Troubleshooting Cake Problems

cake with icing
Image source: Recipes for Everyday (1919)

Ever have a cake that didn’t turn out quite right? Well, here’s some hundred-year-old advice for troubleshooting cake problems (and, amazingly, much of it is still applicable today).

Here’s what Janet McKenzie Hill wrote in a 1919 cookbook titled Recipes for Everyday:

Heavy or fallen cakes are caused by having too slow an oven; by using too much sugar or shortening; by using too little flour; by having such a hot oven that the outside bakes so thoroughly that the inside cannot rise; by moving the cake in the oven before the cell walls have become fixed; or by taking the cake from the oven before it is thoroughly baked.

Thick-crusted cakes are caused by too hot an oven, by using too much sugar and shortening, or too little flour.

Coarse-grained cakes are the result of using too much leavening material, or of having too slow an oven. They are also caused by insufficient creaming of shortening and sugar, or insufficient beating of the batter before adding the egg whites.

A”bready” cake is caused by using too much flour.

A cake rises in a peak in the center when the oven is too hot during the first few minutes of baking.

A cake will crack when it contains too much flour, or when the oven is so hot at first that the outside bakes before the center can rise.

37 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Cake Problems

  1. Over the years, I’ve managed to achieve every one of those cake conditions. This is a neat summary that I’m going to tuck into my recipe file for the next time I have a troublesome cake.

  2. I’m having flashbacks of my mother explaining these things to me when I was bummed about how my latest cake didn’t bake right. She knew all these troubles and what to do about them… the next time I baked. Oh the sadness…

  3. Good tips even for today! I can see these being important for a new cook especially. One can even blame the oven at times! Around Christmas I had a cheesecake (had made it successfully before) completely flop. I think I beat it too long.

    1. Oh dear – It’s always so frustrating when a recipe is a complete flop, especially when you’ve made it before and won’t be anticipating any problems.

  4. Thanks so much for these very helpful tips. They address a couple of the problems I’ve had with some of my cakes. Next time I bake a cake, I’ll follow your hints and hopefully it’ll turn out better. Thanks again. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It’s good to know that you also found it useful. When I came across this information in an old cookbook, it immediately resonated with me (and reminded me of the many cake-baking issues that I’ve had across the years).

    1. This guide to cake problems made me realize how much my cakes misbehave. I’ve often thought that a lop-sided cake or one with large cracks wasn’t particularly attractive, but hadn’t realized that it might have been preventable.

      You are so fortunate to have a grandson who is an culinary expert.

    1. I’d forgotten about that one until you mentioned it. This reminds me of how some baking mixes have high altitude directions printed on the package.

  5. I think our cake making is easier,because of our better ovens,can you imagine what it would have been like to work the fire of a wood stove… even with a good oven I still flop a cake every now and then.

    1. You’re absolutely right. I can’t even image what it must have been like to bake a cake in an oven that is heated by a fire, and that doesn’t have a temperature gauge.

  6. I didnโ€™t know a lot of this, I guess some things never change over time so itโ€™s good to know all the tried and tested techniques for our cake woes. A nice share

    1. I think that there’s probably lots of chemistry and other sciences behind the causes of cake woes, but I like how the author explained everything in an easy-to-understand way.

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