Carrot Cornmeal Cake with Mascarpone Maple Frosting
Carrot cornmeal cake with mascarpone frosting

Cake baking mistakes happen to everyone. A birthday cake with a giant hole in the middle? A pound cake as dense as a log? We’ve been there. If you’ve pulled a disappointing cake out of the oven, Blue Apron chef Lauren Katz is here to help you figure out what went wrong. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to save it. 

Common Cake Baking Problems & Causes

My cake is too dense

cake baking mistake: dense cake
Dense cake

Your butter isn’t at room temperature. Most cake recipes instruct to cream together room temperature butter and sugar. This allows the butter to get light and fluffy, which, in turn, allows the cake to get light and fluffy. Butter that’s too cold or too warm will not cream properly, and can’t help the cake hold its shape.

You overmixed the batter. Overmixing the batter deflates all the air you’ve created from creaming the butter and sugar. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, be sure to only mix the batter together until no streaks of flour remain. 

You used an expired (or not enough) leavening agent. At some point in everyone’s life, they will be guilty of using expired baking powder or baking soda (it’s hard to go through an entire container!). If this happens your cake won’t rise properly, making it dense and heavy.

You’re not using cake flour. Cake flour has a lower protein percentage than all-purpose flour, meaning less gluten (read: density) forms while mixing. Many cakes can’t take a 1:1 substitution of cake flour for all-purpose. Don’t have any cake flour on hand? Make your own! Measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour, then replace 2 tablespoons of it with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Repeat with as many cups of flour as your recipe calls for.

My cake sank in the middle 

sunken cake

It’s undercooked. The most common cause for a sunken cake is undercooked batter. If a toothpick inserted into the middle of your cake comes out wet, keep baking until it can be inserted and come out with a few moist crumbs. TIP: Pop it back in the oven and check for doneness in 5 minute increments! If the top is browning too much you can cover it with tin foil

My cake is soggy

It sat in the cake pan for too long. There’s some danger in removing a cake from its pan too quickly, but letting it sit too long can result in extra condensation and steam. Once your cake comes out of the oven, transfer the pan to a cooling rack to allow for extra air circulation, then remove it from the pan as soon as it’s no longer hot to the touch.

You used moist fruits / veggies in the batter. Adding fruits and vegetables to cake can be delicious, but with moist produce comes unwelcome water in the batter. Try placing your prepared produce in a strainer over a bowl to help draw some of the liquid out before adding to the batter (stirring in a pinch of salt will help speed up this process, too). 

My cake is cracked

It didn’t bake evenly. An unevenly baked cake is usually due to improper oven temperature or cake pan size. If the oven is too hot, the outside of the cake is going to cook much quicker than the inside, resulting in a cracked, overly browned top and sides. The same issue occurs if your cake pan is too small, as there will be too much batter in too small of a space to all cook at the same rate. TIP: You can patch a cracked cake with frosting, cover it with whipped cream, or hide the crack with fresh fruit.

You open the oven door while it was baking. It may be tempting, but opening the door just for a few seconds can greatly alter the temperature of the oven. Uniform temperature is crucial to achieving an evenly baked cake, and there is nothing a cake likes less than extreme changes in temperature. If you need to peek, take advantage of your oven light; otherwise, wait to check on your cake until the very end of the suggested bake time, when there is less raw batter to risk putting in jeopardy.

Ready to try baking a cake at home? Get started with our favorite classic yellow cake recipe.