Cake SOS: Solutions to Common Cake Problems

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Every cake baker has been there. You have visions of baking a light, delicious cake and adding gorgeous decorations to make a picture-perfect confection for your next special event, but when you open the oven the cake has fallen or burned, or when you take it out the entire thing crumbles. Baking a cake is essentially a sweetly indulgent science project, and there are many ways science can go wrong when not handled precisely.

There are many common problems when it comes to baking cakes, but if you know what causes them, you know how to combat them before they have the chance to ruin your high hopes for your next cake.

The Falling Cake:

A cake should rise considerably when baking and stay aloft once baked. If your cake doesn't rise or collapses before you have a chance to ice it, there is likely a problem with the recipe. One of the most common causes of a cake that sinks along with your dreams for the perfect dessert is too much chemical leaving such as baking powder. If you reduce the amount of leavening and are still left with a flat cake, try using a smaller pan. Peeking into the oven before the cake gets a chance to set is also cause for a cake to sink. Leave the oven door shut until the minimum amount of time in the recipe has passed and you are ready to check for doneness.

Cracking Up:

You may expect that you have to trim the top of each of your cake layers off before stacking them up, but if they come out already smooth and even you can save time and avoid the stacks of cake trimmings that pile up on your counter. A cake that comes out with a cracked top is probably suffering the effects of too much flour in the batter. Make sure you measure your flour either by weighing it on a kitchen scale or by spooning it lightly into a cup measure and making the top even with a knife to ensure accuracy. A cake may also crack because it is in a pan that is too small for the recipe. Be sure you do not overfill your pans and choose one that is right for the size of your recipe

Crunchy Edges:

If your cake comes out with a delightfully soft center but the edges are dark and crunchy, you could be dealing with a variety of issues. You may have added too much sugar to the recipe, which caramelizes and adds crunch to the crust. You may also have used a fat that was not intended for baking, such as a high water content vegetable spread. If your recipe is perfect, make sure your pans are not overly greased. Keep the cake protected and easy to remove without risking the crunch by using parchment to line the pan

Tough Texture:

Your cake may look angelic and delicate on the outside, but if the inside is tough and coarse, your hopes for the perfect cake are dashed. A tough cake may be the result of over-zealous mixing. Mixing your batter too much overdevelops the protein, known as gluten, in the flour for a tighter, denser grain

If you have a cake disaster, never fear. Use it as a learning experience to make your next cake creation a success. In some situations you can still use the cake you made, if not for its originally intended use. Sunken, thin, or crunchy cakes can be broken apart to use as a crumble on top of fruit or you can puncture the surface of the cake and pour lemon glaze or sweetened condensed milk over it for a different experience.