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How to solve these common cake baking problems

How to solve these common cake baking problems
Have you ever wondered how to prevent your cake from sinking after baking? Or how to save a cake that's gone wrong? Here are solutions to common baking problems
Baking a cake is the perfect way to fill a weekend afternoon, but what should be a fun, wholesome activity can often be ruined by common cake baking problems. Here are some tips for solving them, from preventing cracking to disguising the damage on a cake that has turned out badly. 

Why do my cakes sometimes have air holes, or crack and peak?

Holes can be caused by overmixing, or unevenly or insufficiently folding in the flour. The mixture should be soft and dropping at this stage and if it is too dry, pockets of air can get trapped.
This will also happen if the flour and raising agent are not sifted together thoroughly to mix them. 
"If your cake mixture is too dry, pockets of air can get trapped"
To prevent cracking, make sure you use the right sized tin and that the oven is not too hot. Place cakes in the centre of the oven, not too high up where it will be hotter and the cake will peak and crack. 

How do you prevent a cake mixture from curdling, and can you save it if it does?

Curdling occurs when cold eggs are added to the mixture too quickly, separating the fat from the sugar and eggs. A curdled mixture holds far less air, so the cake will be flat.
Baking a cake
Add eggs to your cake mixture carefully to avoid curdling
Mixtures containing fat and sugar need to be soft and light to absorb the eggs easily. Eggs should be at room temperature and added gradually. Adding a teaspoon of flour with each addition of egg can also help to prevent curdling. 
If the mixture does start to curdle, dip the base of the bowl into warm water briefly and whisk to restore the light consistency. 

Why does my cake come out the oven looking perfect and then sink dramatically?

Cakes will sink if they have not been baked for long enough, so follow the time stated in the recipe, use a timer and don't be tempted to open the oven door during cooking. 
Using too cool an oven or opening and shutting the oven door during baking will cause sinking, as will too much raising agent in the cake mixture. 
Cakes are ready when they are firm in the centre and have slightly shrunken away from the sides of the tin. Sponges should spring back when touched with your finger. 

Is there any way to save a cake that has turned out badly?

If things do go wrong during baking, disguise the damage as follows:
  • For a burnt cake, slice off the top and shave the sides with a potato peeler. Paint the surface with some warmed, sieved jam and cover with a layer of bought marzipan or ready-to-roll icing. 
  • If a cake breaks, stick the pieces back together with jam, then cover with
  • If the middle sinks, cut it out and turn the cake into a ring cake. Spread whipped cream over the cake and fill the cavity with fresh fruit such as raspberries.
  • If a sponge comes out flat, cut into fancy shapes, sandwich them together with cream and jam and dust them with icing sugar.

How can I make a really feather-light sponge cake?

To produce light sponge cakes, it is vital to measure out the ingredients accurately and stick to the recipe. If you add too much egg, fat, flour or baking powder it will make the cake heavy and doughy.
Cake sponge
Stick to the recipe to achieve a light, fluffy sponge
It is air that makes cake light, so beat the sugar and butter until pale, soft and fluffy. Fold in the flour gradually, being careful not to knock out any air. And be sure to use an appropriate fat. If you use soft tub margarine instead of butter, or block margarine in a creamed recipe, the mixture will be too wet and the cake will be flat. 

Is it possible to make a sponge cake without using fat?

The lightest sponge cakes are made without any fat at all, by the whisking method.
To replace the bulk of the missing fat, the sugar and eggs are whisked together over hot water until the mixture becomes so thick that a trail is left when the beaters are lifted away.
"The lightest sponge cakes are made without any fat at all"
Alternatively, you can replace some of the flour with lighter cornflour. 

Can cakes be made with oil instead of butter or margarine? Is that healthier?

Fruit cakes and sponges made with lightly flavoured oils such as corn or sunflower oil are very easy to mix and stay moist longer. They will need an extra raising agent to stop them becoming heavy. 
It is debatable whether they are healthier: although oil contains less saturated fats than butter or margarine, it has just as many calories. 

Does it matter if a cake mixture is baked in a slightly different tin to the one specified in the recipe?

Yes, very much. If the tin is too large, the cake will be flat and shrunken. If it is too small, the cake will bubble or bulge up and over the sides of the tin. 
However, the mixture for a round tin will fit a square tin that is about 2.5cm smaller. 
Cake in tin
The size of your cake tin is very important
To adapt a recipe to fill a shaped tin, for example the number nine for a birthday cake, fill your usual tin with water to reach the level the mixture normally reaches. Then pour the water into the new tin to the level required and estimate the quantity of mixture needed, doubling or halving the recipe as required. 

Should I turn cakes out of their tin as soon as they are cooked?

Most light cakes, such as Victoria sponge, should be turned out of their tins while they are still warm or else the underside may go soggy with condensation or form a thick, dark outer crust. 
"Most light cakes should be turned out of their tins while they are still warm"
However, they will break up if they are turned out immediately after they come out the oven so leave them in the tin for 3-5 minutes to firm up. 
Heavy cakes, such as fruit cakes, are best left in the tin until they are completly cold to allow them to solidify, especially if they are going to be stored and matured. 
Learn how to bake better cakes with 'The perfect cake: Your Ultimate Guide to Classic, Modern, and Whimsical Cakes', cookbook on Amazon
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