure need it urgently cos am about baking in 20mins time. tnks

    • madeitwithlove

      July 4, 2014

      Hi Lola

      It is more accurate to measure by weighing all your ingredients. I use digital scales and use the metric method ie grams and mls rather than pounds and ounces or cup measures. Cup measures are not particularly accurate. For very small measures of liquid use teaspoons or tablespoon measures. Most liquid measures like cream, buttermilk, milk, yogurt, oil or water can be measured in grams so don’t be intimidated and think it has to be all in mls. If you need help and information on any other baking problems post your questions in Q & A where the wider site commiunity can also give the benefit of their experience. Q & A is here http://www.designer-cakes.com/questions

  5. Master_Maeree

    March 9, 2014

    Hey Madeitwithlove!! I’m a little worried because I don’t think i got what it takes to become a baker. But all I’m doing is discouraging myself and letting myself down. I should keep trying and believe in myself. But here’s my problem, I baked a cake today (March 9th, 2014) and it turned out bad. I don’t know what happened but it was soft and moist. Can you please explain to me why that happened

    • madeitwithlove

      July 4, 2014

      Hello Master_Maeree

      We all have disasters when first learning. Just keep practicing by following the recipes properly. Weighing ingredients accurately is very important as is the mixing method. Take care to pre heat the oven for at least 20 minutes and bake on the correct temperature for the correct time. It’s a good idea to have an oven thermometer so you can make sure your oven is running at the right temperature. Oven thermometers are cheap and can be bought in most kitchen shops and online. If you need more help or information it may be quicker to receive answers in Q & A here:
      http://www.designer-cakes.com/questions

  6. Master_Maeree

    March 9, 2014

    Umm, Hey Madeitwithlove. I love making desserts, and i make it with my heart, but I’m also just a beginner, so I’m not that good yet but I made a cake today, and the sponge cake turned out bad. It was moist, soft and it looked nothing like a sponge cake. It was totally hard , but I gave it a try with my frosting, and it was good. It was only good because of the cream and because, before i spread on the frosting, I sprinkled on some confectioners sugar to make the taste better. So please help me!!!

  7. Phoebe

    March 1, 2014

    I’m so glad with all the contribution u give to all ur fans. This are some the questions i want 2 asked.

  8. Enne

    February 25, 2014

    Hi!

    My butter cakes always hv a loose crust. What I meant is the crust sort of peel off from the cake. Why?

  9. Linda

    January 8, 2014

    I am trying hard to make a good sponge cake and all these TV bakers keep banging on about creaming butter and sugar and making sure it doesn’t curdle but no matter how long I cream the s and b for, It looks like the mixture has separated slightly anyway. Can you show a photo of a curdled and non-curdled mix, coz I suspect down in the bottom of their posh Artisan mixers, it has curdled!!

  10. domygirl

    November 21, 2013

    Madeitwithlove may God bless and keep you

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Thank you Domygirl for your blessings, I wish the same for you, and may your God always help you bake beautiful cakes. xx

  11. domygirl

    November 21, 2013

    You are simply a Godsent. May God continue to bless u. So glad that I found this blog. I am just a beginner an i do have questions which you have already answered.

  12. Hannah A

    November 15, 2013

    Hi,

    I love the blog it is so useful. I have a really important question I have never measured my ingredients I learnt as a child from my grandmother and my cakes seem to be enjoyed by family and friends. However now that I am venturing out and trying new and different style of cakes I wanted some advice. Do you recommend following recipes? And if so is it important to follow word for word? I love baking and want to make foolproof cakes for my family.

    Many thanks

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Hi Hannah A

      There was a time when bakers and home bakers used ratios to create beautiful pastries, obviously your grandma was one of those clever people and has taught you her method. Today we can just look in a book or on the internet and choose from the multitude of recipes available. I would say following a recipe as closely to original is important even if it’s just to sample the result. Not all recipes work so it’s a good way of finding which to use and which to avoid. I experiment with recipes, sometimes reducing sugar or perhaps the ratios of the other ingredients but have never bothered actually creating a recipe from scratch, I leave that to the experts and test kitchens! I wouldn’t recommend for beginners to alter recipes. It’s important to learn the disciple of weighing ingredients and to have an understanding of the science behind how they all interact in the whole process of baking. I think for someone like yourself who understands amounts visually, tweeking recipes will always be a temptation. Recipes are guide lines which can be altered within reasonable limits, science plays a massive part in baking so it is important to keep ingredients in balance.
      Most bakers play around with ratios and ingredients, that’s how recipes evolve. Best wishes and success in your new ventures.

