How to prevent dense, gluey streaks in your cake: Quick tip

See the two slices of lemon cake above?

The one on the right has a typical texture: an even, fairly close grain.

But the one on the left shows streaks – areas of dense, sodden cake. Taking a bite, you’d think it was under-baked – even though it’s actually completely baked.

One of my fellow King Arthur Flour test bakers, Frank Tegethoff, recently called me into the test kitchen for show & tell.

We bakers often do this with one another – “Hey, wanna see something interesting?” someone will say, pulling a deflated loaf of bread, ultra-flat cookie – or perfectly shaped muffin – out of the oven.

We then gather around for a quick lesson in the particular area of baking science demonstrated by said unsuccessful (or super-successful) baked good.

Frank said, “Both of these slices of cake are from the same recipe. Same ingredients; same pan. Same baking time and temperature. Why do you think this one has this pasty middle, and the other one looks fine?”

I considered the question. Preparation method must be the variable. “Ummm… something about how you put together the batter?” (The girl’s a genius!)

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Frank proceeded to share his secret. The cake with the pasty center was “over-creamed.”

“How do you over-cream cake batter?” I asked. “I thought the more air you beat in, the better.”

Frank explained that’s true, but creaming (beating together sugar, butter, and eggs) has to be done slowly; “no higher than medium speed.”

And once any flour is added, the mixing has to be slower still. Developing the flour’s gluten too much means the cake will rise beautifully in the oven – then sink (a little, or a lot) as soon as you pull it out.

And the sinking cake is what makes dense, moist, gluey streaks.

Lesson learned: beat butter and sugar and eggs at medium speed. Once you add flour, mix gently.

Thanks, Frank!

Since you can’t be right here in the test kitchen with us, we offer you the next best thing: our toll-free baker’s hotline, staffed by test kitchen bakers. Next time your cake collapses, your cookies crumble, or your bread behaves badly, call us: 855-371-BAKE (2253). We’re here to help.

By the way, since I know you’ll ask – that’s Lemon Bliss Cake Frank used in his experiment.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Jill Ripley

    The problem written above has happen to me twice the past month, I’ve never, never had this happen before. One cake was a lemon made with buttermilk and lemon juice, the other a blueberry pound cake that I’ve made before with great results, second time that soggy mess in the middle. Both cakes had buttermilk and fresh lemon. Oven temp is correct, the only thought I have is I over beat it. Personally I think that other factors play out with this issue, new baking powder, so it wasn’t that. Makes you mad when you need to have a bake good to take for a meeting, etc. Does weather play a role – flour, what’s going on?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Were either of these recipes that started with creaming the butter and sugar together, Jill? If so, we’ve found that over-creaming (mixing for too long) often produces this result. For best results, try creaming your butter and sugar together using the process that’s shown in this video. Also, it helps to make sure that all of your ingredients are room temperature. Otherwise, the ingredients don’t homogenize as quickly as they should.

      Other things you can do to rule out possible variables is to measure your ingredients by weight with a scale, and always use reliable, trusted brands (like King Arthur Flour!) for your baking ingredients. Avoid baking on especially humid or dry days, and test your cakes for doneness using an instant-read thermometer (look for about 205*F to 210*F as an internal temperature). If you have good results, be sure to record all of the steps you took (what kind of pan you used, how long you baked it for, etc.) so you can replicate these results. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Was this a recipe that was designed to be made without eggs, or did you substitute an egg replacer? If the latter is true, then the dense texture of the cake is likely a result of not including the eggs, as they’re an ingredient that typically adds loft and rise to baked goods. If it’s a recipe that’s designed to be made without eggs, be sure you’re using the right amount of flour as too much can result in a heavy, dense cake. (Measure your flour with a scale or like this.) Lastly, if the cake seemed to turn dense after the soak was applied, then you might consider skipping this step and adding an additional layer of flavor in another way: serve the cake with a fruit puree, whipped cream, or frosting for example. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Mary Tse

    Hi, I was making a coffee cake with sour cream.
    I creamed the butter at medium speed with a hand mixer for one minute, then add sugar, beat for another two 2 more minutes, add egg one at a time (3 eggs) beat at medium for another 2 more minutes. I then add the flour, beat for 15 seconds, sour cream beat for 15 second, then add more flour, sour cream beat 15 seconds, ended with flour and beat for 15 more seconds, I also used the whisky to hand mix it just to make sure the flour it’s mixed well.
    Cake came out moist, but same problem pasty center, streaks and areas of sodden almost look likes is uncooked even it was cooked for 40 minutes.
    Please provide feed back, what went wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This sounds like something that our bakers would be able to put their heads together about, Mary. We’d love the chance to talk through the recipe with you, so we encourage you to reach out to our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline staff to help troubleshoot at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  3. Elaine

    Normally, how long does it take to beat egg till soft peak form? What is the best speed to use?

    Is it normal to take more than 10 min to beat eggs?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Elaine. It depends on if you’re whipping whole eggs, just yolks, or just whites, and whether you’re using a stand mixer or a hand mixer. It sounds like you might be referring to just egg whites since that’s what commonly whips to various “peaks.” On a medium-high speed, it will probably take between two and three minutes for it to reach a soft peak. This time will increase if there’s any trace of yolk or fat in with the whites, if the eggs are cold, or if you added sugar in all at once or early in the mixing stage. We encourage you to check our blog post on Meringue Rules for extra tips on whipping egg whites. If you’re referring to whole eggs or yolks, they don’t necessarily get “peaks” but they do thicken up, usually within five minutes max. This again will take longer if they’re cold. If you have any other questions, our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or through chat and email on our website so always feel free to reach out. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Irene

    My last 3 lemon cakes rose nicely in the oven, had a little shrinkage during cooling, which is expected. But all 3 were dense through out the bottom half. I used reversed creaming method, which worked nicely before. Since this method asked for mixing dry ingredient first, how could I avoid over mixing the batter?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Irene! Our recent article on Tender White Cake shares the step-by-step process and photos of the reverse creaming method in order to give you the best results. The keys to this type of cake batter is to stop and scrape often, and mix the liquid ingredients at the end until they just become smooth, rather than letting the batter go in the mixer for a long time. We encourage you to check out this article for helpful visuals and tricks so your next cake can be light and fluffy! Annabelle@KAF

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