Cake fails cause your baking adventures to end in tears? Does your cake stick to the pan or come out dry as the Sahara Desert? Never fear, here are some fail-safe techniques for making a beautiful cake that everyone will be talking about. (In a GOOD way!) 🎂 Once you’ve got these tips down, you’ll be able to master gorgeous cakes like the Dark Knight Chocolate Cake or the Blueberry Peach Upside-Down Cake.
Cake Fails 1: Sticking to the pan
There’s nothing worse than finding the perfect cake recipe, buying the ingredients, using the most expensive nonstick cake pans, and having a deadline for the cake to be ready. It comes out of the oven looking beautiful. You think “Ah! This will be a piece of cake to finish!” (Pun intended.) You let your cakes cool, go to remove them from the pans, and end up with your cake in pieces.
CAKE FAIL. It’s alright to cry. I sure have many times. 😭😭
What you’ll need: Parchment paper, I will never bake a cake again without parchment paper. (Note: if you’re making a poke cake, don’t use parchment because the cake stays in the pan and you will end up eating it!)
What to do: Lay out a large piece of parchment paper. Set your cake pan on top of the paper and trace the bottom of the pan with a pencil, then cut out the circle with a pair of scissors. If there are any pencil marks on the paper, make sure they’re facing the pan and not the cake.
Why does this work? Parchment paper prevents cake fails by allowing you to easily turn the cake out of the pan without it sticking. The paper will peel off perfectly after the cake has cooled. I have never had a cake stick since I started using this method. Hallelujah!
Cake Fails 2: Choke-worthy dry cake
One common baking fail is a cake that is so dry you can barely swallow it. What causes this? Lots of things.
Baking a cake requires precision and science, so you can’t just change things in the recipe. Using too much or too little of an ingredient will result in a cake FLOP. Switching out ingredients can cause problems as well, as does baking at the wrong temperature or for the wrong amount of time.
You need to follow the recipe exactly, and that means do not substitute an ingredient unless you have done your research and know how the new ingredient will react within the recipe. Changing one ingredient can change the entire outcome of a recipe. In other words, changing a recipe without careful consideration results in MEGA CAKE FAILS. 😫
Some reasons your cake might be too dry:
- Too much flour: Make sure you use a measuring cup for dry ingredients. Fill it with flour, then with the back of a butter knife level it off before adding it to the batter. Or better yet, consider getting a digital kitchen scale and baking by weight.
- Not enough liquid: Always follow the recipe and add the exact amount of liquid called for. (Pro tip: If you are trying to cut calories or fat, you can swap applesauce out for oil.)
- Over-mixing: After you add the flour, over-mixing your batter will cause the gluten in the flour to overdevelop. Too much gluten development will leave your cake tough and dry. Mix just enough to incorporate all ingredients together and get the clumps out, then STOP MIXING. Sometimes that means you’ll still see a little bit of flour here and there.
- Proper size pans: Using a pan that is too large can result in a dry cake. This is because the layer of batter is too thin, which causes it to bake faster. Switching up pan sizes on the fly almost always results in cake fails unless you know exactly what you’re doing. (Note: check out this Mega Measurement Guide for a guide to making sure you’re always using the right size baking pan!)
- Oven too hot/over-baking: If you have a crappy oven like I do, that cooks too fast or too slow than it should, keep a close eye on your cake while it is baking. Definitely buy an oven thermometer to make sure your oven is at the correct temperature. Temperature problems are one of the leading causes of tragic cake fails. 😭
- Baked too long — use a timer!: I actually use 2 timers. I have the oven timer, plus one from the dollar store that I put in my pocket while the cake is baking. If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to do 10 things at once (baking, cleaning, laundry). The second timer goes with me so I don’t forget about my cake until the smoke alarm tells me it’s overdone! 🔥🔥🔥
- Going stale: Even a perfectly baked cake can dry out if it hasn’t been stored properly. Let the cake cool completely, then either frost it or wrap it in plastic as quickly as possible after it has cooled. Covering and storing a cake properly is just as important as baking it correctly. If you haven’t already invested in an airtight cake keeper (affiliate link) I suggest doing so.
- If I’m making a cake for someone else, the day before pick-up I will bake the cake, let it cool and before I go to bed for the night I make the filling for the center, fill it, crumb coat it (A thin layer of frosting called the “crumb coat” seals in stray crumbs before fondant, marzipan, or a second frosting layer is applied.) and then refrigerate it until I’m ready to frost, decorate and box it up for the customer the next day.
Cake Fails 3: Raw in the middle
There are many different reasons a cake may not bake all the way. While I would love to fib and say this never happens to me, I’m too damn honest. I JUST messed up a cake myself.
My recipe called for 2 to 3 medium bananas and 2 large eggs. My bananas were really big and then my daughter and I got chatting as I was adding the eggs to the batter. I didn’t notice one of the eggs I bought were double yolked (which means extra fat not accounted for in the recipe).
My oven cooks about five minutes too fast as well, so I adjusted the baking time accordingly. I checked the middle of the cake with a skewer and it came out clean. The cake looked beautiful. I took it out of the oven and let it cool completely.
But when I took it out of the pan, I saw that the center hadn’t cooked all the way through. The extra yolk, on top of the extra-large bananas, made the difference in the cake being 100% cooked through. There was way too much moisture in the batter, which needed longer to bake.
Reasons why your cake might still be raw in the middle:
- There’s too much moisture in the batter 💦💦
- Your oven temperature is too low, which can be fixed by baking longer, OR at a higher temperature ❄️
- The cake pan you used was too small, which made the layer of batter too thick
- You’ve crammed too many cakes into your oven, meaning they will all cook slower in the shared heat
- Your cake is too far away from the heating element. Ideally, your cakes would go on the middle rack, equally far away from the top and bottom of your oven.
With these cake-fails details ready, you officially have the tools necessary to battle baking dramas deftly and with grace. Now that you’re that much closer to being a baking superstar, what will you make next?
Here are a few cake recipes you might enjoy: