Tips & Techniques Baking & Desserts Solving the Cake-Making Blues

Got a problem with your cake? You'll find the solution here.

Problem: Batter curdles and separates.
Solution: Eggs were not added one at a time and beaten thoroughly after each addition; an electric mixer was set at too high a speed; and/or the eggs were too cold. Try adding 1 Tbs. flour per egg and reducing the speed of the electric mixer.

Problem: Cake didn't rise.
Solution: Too much or not enough fat or liquid in the batter; batter was overbeaten; and/or oven temperature was too high.

Problem: Cake is tough.
Solution: Butter and sugar were underbeaten in the early stages of mixing; batter was overbeaten after the flour was added; not enough sugar; not enough baking powder; and/or not enough fat. Try brushing cake layers with sugar syrup, or filling and frosting the layers with a generous layer of moist frosting.

Problem: Cake crumb is sticky.
Solution: Too much sugar in the batter or sugar was too coarse.

Problem: Top crust is hard.
Solution: Oven temperature was too high; cake was overbaked; and/or cake was baked too close to the top of the oven. Try slicing off the top of the cake layer before frosting.

Problem: Cake sinks in the center.
Solution: Too much fat and/or sugar or leavening; batter was overbeaten; cake pan was too small; the filled cake pan was tapped too roughly on the countertop; the oven door was banged shut; or the oven temperature was too low. Try cutting out the fallen center and treating the cake like a tube cake; or fill the depression with fruit or extra frosting.

Problem: Cake peaks in the center.
Solution: Wrong type of flour was used (contained too much gluten); batter was overbeaten; too little fat and/or sugar in the batter; and/or oven temperature was too high. Try slicing the peaked center off the cake, then frost the cake.

Problem: Tunnels run through the cake.
Solution: Not enough fat in the batter; batter was overbeaten; or wrong type of flour was used (contained too much gluten).

Problem: Crust is unevenly colored.
Solution: Too much leavener and/or sugar in the batter; not enough fat in the batter; oven temperature was too high or too low; oven heats unevenly. Try camouflaging with frosting.

Problem: Cake rose unevenly.
Solution: Cake layers were crowded on the oven rack and heated unevenly. Bake each layer on its own rack. Trim the layers to even them out and camouflage with frosting.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)