Nothing demonstrates a person's love and affection quite like a homemade cake. Round, square, layered, frosted, drizzled, flaked with coconut, or coated in sprinkles, these edible creations are symbols of celebration, a delicious way to bring people together and show someone you care. So it can be disheartening to say the least when your good intentions are marred by a sunken or uneven top.
Luckily, cookbook author Caroline Wright has the solutions to all of your cake complications. Wright recently released her new book Cake Magic!: Mix & Match Your Way to 100 Amazing Combinations ($11; amazon.com), aimed to help home cooks create—and fix!—a variety of scrumptious treats. Read on below for her expert advice on troubleshooting a wonky cake.
If Your Cake Is Sunken
“The culprit is most likely the age of the leavening," she writes. "An open container of baking powder, when stored in a cool, dry place, is effective for about 6 months. An open box of baking soda stored similarly also lasts only about 6 months. (The open box of baking soda stored in your fridge doesn’t count—besides being of ambiguous age, it is also tainted with the various scents and smells from your fridge. Add a fresh box to your next grocery list.”
If Your Cake Is Uneven
“A cake that varies in depth across its surface most likely has oven irregularities to blame," Wright says. "A cake rises because of the leavening, but the way it rises depends on the oven: its temperature, heat circulation, and orientation. The simple solution is to use an oven thermometer to ensure temperature accuracy. If the temperature is accurate but your cakes are still sloped, check to make sure the stove is level.”
If Your Cake Is Edged in White
“Cake layers that emerge from their pans coated in a white film are products of extreme pan preparation. When buttering the pan, use a pastry brush to apply room-temperature butter on the bottom and sides in an even coat," she advises. "This creates a nice layer for the flour to stick to and stays put, unlike melted butter, which tends to run. To dust the pan, add about a tablespoon of flour or unsweetened cocoa powder to the buttered pan, then swirl and turn the pan to coat the surface completely. Tap the pan firmly on your work surface so the excess flour jumps away from the sides and corners, then invert the pan to dump out the excess for a thin, even coating.”
If Your Cake Is Bubbled on Top or Hole-y
“A cake with an irregular texture or appearance can signal an oven problem, but it can also result from a poorly mixed batter," Wright says. "If the ingredients aren’t fully incorporated into the batter before baking, it can affect how the leavening reacts to the oven’s heat. When stirring the batter, make sure to scoop from the bottom, and scrape down the side of the bowl as you go.”