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Common Cake Faults: Identifying and Remedying the Problem

There are many things that can go wrong when baking a cake. Learn how to identify and avoid these 10 common missteps.

There are many things that can go wrong when baking a cake. Learn how to identify and avoid these 10 common missteps.

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 from being beaten into the mixture (e.g. flour too soft, too much fat). The most common causes are as follows:

  1. Too much baking powder
  2. Too much sugar (this will be apparent if the cake also has a crisp, sugary crust)
  3. Too much fat/margarine
  4. Flour too soft
  5. 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:

  1. The flour is too soft
  2. The batter is too soft
  3. The batter is too lightly aerated (either from overmixing or from too much baking powder)
  4. 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:

  1. Insufficient aeration (from undermixing or not enough baking powder)
  2. The batter is too stiff
  3. The flour is too strong
  4. The batter is toughened (from overmixing or from recipe imbalance)
  5. 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:

  1. Oven is too cold so the cakes are in the oven too long, and the crumb dries out
  2. Too much baking powder
  3. Not enough liquid in the batter to keep the cake moist

9. Sugary Tops or White Spots on Cakes

The causes are as follows:

  1. Too much sugar
  2. Not enough liquid (to dissolve the sugar)
  3. Sugar too coarse (to be fully dissolved)
  4. Cake 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:

  1. The eggs are added too soon before the fat and sugar have been creamed
  2. The eggs are added cold, as this causes the fat to harden again and accept no more eggs. Egg temperature should be approximately 72°F (21°C)
  3. The eggs are added in too large an amount at once. Eggs should always be added slowly and gradually.