  13. leigha

    November 8, 2013

    Hi thanks for the tips they really make sense one thing i was wondering was why my cakes are coming out of the oven lumpy looking not smooth on top at all ??

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Hi Leigha

      In the picture of Mrs Jones’ sponge cake here http://www.designer-cakes.com/online-cake-decorating-courses/course-library-baking you’ll see her victoria cake and cupcakes are not perfectly smooth either. If your cakes look similar there’s nothing to worry about. Those are air bubbles which are trapped in the batter during mixing and which give rise to your cake. It can happen more in cakes baked with margarine instead of butter. Margarine has a higher content of water which already has air bubbles trapped in it’s composition. When it is beaten to create an emulsion for cake batter more air bubbles are trapped which rise to the surface during baking and can make the cake appear lumpy. The crust is usually soft and can be levelled off or just turn the cake over and use the flat base for decorating. Try using butter to see whether that stops the lumpy appearance, reduce your oven temperature if using a fan oven and bake on the middle shelf.

  14. Joolsnoose

    October 24, 2013

    My mud cake seems to soufflé in the middle with the whole middle cracked in a circle. Once cools it falls back into place. It bugs me because I like a perfect nice slight dome on my mud cakes but it seems the oven in my new rental property is the worst oven in the world. I know it has a hot spot so I have to turn the cake a 1/4 every 20-30 mins which doesn’t help the temp either. I’ve tried lowering the temp to 140deg (I have a thermometer that I use also) but it still happens. I tried cooling the melted component of my cake right down but it still happened. Is it my recipe? Do you recommend a good mud cake recipe?? I’m at a loss.

    • madeitwithlove

      November 8, 2013

      Hi Joolsnoose

      A lot of mud cake recipes collapse particularly if they’re the very molten high sugar ratio type. You could try reducing the sugar slightly say by 10%. I don’t know which recipe you’ve used so can’t make really say why you might be having this problem. If you’d like to try an alternative recipe there is a long shelf life mud cake recipe here http://www.designer-cakes.com/blog/how-to-make-chocolate-mud-cake
      I’ve baked it several times, it doesn’t sink at all and the taste and texture improve with keeping.

  15. swarn

    October 19, 2013

    pls suggest me how to prevent white patches on the surface of jaffa base cake?? It is niether a fat bloom nor sugar bloom, i have already checked for sugar & fat bloom….

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Hello Swarn

      I know you say that it can’t be be fat or sugar bloom but how did you melt your chocolate and how was your cake stored? I suspect this has to do with either steam getting into the chocolate during melting (if you used bain marie method) or condensation if the cake was refrigerated. Please have a peek at the information here
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_bloom you may find it helpful.

  16. Dhivvyaa

    October 6, 2013

    Hey, I don’t know what’s wrong with my cake. It has this sandy-like taste in every bite of the cake. There are invisible tiny little suspended particles which cause that kind of texture and taste i guess. But, i couldn’t figure out what it is. I did sift my cocoa powder and baking powder. So, what could have gone wrong? Please help, thanks (:

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Hi Dhivvyaa

      Sounds like the sugar and butter were not creamed for long enough or you perhaps didn’t use caster sugar. If you used regular granulated sugar it can make cake crumb gritty and speckly because it takes longer to break down during baking. Try creaming the sugar and butter for a good 5 minutes until white and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beat well until you have a glossy emulsion. Add flour in 3 stages and fold with a large metal spoon until combined with the wet ingredients.

  17. Tracy allan

    October 6, 2013

    Hi I seem to have the same problem with a chocolate cake recipe I use all the time. Did a large on about 11″ square, left in overn for two hours recipe stated 160 degrees, I used fan oven so reduced to 150. Cooked on outside. Skewer came out clean. But when I cut it it’s still a little uncooked in the centre.used the same recipe for a 6″ a few weeks back and it was fine. What am I doing wrong? I am thinking I might just need to split the cake batter and bake in two halves in future for the bigger cakes.

    • madeitwithlove

      November 23, 2013

      Hi TracyAllan

      For an 11″ cake your temperature is still too high. For a fan oven reduce down to 140c and bake for slightly longer, approx 2 hours 20minutes (but check it at 2 hours 10 mins) If the centre is not baked when your cooking time is up keep baking and check every five minutes until done. I suggest the tin is double lined with parchment paper which should be approx 2″ above the rim of the tin. Large cakes square cakes take longer to bake, the centre takes a long time to heat up and the sides can begin to burn. Protect the side by wrapping the outside of the tin with brown paper or baking strips.

