Baking Troubleshooting Guide
You know the feeling, you get yourself organised and ready to bake your cake, you follow the recipe religiously and bake it according to the instructed time. And then, the anticipation once that timer goes off, only to be crushed by the end result. A cracked cake, a flat cake or even (gasp!) a burnt cake. We’ve put together a comprehensive troubleshooting list so that you can have your cake and eat it.
My cake didn’t rise
There are three possible reasons that your cake is a little on the flat side. The first is because you didn’t add the correct amount of baking powder (or you forgot to add it completely!) or mistakenly used regular flour when the recipe called for self-raising flour.
The second is because your oven was either on the wrong temperature or the wrong setting (convection as opposed to fan for example) and lastly, it could just need more time in the oven. If it’s flat, and you know you added the correct raising agent and used the right oven setting, but still raw in the centre, put it back in the oven and let it rise properly. (note: use a cake tester or skewer to check your cake before removing from the oven, the tester should come out clean once inserted)
I can’t get my cake out of the tin
First things first, give the cake a minute or two to cool once you take it out of the oven. Then carefully run a palette knife between the cake and the tin to loosen it and then attempt to remove it carefully. It’s worth noting that it’s always advised to line the base of any cake tin with baking paper and to grease it with a little bit of butter.
Be sure to read your recipe carefully too, as most cakes can be loosened slightly and then left to cool completely in the tin. You can also grease your tins with Tin Glide, a release agent.
My cake is burnt
This one’s pretty obvious, we’re afraid, your oven temperature was too high and your cake has suffered the consequences. If you were completely caught unawares, be sure to set a reminder (like your oven timer) to keep an eye on how the cake browns as it bakes.
There are lots of cakes that will brown on top before the cake itself is baked, so if necessary, lower the temperature once the desired colour is reached.
My cake is raw with a gooey centre
Even if you’ve baked it for the recommended time, cakes and their ingredients can differ, as can ovens and how they work. Use a cake tester or skewer to check your cake before removing from the oven, the tester should come out clean once inserted).
If your cake is not properly cooked, don’t stress, just pop the cake back in the oven and give it another 10-15 minutes but check it after 7 minutes to see how it’s doing.
My cake mix has split
Fear not, this is a common issue for bakers. Despite your best attempts to cream your butter and sugar fully, often once eggs are added the cake mix splits.
Prevention is better than cure with this one, so when your creamed butter and sugar mix is pale and fluffy, add a tablespoon of your weighed out flour before adding each egg and lovingly incorporate everything together.
My cake is dry
Chances are if your is crumbly and dry, you overworked your cake batter meaning you possibly stirred it a little too vigorously. When mixing your ingredients, use a large folding technique to incorporate everything and stop stirring as soon as everything is mixed through. It’s also important to make sure you’re weighing out your dry ingredients properly as that could be a contributing factor.
My cake has sunk in the middle
Were you eager to see how your cake was doing? Did you open that oven door before your cake had a chance to set in the middle? If you’re answering yes, then that’s probably why your cake has sunk.
Sometimes though, very dense cakes can sink once they’ve had a chance to cool and this can be part of their charm. If you’re unconvinced, the next time you make the cake, split the mix into two tins and sandwich them together with icing once cooled.
My cake has risen unevenly
An uneven cake is most likely due to an incorrectly mixed raising agent. In plain English, sift your baking powder with your cake flour to move it through evenly.
My cake is peaked in the middle and is cracked
This issue can be from a number of reasons. It could be an overload of raising agent, the cake tin is too small and the cake has nowhere to spread to, or the batter was overworked during mixing. It can also be that the batter needs to cook more evenly and one way to ensure this is to use cake/baking wraps.
HOT TIP: a great way to prevent uneven rising and the need to trim the top of your cake, is to use baking wraps. You can use store bought ones, or simply make your own.
To make cake wraps, cut an old dishcloth that you no longer need lengthways into strips that will wrap around the outside of the tin/s you are using (i.e imagine you were using a sewing measuring tape to measure the outside of the tin, that is how they will need to wrap). They need to be able to go around the cake tin completely; ensure that you trim your wraps to be flush with the bottom so that your cakes sit flat inside the oven. If you are using 2 tins, you will need 2 strips. Once you have measured that they wrap around the tin, wet them and gently squeeze out the excess water (not too much), then secure tightly around the tins using safety pins.
How this works… the water in the wraps keeps the outside of the tins cool, allowing the cake batter to heat through at the same time (often the heat of the tins cooks the outer cake batter quicker). The water will dry completely and the wraps can be reused again and again.
My cookies spread too much and turn out really flat
One of the saddest sights in life is a tray of cookies spread out in one pancake-like mess on the tray. Make sure you never have to endure this again by chilling your dough before you bake it, not greasing the tray – instead use a Silpat mat or baking paper to line your tray. And lastly, if you’re baking your cookies in batches, always make sure the tray is cooled before placing your (chilled) dough on it.
My cookies brown too quickly on the edges and bottom
A spread out cookie may have thinner edges which will brown quicker than the rest of the biscuit, so avoid this with the above cookie tip. If the bottom browning is the issue then it may be your baking sheet. Darker sheets tend to be these cause of burnt pans and should be lined properly.
My meringue has collapsed
Ah meringues, most misunderstood of all the baked goods. When in doubt, always remember this if you want a thick, voluminous meringue you need to beat the egg whites to stiff peak (where they become dry and incredibly stiff) before adding any sugar.
The mistake most people make is beating the egg whites to soft peak and then adding the sugar, hoping to then beat the meringue to a stiff peak. Once the sugar is added, you won’t be able to accumulate any further volume so get all the height you need before adding it. See our guide to making perfect meringue here.
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