Why Did My Cake Collapse in the Middle and How to Salvage It?


It’s the moment every baker dreads. Opening the oven door, anticipating a beautifully risen cake, only to be met with a sad disappointing crater- your cake has collapsed in the middle. Heartbreak all around. Even though you are sure you did everything right, ingredients, temperature, pan size, the result can often be disappointing. Read on to discover how to keep you cake up and frustration down!

Underbaking is one of the main reasons cake collapses. Not following the time stated in the recipe, using the correct pan, or not having the correct temperature in your oven, can lead to a cake that might have that golden look on the outside, but will not be fully baked underneath. 

Getting your ingredients wrong, oven temperatures and numerous other factors can lead to a cake tragedy. Let’s check these out to make sure you know how to avoid a sunken cake in the future.

YOU UNDERBAKED YOUR CAKE

This might be the number one reason for a collapsed cake. If you take your cake out of the oven too soon, your outer edges will be beautiful, but the middle will go down once you set it. The outer layer of your cake bakes first, as heat makes its way to the inner layers following that. Even if you set the timer to the exact time stated in the recipe, differences in oven heat and ingredients can affect baking time.

To be sure your cake is ready, don’t just trust your eyes:

  1. Beyond making sure that the color is right, check that the edges of the cake have pulled away from the side of the pan.
  2. Insert a toothpick or a wooden skewer in the middle of the cake all the way through. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is fully baked and will not fall.

So, if your cake doesn’t seem ready yet, be sure to keep it in the oven a little longer.

BAKING POWDER AND BAKING SODA ISSUES

Baking powder and baking soda, otherwise known as “leavening agents”, create carbon dioxide which helps your cake rise. If, for some reason, too much of these are used, the cake will rise too quickly and then go down just as fast. So, be sure you measure your leavening carefully. Also, expiration dates are important! Expired leavening might not work properly and leave you with a sad, sunken cake.

YOUR OVEN TEMPERATURE IS OFF

If, by any chance, your oven is running too high or too low, your cake may be at risk. Not all ovens are equal! If the oven temperature is too cold, your cake will not be completely baked at the set time, and we know what happens to underbaked cakes… But if you oven is too hot, the outer layer will cook too quickly and again- the middle layer will not be baked evenly, thus once again resulting in a cake-tastrophie!

To be sure your oven is at the right temperature, it is best to use an oven thermometer and double check your heat.

LET GO OF THE DOOR!

Trust me, I know how tempting it is to take small peeks, just to be sure things are going properly in the oven… BUT, frequent door opening, can easily cause temperature changes, resulting is a cake not baking evenly. If you must check your cake, be sure to do it in the final few minutes of baking time, allowing at least 25-30 minutes in, with the door shut.

But, if you do open the oven door, be sure to close it gently! Slamming can affect your cake by creating a fast rush of hot air that will give the ingredients a shake, resulting in sinkage.   

USE THE RIGHT PAN

Another important part of a recipe is the pan size and shape. Even if some of the differences between pans seem insignificant, they can have a big effect on your cake. If your pan is too small, that batter may be too deep resulting in your cake rising up but then sinking after it sets, or batter spilling over to the sides. Shapes and material of pans can also play a part in how well your cake sets.

INGREDIENT CARE

Ingredients are obviously the building blocks of your cake, and getting them right is crucial. First, be sure to measure them correctly. Baking is a science! Investing in a digital scale is worth considering.

Something that might surprise you is that using your ingredients at room temperature is key, especially with eggs and butter. Cold eggs won’t mix well and create a batter with air bubbles. Butter should be at room temperature and not melted.

Ingredient substitutes can also have an effect of your cake. Changing the wet-to dry ratio of ingredients can alter your cake. Make sure your conversion rates are spot-on to avoid your cake collapsing.

MIX WITH CARE

Proper mixing is in itself, crucial to setting your cake up for success. Some mixing pointers:
– Mix the ingredients in order. It is tempting to skip a step here or there but trust me, recipes are written in steps for a reason.

– Don’t overmix your batter. This can cause excess amounts of air, which will lead to swift rising followed by your cake sinking.

– Don’t let your batter wait for too long. Get it in the oven as quickly as possible.

DAMAGE CONTROL

If you find yourself stuck in a collapsed cake situation don’t despair! There are still some things you can do to make the best out of it.

  1. If you have already let your cake cool down, you can’t add extra baking time but, if you are still baking and your toothpick doesn’t come out clean- add more time in the oven.
  2. Use a cake leveler to level-off the top layer of your cake. Note that this will work when your cake is mostly baked, with only the top layer underbaked. After leveling it, frosting your cake will look nice and smooth.
  3. Frosting is your friend! Spread generous amounts of your favorite creamy frosting to even things out. Your cake levels will go unnoticed.
  4. Fill the crater. Create a nice surprise for you guests by adding fruit or other elements that go well with your cake and the cover in frosting. People will enjoy the hidden surprise and you- have invented a new masterpiece.
  5. If all else fails, repurpose! Use the cake to make cake pops and balls, trifles or cut your cake into slices and serve with fruit or ice-cream.

Conclusion:

Extra attention to detail from the get-go can save you the heart ache of a cake gone wrong. Be sure to fully bake your cake, follow the time, temperature and ingredients in your recipe to a tee- and you should be good to go. Happy baking!

Amit

Hi, my name is Amit. I started baking at a young age at my father's bakery. I hope I can answer some of your questions and hopefully you will find some hidden gems to help you out with your home baking skills.

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