Your Most Common Cake Baking Problems, Solved

strawberry swirl Bundt cake
Photo: Marcus Nilsson

Whether you're dealing with raw batter, a cake stuck in a pan, or a confection that's taking too long to bake, we'll help you identify—and solve—the problem at hand.

01 of 09
Perfect Poundcake
Con Poulos

No matter how skilled the baker, everyone has experienced the frustration of a cake fail at least once in their life. Annoyingly, it's often just one fatal flaw that stands between you and your perfect cake. There's good news, though: Most mistakes are ones many, many home bakers make, and that means there are simple fixes for all of them. By knowing where the pitfalls lie, you might be able to avoid them moving forward.

The first of these difficulties presents itself before you've even gotten the cake in the oven, and that's forgetting to add an ingredient. Thankfully, there's an easy habit you can get into that'll help prevent this from happening. A host of other issues might arise, too, and we've got straightforward, low-tech ways to handle all of them. Cake not rising? It's probably not you (though it might very well be your baking powder). Is the cake burnt, even though you set a timer and took it out promptly on time? Ovens are finicky, and it's likely that the temperature yours says it is isn't quite accurate. While you can have a professional recalibrate the oven, there's a reliable way to course correct, too, and it only involves a quick trip to the hardware store. Is your cake overflowing out of the cake pan? It's going to be okay. (Well, it might be a little messy, but our tips will ensure it doesn't happen next time.)

As any baker knows, you're not completely in the clear until the cake is out of the pan—and sometimes, that's no small feat. Cakes can be stubborn, sticking or breaking as you unmold them, but there are steps you can take to mitigate this before you even open the oven door. They typically involve butter, a pastry brush, a knife, and a few deep breaths. You've got this, especially now that you have this handy guide to reference whenever you need.

02 of 09

I Forgot to Add "X" Ingredient

Amy Chaplin

"Mise en place" may not actually be French for "I'll never forget to add salt," but it might as well be. Translations vary, but the phrase essentially means to set up, or put things in place, before you begin. And while it may seem overly fussy, following this practice is a no-brainer for making sure you don't forget to add the salt or the baking powder or the lemon zest.

03 of 09

I Followed the Recipe, but the Cake Hasn't Risen

baking powder on white
Clive Streeter

There's a good chance that your baking powder has lost its leavening power, which can happen if it's expired. Try this simple test to find out if your baking powder is still good: Drop a teaspoon into a small bowl of hot water. If it bubbles immediately, the baking powder is fine to use; if not, you should toss it and replace it with a new can.

04 of 09

The Cake Is Burnt Even Though I Baked It for the Amount of Time the Recipe Specified

woman opening oven door

Leaky oven door seals, aging thermostats, and poor calibration can all wreak havoc when it comes to reaching and maintaining a consistent temperature, and the only way to know if your oven is "running hot" (and therefore overcooking your cakes) is to use an oven thermometer. Having a thermometer designed for use inside an oven allows you to see what the temperature is without relying solely on any indications your oven may give you.

05 of 09

The Cake Has Spilled Over the Sides of the Pan

assortment of stacked bundt pans
Marcus Nilsson

This happens when the cake pan is too small. It's always best to use the size stated in the recipe, but you can adapt, namely by avoiding filling it more than three-quarters full. You'll also want to adjust the baking time accordingly. Our handy guide to cake pan conversions helps take the guesswork out of the process.

06 of 09

The Cake Has a Gooey Center

checking cake doneness with toothpick in oven
Aliaksandr Barysenka / EyeEm / Getty Images

If your cake is gooey in the middle, it's clear you haven't baked the cake long enough, but how does one know when a cake is done? The easiest, most reliable method is to insert a metal cake tester into the center; when the cake is cooked, it should come out clean.

07 of 09

The Cake Is Taking Longer to Cook Than It Should


There are several reasons why the cake may take longer to cook than the recipe states. First, your oven rack's position matters quite a bit—it should be in the middle of the oven, unless the recipe says otherwise. There should be air circulation around the pan for even cooking, so if you have other pans in the oven, they may slow down the cooking. Rotating the pan halfway through baking time can help, too, as can limiting the number of times you open the door during cooking.

08 of 09

The Cake Is Stuck in the Pan

removing cheesecake from pan
Bryan Gardner

Properly and thoroughly greasing the cake pan can help ensure this won't happen, and waiting until the cake is fully cool before transferring it to a rack also helps. If it just won't budge, though, we have a few other tricks for releasing a stuck cake from a pan.

09 of 09

My Bundt Cake Is Breaking as I Remove It from the Pan

strawberry swirl Bundt cake
Marcus Nilsson

Bundt pans yield the best results when you use a dense batter with a tight crumb structure, such as pound cake batter. If you're dealing with breakage, consult your recipe. Those intended for layer cakes have too much leavening in them to stay together nicely, and boxed cake mixes won't work unless you amend the added ingredients to include things like butter or sour cream, which will help the batter keep its structural integrity when it's removed from the pan.

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