  18. bunmi

    September 21, 2013

    pls help me out! my cakes are always strong,why?

    • madeitwithlove

      September 23, 2013

      Hi Bunmi

      Please excuse me if I have not understood your question properly. Do you mean your cakes are heavy and not fluffy and light? If this is the case it might be because you are not getting enough air into your cake mixture.
      First, all the ingredients must be at room temperature. When you cream the sugar and butter beat for a good five to seven minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well before adding the next one. If it is not well beaten the mixture will not go smooth, it will look like scrambled egg. It is better to whisk the egg first with a fork and add a little at a time. Do this with every egg. If the mixture starts to break add a table spoon of flour and beat it in on low speed to prevent the gluten in the flour forming. Over beating flour in cake mixture will make gluten form which makes cake hard and heavy. When all the eggs are incorporated, add sifted flour in three stages, use a big metal spoon and fold it into the butter, sugar and egg mixture until you can’t see any flour. Do all this gently so you don’t knock the air out of the batter. Try and get the cake into the oven as quickly as possible especially if you have used self raising flour or baking powder. Other things to do is to make sure your oven is pre heated for a good 20 minutes and use the correct temperature guidelines. Follow the recipe properly, use raising agents if the recipe asks for extra to be added. Sometimes the mixture can be very stiff, in this case add a table spoon or two of hot water ( not boiling) or milk ( room temperature not cold from the fridge) to the batter which should be dropping consistency. Is it important not to open the oven door too soon as this will make your cake drop. I hope this helps, please try again with your cakes and I hope you will have a lovely light cake.

  19. Leanne

    April 16, 2013

    Thank you for writing this. Yesterday I made a caramel mud cake which turned out dense, hard on the sides and undercooked in the center. Thanks to this blog I realised some big errors I made – overmixing the batter, opening the oven door often to check the cake and having too high an oven temp. I did the same temperature the recipe called for but my cakes so far always go hard at the sides and I’m thinking this is because my oven is fan assisted? One thing I’m not sure how to fix though is the cake being undercooked in the center while the outside is overcooked. My springform tin is 23cm. Any further advice on how to change this? Thanks!

    • madeitwithlove

      April 23, 2013

      Hi Leanne

      I hope some of your problems are now behind you. We chatted quite a bit in Q & A and I derived from your comments that your results are better. Keep a record of the temperature for each cake you bake, you’ll soon get to know a happy temperature for your oven. Best of luck with your future baking.

  20. diane

    February 22, 2013

    Hi i wonder if you can help? i weigh out all of my ingredients very accuratly and use ingredients at room temperature and also use an oven thermomiter in my oven, but my cakes still never cook in the times given in the recipies. They always take a lot longer than the recipe says sometimes up to an hour! I also weigh out my wet ingredients. I am an experienced cook but i just can not think what the problem is and why my cakes are not cooked in the times given even though i am using the internal oven thermomiter as well to ensure i am getting the correct internal temp in my oven. Please can you help?

    • madeitwithlove

      February 24, 2013

      Hi Diane

      In my experience the culprit has always been the oven, although I have come across recipes which were down right incorrect in their timing. If I don’t trust a recipe for timing I normally check the cake two thirds the way through by opening the oven door very slightly (so as not to let too much heat escape) and touching the top of
      the cake. If it’s very wobbly I allow it to bake on until I can see the sides of the cake pulling away from the lining paper. Of course this means keeping an eye on the baking but it does avert a few disasters. Since you’ve taken all the necessary precautions I would suggest raising the temperature slightly, make a note of it and see whether the result is better. I used to have a lot of problems with madeira cake but by constant adjustment I finally found the correct baking temp for my oven. You may have to do it with several recipes as timing is not set for every oven but as a guide. I’ve included this link http://www.all-food-considered.com/2013/01/culinary-lesson-14-knowing-your-oven.html#!/2013/01/culinary-lesson-14-knowing-your-oven.html. It makes for interesting reading and lots of sense. I hope it helps you find a happy temperature solution. ps apologies for late reply.

      • diane

        March 4, 2013

        Thank you so much, your right this is a very interesting topic. I am going to experement with my oven and hopefully this will solve the problem.

  21. Michelle

    October 7, 2012

    Oh wow, you’re a God sent. Thank you so much for these tips!

