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Common Baking and Dessert Problems—Plus, How to Fix Them

Solutions for cracked cheesecakes, burned cookies, broken cakes, runny frosting, and other challenges a home baker might face.

cuatro leches cake martha bakes
Photography by: Mike Krautter

Accurate measurements, having everything organized before you start, and following a well-written recipe to a "T" are the keys to success in baking. However, sometimes even with these in place, a mishap occurs in or out of the oven. Whether the problem is burned cookie bottoms, slippery cake layers, or runny frosting, our guide to baking fixes will help.

 

Related: All About the Jelly Roll, The History of an Interesting and Delicious Cake

 

Over-Whipped Cream: Add to It

Just like that, cream can go from silky soft peaks to grainy and curdled, especially when using an electric mixer. If this happens, it means the cream is over-whipped. But don't worry, you can restore a smooth creamy texture and have perfect whipped cream. Pour a few tablespoons of un-whipped heavy cream into the over-whipped cream. Then, gently whisk until a smooth texture is restored. To prevent over whipping in the first place, as soon as cream starts to hold shape, lower the speed on the mixer and finish whipping to the desired consistency.

 

Runny Frosting: Fridge It

If frosting becomes too runny or soft, the butter is probably too warm. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the frosting for about 15 minutes. Then, gently beat the frosting back together. If frosting is too firm, it may need the opposite treatment: bring frosting to room temperature and gently beat it before using.

 

Cracked Cheesecake or Pie: Decorate It

Cracked cheesecakes and custard-based pies, like pumpkin pie, might seem like a problem, at least visually, but they still taste great. Our fix is to decorate them. Pour ganache, pile a mountain of whipped cream, or scatter berries over the top to disguise the crack. You can also reroll pie dough scraps, cut them out into shapes, and bake until golden and crisp, then use these shapes to decorate the top of pies to cover imperfections. If all goes well and you don't need them for decorating, eat them as a snack.

 

Broken Cake: Frost It

Frosting is often the best glue for cakes that have gotten stuck or don't come out of the pan evenly and get broken. Rearrange a broken cake into its original shape on a platter and carefully frost a crumb coat around the edges and top, locking the cake into place. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat and then frost the cake as desired. To avoid getting your cake stuck from the start, line the bottom of cake pans with parchment paper )in addition to greasing the pan), as this will prevent sticking and helps the cake to release in one piece. Don't forget to peel off the parchment after removing the cake from the pan.

 

Related: Should You Be Using Salted or Unsalted Butter for Baking?

 

Broken Baked Goods: Trifle Them

If cake, cookies, or loaf cake break beyond what can be frosted when being removed from the pan or transferring to another plate, embrace the imperfection and turn the broken baked good into a trifle. Cube the broken sections into bite-sized pieces and layer them in a trifle dish with whipped cream and macerated berries. If a trifle isn't your ideal dessert, do what you can to ensure baked goods don't break in the first place. Before releasing baked goods from pans or sheet trays, run an offset spatula along the edges and, if possible, the bottom to help them release evenly.

 

Burned Baked Goods: Scrape Them

The science of baking dictates that the outside of a baked good will burn before the inside. If you catch an overdone baked good early, there is a way to salvage it. Scrape or cut off the burnt bottoms of cookies, pie crust edges, or outside of cakes. Then eat as is or serve the unburnt parts on topped with ice cream or in a trifle, just like broken baked goods. Try using the large holes of a box grater to gently scrape off burnt parts and minimize waste. 

 

Slippery Cake Layers: Cool Them

When the layers keep moving as a layer cake is assembled, most likely the frosting is too warm. Try refrigerating the partially frosted cake and extra frosting for about 15 minutes to firm everything up and then get back to cake decorating.