12 Common Cake-Baking Mistakes, And How To Fix Them

Correct yourself -- and bake better cakes.

Baking isn't very forgiving -- especially when it comes to cakes. Everything must be just right to bake the perfect cake: the proportions should be measured to a tea, the temperature needs to be spot on and the steps rigidly followed. Getting just one thing wrong when baking cakes can often lead to sad mishaps, like a burnt, collapsed cake that doesn't want to come out of the pan. We're here to help.

The best instructions anyone can have when it comes to cake baking is a great recipe -- we have 100 awesome ones to choose from. If you follow one that's well written, you're bound to get good results. But no matter how great your recipe is, if you're skipping some of the small, yet crucially important steps you might end up with failure. There are 12 common mistakes people make when baking cakes, we've listed them out for you so you can change the error of your ways -- and bake better cakes.

Mistake #1: You don't grease and flour the pan.
Flickr: TheatricAL 03
Almost every recipe calls for greasing, or greasing and flouring a cake pan prior to pouring in the batter -- in fact it's usually the first instruction right after the one for preheating the oven. Don't skip this step. It'll help your baked cake fall easily out of the pan. This is everything.
Mistake #2: You don't sift the flour.
Flickr: waitscm
Many people skip sifting because they think it's a waste of time, but actually sifting can be a very important step. First, sifting removes clumps from the flour, ensuring your cake will be free of dry lumps. Second, sifting better incorporates the leavening agent, ensuring an even rise.
Mistake #3: You undermix the batter.
Flickr: MiiiSH
Undermixing is easily evident in chocolate batters where you'll see swirls of white and black in the finished cake. Unless you were going for the marbled look this is definitely a mistake. Make sure to adequately combine the batter by folding the ingredients gently while being careful not to overmix either. It's a fine balance, but you'll know once a cake is well incorporated when nearly all the flour has been absorbed.
Mistake #4: You overmix the batter.
Flickr: YoAmes
Overmixing a batter is very easy to do, especially since most people now rely on their stand mixers. Too much air mixed into a batter can result in a fallen cake. Once you've beaten in the sugar and butter, it's best to continue with a light hand and fold in the dry ingredients as gently as possible.
Mistake #5: You don't bother with parchment.
Flickr: From Argentina With Love
Sometimes greasing and flouring isn't enough. The best, most foolproof method to ensure the cake slides out of the pan easily is to line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. This is especially so for dense, fudge-like cakes.
Mistake #6: You don't bother smoothing out the top.
Flickr: YoAmes
Don't be lazy, take a second and smooth out the cake batter once you've poured it into the pan. Not only does this help work out large air cavities, it also ensures the top of your cake will be evenly baked, smooth and free of mounds and valleys.
Mistake #7: You forget to tap the pan before baking.
Flcikr: tquiddle
Now that you've smoothed the surface of the cake batter, the next step is to tap the cake. This step removes any errant air bubbles that may have gotten trapped in the batter -- this is especially important with thick batters. Getting out the air bubbles now ensures your cake won't fall later.
Mistake #8: You open the oven door when baking.
Flickr: peapod labs
It's tempting to open the oven door when there's a cake in there, we know. But please, don't. This is especially important for flourless cake and cheesecake. Opening the door can create great fluctuations in heat, which can cause your cake to collapse.
Mistake #9: You overcrowd the pan.
Flickr: lpolinsky
Bake your cake in batches! If you're baking a multiple layer cake, you may be tempted to bake all the layers at once. This is a bad idea. You should limit yourself to two cakes at a time. If you overcrowd the oven, there won't be proper air circulation and the temperature will be affected.
Mistake #10: You overfill the pan... or use too small of a pan.
Flickr: Magic Madzik
If you've ever baked a cake that had a great big hump in the middle, it was probably baked in a pan that was too small. If a recipe calls for a 9-inch cake pan, don't use an 8-inch in a pinch -- your cake may end up with a giant hump in the middle or even worse, the cake will spill out while baking.
Mistake #11: You remove the cake from the oven too early.
Flickr: whitneyinchicago
Always test a cake for doneness before taking it out of the oven to cool. Every oven is different and some recipe times are off so you always have to test first. The best method for testing a cake's doneness is with a skewer or toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake. When the pick comes out clean, the cake is done -- unless you're making fudge brownies, then you want a few crumbs attached to the pick.
Mistake #12: You cut into the cake before it's cooled.
Flickr: Yortw
We know it's hard to wait. But have a little restraint and you'll be well rewarded. After removing your cake from the oven, let it cool slightly in the pan until the top feels firm. This gives the cake a chance to finish baking from within and acclimate itself to room temperature. Then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool completely. DO NOT try to cool the cake quickly by placing it in the refrigerator -- the rapid cooling will shock the cake, making it stick to the pan, collapse or both. Once it's properly cooled, frost your cake and enjoy.

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