Britt Wyatt shares her frequently asked baking questions and answers from her blog.
"People often message me on my blog with questions about why their cakes have gone wrong and how they can prevent it happening again. There are lots of different things that can cause your cake to come out of the oven not looking or tasting as it should, so here I will answer the questions I am most frequently asked and give you a few tips on how to avoid problems when baking cakes" - Britt Wyatt.
Always use room temperature ingredients.
Using room temperature ingredients rather than chilled ingredients straight from the fridge, really does make a difference to how well they combine. So always remember to get your butter and eggs out a few hours before you start.
Weigh your ingredients properly.
It is important to weigh your ingredients properly if you want your cake to come out as it was intended to. I always use a digital scale for maximum accuracy and avoid using recipes measured in cups as it is far harder to measure them accurately.
Don’t just chuck everything in together unless the recipe says you can!
Although some recipes use the ‘all in one’ method, most will give you step by step instructions that should be followed for best results. Creaming the butter and sugar until light and fluffy aerates the mixture and paying attention to instructions such as ‘mix until just combined’and ‘fold in the flour’ will prevent you from overbeating the batter.
Always preheat the oven properly.
Always turn your oven on before you start making your batter, as a properly pre-heated oven is essential.
Position baking tins in the centre of the oven if possible.
Always try and place you tins in the centre of the oven where possible to allow good air circulation and the best chance of an even temperature.
Don’t let a clean skewer be your only guide.
Although it is very important to make sure that a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean in order to establish it’s readiness, it’s also important to check that the colour looks right and it has a decent spring to it as well before deciding that a cake is ready to come out. Sometimes a cake can still benefit from a few extraminutes in the oven after it passes the skewer test.
Why is my cake full of holes / hollow tunnels?
Holey cakes are usually caused by bad mixing. It can be because ingredients haven’t been fully combined when mixing or it can be because the mixture has been overbeaten after the dry ingredients have been added. Whilst you do need air in your mixture to make the cake light and fluffy, you don’t want large air bubbles in it. So once the dry ingredients have been added, mix the batter just enough so that all of the ingredients are combined and then stop. Then after you’ve poured your batter into the tin, lift the tin up and tap it a few times on the worktop. This will force any air bubbles to the surface of the batter and you will actually see them appear on top and burst.
Why is my cake dark and crunchy on the outside?
There are a few things that can cause cakes to become dark and crunchy on the outside. One can be using too much fat to grease the tin. In doing this the fat effectively fries the outside of the cake as it bakes, resulting in a perfectly cooked centre, but a crunchy dry outside. Another reason can be that you’re baking it on too high a temperature and the outside is burning before the middle has a chance to cook. Baking low and slow can prevent this. If you find the whole cake is dry as well as being dark on the outside, you’ve just left it in for too long and it’s overbaked. And when it comes to fruitcakes and recipes that call for a cake to be baked for hours, wrapping brown paper around the outside of the tin helps to prevent the outside over baking before the middle is cooked.
Why has the middle of my cake risen into a volcano?
This is often caused by baking at too high a temperature. Baking for longer at a lower temperature will usually resolve this issue.
Why has my cake cracked on top?
If your cake has a badly cracked top you may have added too much raising agent, or the cake may have cooked too quickly. This can happen if you place the cake too high in the oven, so it’s usually best to bake cakes on the middle shelf.
Why hasn’t my cake risen enough?
The first most basic reason can be that the tin you are using is too big for the amount of batter and it actually has risen as it should have done, but you just didn’t have enough of it. Another reason can be that your baking powder is too old. People often don’t realise that although raising agents have a long shelf life, once they are opened they should be thrown away after 3 months as they lose their effectiveness. Making sure that you cream the butter and sugar together sufficiently also helps a cake to rise well, so make sure you don’t skip that stage!
Why has my cake sunk in the middle?
This can be caused by a number of things. Baking at too low a temperature or not pre-heating the oven can cause cakes to sink in the middle. Opening the oven door can also cause cakes to sink. If you need to, you can open the door quickly half way through cooking to rotate your tin if necessary, but don’t ever be tempted to keep checking on it as every time you open the door the oven loses temperature. Cakes can also sink in the middle due to not enough or ineffective raising agent.
Why has my cake risen more on one side?
Most ovens have hot spots and aren’t the same temperature all over. If you find your cakes are rising more on one side, you just need to rotate the tin halfway through baking. This is particularly important to do if you are baking two cakes side by side in the oven as one edge of each cake will be very close to the side of the oven and will cook differently to the edges that are in the centre of the oven.
Why is my cake burnt on top but still not cooked in the centre?
This is usually because you’ve used too much batter in the tin. Only fill your tin 2/3rdfull.
Why does my cake have a very heavy, dense texture?
Dense cake can be the result of under or over beating the cake mixture. It’s important to beat the mixture well before the flour goes in to make sure you get enough air in it, but once you add the flour you should only mix it for long enough to incorporate the flour and then stop. It can also be caused by using insufficient or ineffective raising agent.