Have you ever baked a cake only to find that it’s overbaked or tough? You’ve put all that time and emotional energy into creating something that was supposed to be special only to realize something went very wrong, but you don’t know what?
I’ve made my fair share of cakes over the years and while I would love to tell you they’ve all been incredible, that just wouldn’t be true. Friend, I’ve made dry cakes. I’ve made gummy cakes. I’ve pulled cakes out of the oven too soon and had underbaked cakes. I’ve opened the oven halfway through and caused my cakes to fall. I’ve had plenty of cake fails!
All those fails have taught me something.
As the years have passed, I’ve learned so much. I’ve done alot of studying, learning how ratios play into baking, when to use soda versus powder, the difference between butter and oil and so much more. Creating your own cake recipe takes dedication and alot of trial and error. Not everyone has time for that!
Fortunately, there are so many great recipes out there and every good cake starts with a good recipe. If you’re trying a new cake recipe, begin by looking for one with high ratings. That’s a good sign that other peope have had success baking that particular cake and sets you off on the right foot.
Next, read ahead as I share with you several common mistakes I’ve run into and ways to avoid them, so that your cakes turn out well every single time.
Mistake #1: Overmixing
Overmixing is so very easy to do, and will cause your cakes to be tough and rubbery. It can be challenging though if you’re reading through a recipe and the instructions say something along the lines of “mix thoroughly.” What does that mean? One minute or two? And what speed? Low, medium or high?
Those things are important!
It’s important to mix well, but also smart.
My general rule of thumb is that I cream my butter and sugar(s) on medium speed for about 30 seconds. I pause the mixer, scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl, bump it back up to to medium speed and cream for about 30 more seconds until my butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy. Once my butter and sugar mixture is creamed, I mix in everything else on low speed. It take a little bit of extra time, but ensures that nothing is overmixed. It typically only takes about 20-30 seconds for the ingredients to be incorporated, and as soon as they are I stop the mixer. Once stopped, I scraped down the side and bottom of the bowl and then mix for about 10 more seconds or until combined.
You’ll be amazed at what gets missed at the bottom of the bowl, and when the ingredients aren’t thoroughly incorporated, the cake won’t bake evenly.
Mistake #2: Overbaking
Overbaking can happen for a couple different reasons and it’s important to understand what causes it.
Reason 1: Your oven isn’t at the right temperature.
Did you know that the majority of ovens don’t hold an accurate temperature? The nerve!
Ovens are so finicky, but baking at the correct temperature makes such a difference in the final product. Your best bet is to purchase an oven thermometer. The good news is, an oven thermometer is a whole lot cheaper than a wasted cake, and once you have one you’ll always know that your oven is at the correct temperature.
Once you have an oven thermometer, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F or 177 degrees C. When your oven is preheated, check the thermometer to see where the temp is holding, then adjust your oven as needed.
Reason 2: You don’t know how to tell your cakes are finished baking.
How many times have you pulled your cakes out of the oven at the wrong time? Maybe they looked like they were done, but once they cooled you realized that the middle was actually still a little wet and gummy? Or perhaps you left them in a little too long (better safe than sorry, you thought) only to result in a cake that was dry, crumbly and full of disappointment?
I completely understand that moment where panic slightly sets in and you’re standing there wondering if it’s time to pull your cakes from the oven. I’ve got you covered!
Check out 4 Ways to Confidently Tell That Your Cake is Finished Baking to grow your confidence and know exactly when to pull your cakes from the oven.
Mistake #3: Not Measuring Ingredients Correctly
Have you ever heard the phrase “baking is a science”? It is so true. There are specific ratios that you want to stick with as guidelines for baking certain types of recipes (i.e. cakes, cookies, scones, breads, etc). The ingredients you mix togethr and the order you add them all play a huge role in the outcome of your recipe.
Always read through your recipe before you begin, to ensure you’re prepared and don’t miss a step.
I’ve also found that I LOVE weighing out my ingredients. When I first began baking, I didn’t even know this was an option, but when I learned how it was like magic. Suddenly my bakes were consistenly good. The reason is that when you weigh your ingredients, there’s no room for error, but when you use measuring cups it’s easy to actually add too much of the ingredients you are measuring.
I realize, though, that weighing isn’t always practical and there are still times when I find myself pulling out my measuring cups to whip something up at home or on vacaction. So, if you are unable to weigh your ingredients, be sure to take special care to measure them exactly. Use liquid measuring cups for liquid and dry measuring cups for dry.
Pro tip: If you’re measuring flour, it’s important to spoon it into your measuring cup before scraping the top off with a knife rather than just scooping it out. Too much flour = dry cake.
For more info on using a kitchen scale, check out this resource.
Mistake #4: Cake Doesn’t Release from the Pan
This is such a common mistake, but has several easy fixes!
Fix #1: Parchment Paper
I LOVE parchment paper! Trace the base of your pan on a piece of parchment paper and cut it out. Spray your pan down with some nonstick cooking spray, then add the parchment to the bottom of the pan. Pour your batter into the pan and bake.
When you finish baking, cool for 10-15 minutes, then gently run a knife along the sides of the pan (between the pan and cake). Turn cake over onto a cooling rack, tap the bottom of the pan to release the cake, then let cakes sit until completely cool.
*You can also purchase pre-cut parchment rounds. These are more expensive, but a great option if you don’t want to cut the rounds out yourself.
Fix #2: Cake Release
This is a great, inexpensive option and can be stored in an airtight container for up to three months (up to 6 months, refrigerated) for future use!
Whisk together equal parts all-purpose flour, vegetable oil, and shortening until smooth. Apply liberally to your cake pans with a pastry brush. Bake and release as normal.
Fix #3: Cooking Spray (or oil) + Flour
If you’re out of parchment paper or cake release, this is another option. Apply cooking spray or vegetable oil to your pans, then add a couple tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Generously shake the flour around until pans are well coated, then dump out remaining flour.
Add your batter, bake and release as normal.
*This is my last resort option. If not well coated, cakes may still stick to your pan, which is super frustrating after all that work!
I hope understanding these common mistakes and how to fix them will help give you more confidence the next time you bake a cake! Once you’ve got the right tools in your belt, you’ll be amazed at how well your bakes start turning out!