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Trouble Shooting Cakes: tips for preventing a domed, cracked, or sunken cake.

“How do I bake the perfect cake layer” “Why is my cake domed? I want a flat cake.” “My cake seemed cooked all they through, but it sunk when it cooled. What did I do wrong?” We get asked these questions every day! So, it’s time to give you a few tips for trouble shooting cakes. Here we go!

Cause of a Domed Cake

This cake, with low sides and a raised middle, is frustrating. The cake is baked all the way through, but the dome needs to be leveled off, if you’re making a layered cake.

This is the result of the cake cooking too quickly. The edges of the cake get baked early in the process, setting them in place. Meanwhile, the middle of the cake is still uncooked and the leaveners are still performing. The cake continues to rise, lifting the middle of the cake higher and higher until it is cooked. This can be caused by two things: a hot oven or a hot pan.

Trouble Shooting a Domed Cake

An oven that is too hot will ruin your cake, every time. When you preheat your oven, you are trusting that the internal thermometer is calibrated to the oven display. This is (unfortunately) not the case most of the time. Some ovens even vary up to 15-20º F! Knowing the true internal temperature will benefit your baking. Using a trustworthy oven thermometer, you can get to know your oven’s personality! Place the thermometer in one corner of the oven. Let is sit for 5-10 minutes, then read the temp. Repeat in each of the four corners of the oven.

Once you’ve become familiar with your oven, use that information to decide which rack you’ll place your cakes. If the rack is too low and too hot, your cake will cook to quickly. Generally, the middle of the oven is the most gentle place for cakes to bake.

Another contributing factor is your cake pan. Not all cake pans are made equally, and there are some metals that diffuse the heat poorly, making them too hot. (Read more here.) A pan that heats too quickly will cause a domed cake! We love aluminum pans from Fat Daddio’s. Aluminum is the best conductor of heat. Plus, the anodization on the pans makes them a sturdy, long-lasting option for many years or baking.

So! Play around with your oven temperature, oven racks, and cake pans! Find the perfect set up for your situation. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider baking your next batch of cakes 25º lower than the recipes recommends. (So, if the recipe says 350º, bake at 325º instead.) YOu’ll need to lengthen to amount of time needed, but this gentle heat might be just the thing you need to prevent a domed and cracked cake.

Cause of a Cracked Cake

The cracked cake occurs when the domed cake grows larger than the top of the cake can handle. Understanding that cakes bake from the outside in, the top of the cake bakes quickly. If the cake continues to rise after the crust has set, that crust will crack!

Follow the same tips for preventing a domed cake, and you’ll also prevent the cracked cake.

Cause of a Sunken Cake

Okay. The cake with the sunken middle is absolutely devastating. Especially when it looks perfect when you remove it from the oven. then as it cools, it drops and drops and drops. Such a bummer.

pan of 12 chocolate cupcakes with sunken middles. This is part of a post about trouble shooting cakes.
Sunken Cupcakes via Baking Bites

Trouble Shooting a Sunken Cake

So, there are a few factors that contribute to the sunken cake. Let’s take it one step at a time!

First, make sure your cake is baked alllll the way through. This seems like a no brainer, but remember, cakes bake from the outside in! It may look done, if you only check the top of the cake. To properly check, insert a toothpick into the deepest part of the cake. If it pulls out raw cake batter, keep it in the oven! If you pull the cake out of the oven with the middle still raw, your cake will sink upon cooling!

Second, don’t open your oven during first 80% of the baking time. The cake structure is fragile. Opening the door can cause the temperature to drop up to 20º. This drastic change can cause the cake to fall. So, peak through the oven window, until the last 5 or so minutes of baking. Then you can carefully open the door to check your cakes. Some people even recommend opening the door very gently, worrying that a jiggle or jolt might cause the cake to fall.

Next, resist the urge to over mix your cake batter. Once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed, take care to mix until just combined. Over mixing encourages the gluten in the flour to strengthen. This makes more air pockets in the cake batter as it bakes. These bubbles cause the cake to rise too high, but they are weak and can’t support the cake. So, as the cake cools, it deflates! Such a bummer. Fix this problem by mixing you cake batter less! There may a be a couple bumps and lumps still present! That’s okay!

Another cause of an over-inflated cake is too much leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder). Again, the cake rises too high, but the structure is too weak to hold it up, so it sinks back down when it cools. Boo. If you think this is the culprit, reduce the amount of leavening agent in your recipe.

A Good Recipe

Finally, the specific ratio of your recipe may be the culprit for any cake problem. If the fat-to-flour ratio is off, your cake can sink. If there is too much fat, the flour can’t hold up the middle of the cake. It can also be caused by too much sugar! This is very common with chocolate cakes! So, if you are trying to trouble shooting cakes, consider adding a bit more flour to give your cake a bit more structure.

Starting with a good recipes should be the very first step for trouble shooting cakes. All the tips we’ve discussed will only work if you are working with a good recipe! If your chocolate cake recipe has problems with every bake, then find a new recipe with a better ratio of ingredients!!! Baking is truly a science and the ratio of ingredients will create the proper foundation for your baking success.

Beautifully baked Chocolate cake from Cake by Courtney. This recipe is formulated to prevent cake sinking.
High Altitude Friendly Chocolate Cake via Cake by Courtney

We love Cake by Courtney’s Chocolate Cake recipe. We’ve baked thousands of these cakes with great success. If you’re looking for a good recipe to test out these ideas for trouble shooting cakes, here’s the link. You’ll love it.

Happy Cake Baking! Let us know if you have any other cake baking problems you’d like us to discuss.

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