  22. olusola

    September 24, 2012

    hi made with love,enjoy ur write up.my ? is my cupcakes when i bring them out of the oven after baking they are soft but after they cooldown for some hours,it becomes a little hard not as soft as when fresh from the oven.

    \

    • madeitwithlove

      September 24, 2012

      Hi Olusola

      Warm cakes always feel very soft and fluffy, as they start to cool down so does the butter or margarine making the cakes appear more dense or hard. Over mixing cupcake batter or any cake batter will make the crumb hard and grainy. So with your cupcakes make sure you fold the flour in gently into the egg and butter/margarine until it is just mixed in. Over mixing stretches the gluten in the flour and cakes can become very dense. Over baking cupcakes and too high temperature can also do this. Most cupcake recipes ask for them to be baked between 12- 20 minutes depending on the ingredients. If you follow Mrs Jones’ cupcake recipe you won’t go far wrong. I don’t bake very good cupcakes, so when I do make them, I make a simple syrup from equal quantities of sugar and water, boil for a minute, cool, then while the cakes are still a little warm use it to give them a little soak (not too much, use a pastry brush). The syrup goes down into the sponge and makes it moist. For 12 cupcakes I make 50ml water and 50 gm sugar, there is always some left over. I find that helps my cupcakes Hope this helps.

      • olusola olayinka

        September 26, 2012

        I really appreciate the tips will try it out,tanks madewithlove.

  23. jane ross

    September 19, 2012

    Hi made with love would you recommend anodised aluminium cake pans for baking as i am about to purchase some for my business that I am starting up

    Thanks

    • madeitwithlove

      September 22, 2012

      Hi Jane
      I’m so sorry for not responding to your comment sooner. With regard to your aluminum anodised baking tins,
      I can’t give you a personal opinion as I haven’t actually used them. I do have some individual ones which
      I haven’t got around to using. As far as I know, anodized aluminium baking tins per se, have no advantage when baking cakes compared with ordinary aluminium tins. Anodizing applies an extra coating of aluminium on the surface of a tin, this makes the surface resistant to surface oxidation and keeps the tin shiny. The tins can still be scratched and damaged just like normal ones.

      There are many baking tins on the market and they all claim they are the best, however, in my experience heavy duty tins without seams are best. They do not warp. and they distribute heat evenly. I use the dark non stick tins and have had no problems with them. Once lined with parchment paper, cleaning is easy and they present no misshaping or rusting. I’ve had some of mine for twenty years and they’re still going strong.

      Since you are making this purchase for your business, I would advise that you buy the best you can afford.
      If you have never previously used anodized aluminum tins, it would be wiser to buy just one to see how you
      fare with it. Better to err on the side of caution than to spend your hard earned cash on something you may
      not get along with. I hope some of this information helps you with your decision.
      Finally, congratulations on setting up your own business, and I wish you the very best of luck in your venture.

  24. sharon54

    September 8, 2012

    Enjoyed reading the blog, thank you :-)

    • madeitwithlove

      September 12, 2012

      Hi Sharon

      Thank you for reading the blog and for your kind comment.

  25. Arwen

    September 7, 2012

    Hi madeitwithlove, I totally agree with Jgibb. I think you covered every mistake I have ever had. I am still a relative beginner, but enjoying every minute. Your advice on my ‘holes in cake’ was brilliant. Next cake was so much better. Thank you for your help from afar! Much appreciated.

  26. Jgibb

    September 6, 2012

    Hi Madeitwithlove, many thanks for an excellent tutorial, a well written piece which I am sure people will refer to time after time. As with most skills, it takes time and lots of practice. I used to turn out those horrors from school domestic science lessons too…thankfully I have had a few years to practice and mostly get good results. My daughter now tells me that if you weigh the eggs you get a much better chance at a good result. I must say her cakes are lovely so maybe there is something in that. And if my cakes don’t turn out too well…they still get eaten by my daughters and my two grandsons!

    • madeitwithlove

      September 6, 2012

      HiJgibb

      I weigh eggs as well if I’m doing an all in one mix, and yes the results are good. This method is fantastic for quick sponges. It is an easy way too, to teach young people who are interested in baking. I’m sure you are being modest about your cakes, I bet they are really lovely. I envy you for your grandsons, I have a great niece, I share her with my sister whose grand child she is. I had so much fun making the fairy castle cake for her birthday, and we enjoy making models together. Perhaps one day I’ll teach her to bake, she’s only eight so a while to go yet. Thank you for your generous comment.

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