Cakes are culinary masterpieces that often steal the limelight on any occasion. So a beautifully made, perfectly baked homemade cake is every home baker's dream come true! But behind every impeccably frosted or iced cake are meticulously measured ingredients and steps that must be followed to a T. Otherwise, a baker will have to face one of the worst things that can happen- a sunken cake! It might surprise you to know that this dreaded scenario happens not only to novices but sometimes even with experienced bakers, and a tiny mishap is, more often than not, the culprit. So, why do cakes sink in the middle? Let's go ahead and find out and also uncover how to prevent the cake from sinking after baking and how to fix it.
Why Did My Cake Sink in the Middle?
Baking is a mixture of art and science. So you need to be both creative and very technical to make a perfect cake. There can be several reasons why cakes sink during baking or after baking, and here are some of the most common causes and the possible solutions:
Reason 1: Adding too much leavening agents like baking soda or baking powder.
This is one of the most common mistakes made when baking. The purpose of leavening agents is to give the batter a lift as they bake, right? So, in essence, adding too much of these will create too many bubbles within until it reaches a point where they just pop and create a sinkhole right the middle.
WHAT TO DO: always use measuring spoons when adding your leavening agents. The rule of thumb in measuring dry ingredients is to first shake the container up to loosen the particles, then lightly scoop and level it off with a flat object like a knife. Never ever pack the powder down. Since we are on the topic of baking soda/powder, it is also wise to check on the expiration date before using them.
Reason 2: Undermixing and overbeating the batter.
This is usually where most beginner bakers fail. It can be a bit tricky to determine at what point do you stop mixing the batter. Let's start with creaming the butter. This is an important step in cake making, as this is where you need to produce air bubbles that expand as they interact with the leavening agent. Under-creaming means fewer bubbles which will result in a flat, dense cake. While over creaming will create bigger bubbles that pop easily and weaken the cake's structure. Next is mixing the wet and dry ingredients together. An undermixed batter results in a low gluten formation, making the cake's founder weak and will cause it to collapse. On the other hand, too much beating gives cakes too much air bubbles, which again makes them susceptible to popping and leaving large holes within the cake, causing it to sink.
WHAT TO DO: Use softened but not melted butter to prevent over mixing. You will know once the butter is creamed when it turns pale yellow and creamy with visible fluffy peaks. When mixing wet and dry ingredients, beat only until no visible dry spots are left. Remember that a few lumps are okay; it does not have to be completely smooth.
Reason 3: Oven temperature is either too low or too high.
After measuring your ingredients right and mixing the batter properly, you also have to make sure your oven temperature is spot-on for baking. Placing your cake batter in an oven that is too cool or was not pre-heated as required will result in an underbaked cake with large air pockets within. Placing it in a too-hot oven will bake the outside quickly, will create a peaked center, and will most likely collapse once cooled.
WHAT TO DO: Use an oven thermometer to keep tabs on possible fluctuations. Also, refrain from opening the oven door as much as possible because it will let the oven heat out.
Reason 4: Under baking the cake.
You followed the required baking time on the recipe but still get underbaked cake? This can happen because there are other variables at play that you need to consider here. The type of oven you are using and the size of the pan matter.
WHAT TO DO: Always check for doneness by doing the toothpick or wooden skewer test. Insert it at the center of the cake and pull it out. If it comes out clean, then the cake is baked through. However, if there are wet pieces of batter clinging to it, you need to bake it a bit longer.
Signs of undercooked cake: The edges might have browed, but they do not separate from the pan easily. You can also tell if the cake is underbaked when the middle part looks tender and caved in. A perfectly baked cake should be springy, not spongy.
Reason 5: Using the wrong cake pan size.
Lastly, always use the correct pan size depending on the amount of batter you are making. One classic fail is using a smaller pan which makes the cake taller. It may look like the cake is done, but the insides will not be, causing the middle to hollow out.
WHAT TO DO: Use the recommended pan size, or make adjustments if you have to. Keep in mind that you should never fill a cake pan to the brim because it will rise and overflow. Instead, fill it ⅔ of the way only.
How to Fix a Sunken Cake
While it is disheartening to see your cake sink despite your efforts, do not lose hope just yet! Here are some tips to help you quickly recover and still present a delicious homemade cake. This is where your creativity in frosting the cake will really help.
- If the center is underbaked, just quickly place it back into the oven and bake for a few more minutes!
- On instances where the cake is slightly undercooked and the sunken part in the middle is minor, you can just level the cake and remove the unbaked portions.
- In worst-case scenarios, when the center has totally sunk, get a cake ring, place it in the middle and cut out the sunken part. You can just fill the middle with fresh fruits, frosting, or candies for a nice surprise!
- You can also make mini cakes instead, Just cut off the good parts with a cake ring and frost away!
Favorite cake recipes
Check out some of these other great cake recipes, if you're interested in a fool-proof recipe that will leave you with the perfect cake!