Gordon has been a baker and confectioner for many years and has professional qualifications and trade experience
10 Common Cake Problems and Solutions
It is often the case that cakes are made that are not up to the required standard. When this happens, it is important to be able to identify what went wrong so that you do not make the same mistake again. What follows is a list of the most common faults and their causes.
1. Cake Is Sunk in the Middle
Most of the causes of a sunken cake are concerned with recipe imbalance. Too much of a certain ingredient can cause the cake to rise quickly but then collapse (e.g. too much baking powder) or can result from an imbalanced recipe preventing sufficient air being beaten into the mixture (e.g. flour too soft, too much fat). The most common causes are as follows:
- Too much baking powder
- Too much sugar (this will be apparent if the cake also has a crisp, sugary crust)
- Too much fat/margarine
- Flour too soft
- Cake was knocked in the oven before it had set
2. Cake Is Collapsing at the Sides
This is also called the "X" fault on account of the shape of the cake after it is baked. Most often, the cause is too much liquid in the batter inhibiting the batter from rising evenly.
3. Fruit Is Sinking in the Cake
This is a very common problem and one that can have a number of causes. Usually, it is either to do with the fruit or the batter. The most common causes are:
- The flour is too soft
- The batter is too soft
- The batter is too lightly aerated (either from overmixing or from too much baking powder)
- The fruit is wet and therefore heavy (especially cherries)
4. Cake Is too Small
This is also a very common problem and again one with a number of potential causes, the most common of which are as follows:
- Insufficient aeration (from undermixing or not enough baking powder)
- The batter is too stiff
- The flour is too strong
- The batter is toughened (from overmixing or from recipe imbalance)
- The oven is too hot (which leads to the cake being "gripped" and stunted)
5. Badly Cracked Tops
The cause of this is that the oven is too hot, and the crust of the cake forms while the cake is still rising, leading to the crust "bursting."
6. Peaked Top
This is usually caused by a tough batter, which is caused by overmixing and is often accompanied by a long hole in the cake.
7. Wet Streak at the Base of the Cake
This is caused by too much liquid, with the excess liquid in the recipe left as residue at the base.
8. Cake Staling Quickly
This has a number of causes:
- Oven too cold so the cakes are in the oven too long, and the crumb dries out
- Too much baking powder
- Not enough liquid in the batter to keep the cake moist
9. Sugary Tops or White Spots on Cakes
The causes are as follows:
- Too much sugar
- Not enough liquid (to dissolve the sugar)
- Sugar too coarse (to be fully dissolved)
- Cakes standing too long before going in the oven. This allows moisture to escape from the top of the cake and leaves sugar residue in the batter.
10. Curdled Cake Batter
Fat and water do not mix normally, and in a cake batter that contains fat and water (in the eggs) there is a natural tendency for curdling, or the breaking down of the emulsion of fat and eggs. If a cake batter curdles, the resulting cakes are often still acceptable, though smaller than usual. Curdling will occur if:
- The eggs are added too soon before the fat and sugar have been creamed
- The eggs are added cold, as this causes the fat to harden again and accept no more eggs. Egg temperature should be approximately 72F (21 Centigrade)
- The eggs are added in too large an amount at once. Eggs should always be added slowly and gradually.
Nelly on April 09, 2020:
Ochieng on March 03, 2020:
What is the remedy for wet streak at the base of cake
Gordon Bannerman (author) from Waterdown, Ontario on October 05, 2018:
No way to counteract too much salt I'm afraid. You can do it in bread-making by adding more yeast but not with cakes.
Crack on the side? Not seen that before really. It could be to do with the oven temperature. Perhaps too hot and causing the batter to get pulled up instead of rising more slowly and evenly. also make sure that you weight the ingredients carefully as with cakes there is not too much margin for error.
Too dry and hard would be either cold an oven and/or baking too long though it could also be a recipe balance issue too but that it less likely than a temperature issue.
mariya on October 05, 2018:
hi. why the cake crack on the side not top
Cindy Thompson on September 26, 2018:
I put toouch salt in my cake batter..is there a way to counteract it
Zibu on September 20, 2018:
Hi, id like to know what causes the cake to be to dry and hard?
anonomous on June 04, 2018:
cool for my project
Gordon Bannerman (author) from Waterdown, Ontario on May 03, 2018:
Some queries below: dry cake would be caused by too long in the oven or baking at wrong temperature, usually too cold an oven.
Holes at the top of the cake? You mean in the crumb or on exterior of cake?
Uneven rising: could be a problem of aeration or blending of ingredients. Sounds obvious but you should ensure you smooth the surface before you put in the oven.
Toughness is normally caused by not enough liquid and/or aeration so mixing for longer and recipe balance would be crucial here.
Gordon Bannerman (author) from Waterdown, Ontario on April 22, 2018:
Yes, could be excess sugar or perhaps ingredients not properly blended. Make sure you use caster rather than granulated sugar.
Aswathy on April 01, 2018:
Why is my cake feeling sticky inside and top even after the tester came out clean and i kept it for baking for almost 45minutes? Is it because of too much sugar?
annonomous on November 03, 2017:
i used it for my homework it really helped me:)
ddhdhdhd on October 18, 2017:
good advice but what is the problem if i get holes in the top of my cake
jerdane reeves on October 17, 2017:
good advice thanks
Aria on October 12, 2017:
What about cake rises unevenly and cake is dry
mark emnace on August 29, 2017:
thank you for my new discovery
Rebecca on June 27, 2017:
what about tough cakes?
danielkr on May 12, 2017:
You missed one issue: the problem of too much cake
Remedy: Share the cake
george geanna on April 27, 2017:
this helps me a lot in my project, just perfect
Anny on March 09, 2017:
I really do not know the reason why my cakes are always hard despite using a standing mixer to cream butter and sugar for 4omins, even whisking the eggs with a standing mixer separately, though the folding in of flour done manually with hand. Could therer be a fault with my oven or I have over mixed or what could be the reason?
steven on September 30, 2016:
Thanks u reli helped my bakeing skills
simmy on March 28, 2016:
Thanks for the info
shalom on November 17, 2015:
thank you, for making me learn more.
Gordon Bannerman (author) from Waterdown, Ontario on July 04, 2015:
Thanks for all the kind comments. Re: the query about too much eggs. Well, that can make the mixture too soft for a start, and secondly because the recipe would be imbalanced there would be an increased chance of curdling, leading to small and dumpy cakes.
The crucial things with eggs are to warm them and add them slowly to ensure the mix does not curdle.
claris on July 04, 2015:
Althea Carter on May 22, 2015:
A real knowledge
thanks on July 30, 2014:
am a catering student and i cldnt remember all of them
Deepankar Sharma on June 22, 2014:
I am a chef but i could not figure out where i was going wrong. Thank you.
Annanymous on October 08, 2012:
I'm doing a science project on cupcakes and how the egg effects how high it rises and this helped a lot
biola on June 19, 2012:
Thanks for the information, I want you to help mem. If I use too many eggs, how will it affect my cake
Gordon Bannerman (author) from Waterdown, Ontario on January 18, 2012:
Thanks very much. As cakes contain a lot of ingredients with lots of different chemical properties, there are many variables which can cause problems. As part of training at college, we used to deliberately make mistakes in order to see the results. In the long-term, that actually helped, as a practical demonstration of technical knowledge. Anyway, I'm glad to help in some small way. Good luck!
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on January 18, 2012:
I'm going to save this Hub for future use. I think you just explained why my cakes don't always do justice to Betty Crocker! Thanks!