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. Kim

    I made a batch of cupcakes. I only have a pan for twelve, so I had to bake one while the remainder of the batter sat. The first batch rose in the oven then flattened out and had more of a firm muffin texture. The second batch was much better, but still not super light and fluffy. There was such a huge difference between the two batches that came from the same batter. Why would this happen and how can I fix it?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sounds like a cupcake conundrum, Kim. The dense-nature of the cake might just be the style of recipe, or too much flour. If you’ve made that recipe before and it was light and fluffy then flour is a likely culprit. Too much flour would also slow down/prevent a lot of rising. Per the change in rising, typically, batter that sits our rises less because the leavener has lost some of its oomph. One possible reason that the second batch rose higher is because the oven was a lot hotter for the second tray. It’s a bit of a strange situation and we’d love to get some more details and walk through the recipe with you, so please call the free Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-BAKE (2253) so we can get to the bottom of this! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Melanie wilding

    My 10 inch round sponge cake is rising, looks fine when I take it out, but when I cut it I to 3 sections the middle is dence and heavy and slightly wet do you know the reason for this please

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Melanie! It sounds like it just needs more time in the oven, about 5 minutes longer should do the trick. You can always check the internal temperature before taking it out to know that it’s done — you’re looking for the center to be 210°F. We hope this helps! Annabelle@KAF

  3. nicola farrell

    I have made the marry berry banana loaf numerous times, all turned out fantastic. the last 4 times its been heavy and sunken. Tastes ok but looks awful. Same methods followed, all ingredients in a bowl and mixed for 2 minutes, really annoyed as to why this has happened. Any ideas? Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, it sounds like the center needed to bake a bit longer, Nicola. Check out our blog article on how to tell when banana bread is done because it will have very similar signs to your berry banana loaf. The internal temperature needs to be 205°F, otherwise, the center is gummy and dense. A little more oven time might be all you need! Annabelle@KAF

  4. Mary

    Been making same pound cake for 40 yrs for wedding cakes never had a problem. Now I have the gooey streak thru every cake I make. This receipe is very old where everything goes into bowl at once then beat on medium for 20 minutes. Never ever had this problem before. Any suggestions? This has been happening e for the past 4 m9nths.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, something must have changed, Mary since this has been working so well for you in the past. It’s possible that something is being measured slightly differently, that the oven is behaving differently, that the environment you’re baking in has changed, there are so many possible factors that affect baking. To help narrow things down, we encourage you to call our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-BAKE (2253). That way you can talk them through your process and they’ll be able to work with you to determine what might be going on. Hopefully we can get your cakes back soon! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Cindy

    I just baked a cake that I have baked at least a dozen times. It was coconut. I followed the recipe to a “t”. It baked beautifully! The problem? One of them sunk in a little, but I didn’t worry. When it cooled, it looked like your pic on the left but WORSE. That was almost the entire center of one of the cakes. I was near tears because it was for an event. I had to do it over. While that one didn’t come out as dense, it was still a bit dry. WHAT IS HAPPENING?????

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Oh no! It sounds like they aren’t fully baked when they’re being taken out of the oven, causing them to collapse in the center. We’d recommend testing the center of the cake with a knife to check for any wet batter or crumbs before taking it out of the oven. Sometimes a toothpick doesn’t give a good enough view of the inside.
      The type of pan you use can also make a difference in baking time and consistency. Check out our blog post on Glass, metal, and stoneware pans if you’re curious.
      If you’re finding the edges of the cake are baked before the center, that’s a sign to lower the temperature and give it a longer, more even bake. We hope the next one turns out better! Annabelle@KAF

  6. Murratti

    Uhhh….I’d been so sad wondering what happened…. Even after following a good recipe… Thanks again

    Reply
  7. Kate

    I made a strawberry cake for my daughters birthday party with my brand new stand mixer, and we were surprised how thin the cake layers were. After eating it & finding out they were dense, too, I’m guessing this is what happened. (She was happy enough, but I want to solve it for next time!)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sounds like over-creaming might have been the culprit here, Kate. Try reducing the mixing time in the future and see if that helps you make tall, fluffy cake layers. If you ever second guess yourself or would appreciate some friendly advice in the kitchen, don’t hesitate to give our Baker’s Hotline a call: 855-371-BAKE(2253). We’re here to help! Kye@KAF

  8. Ann McClure

    Oh my gosh! My cake rose like a soufflé, then crashed. It’s oily and feels gooey, though the crust is very brown. I did beat the heck out of it because I thought my mixer wasn’t doing a good job. I will try again with gentle mixing and folding. Many thanks! By the way, would a better flour than all-purpose work better on a pound cake? I will try anything because the flavors were divine and the look is dramatic (Pati Jinich’s Tiger Cake),

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Been there, Ann! All-purpose is out favorite flour for pound cake. It is strong enough to hold up to all that delicious butter, but not too strong that it’s tough. Cake flour would be a little too weak with the weight of the other ingredients and likely result in a shorter, denser cake. Annabelle@KAF

  9. Sunshine

    This post was very helpful. I have stand mixer which just broke, and I normally use it for batters. This time however, I had to use my food processor with the dough blade. Seemed like everything was going well and my cake baked fine – tested it before removing from oven and toothpick came out clean and dry. But later, once cooled and frosted, it had the doughy like inside in half of it. I thought it wasn’t baked but it didn’t feel raw or taste raw. Needless to say I was disappointed in the result. My guess is the food processor spun too quickly for the batter and over did it as a result. If I was able to post a pic – I would have.

    Reply
  10. xxx

    Hi
    Today i tried baking what was supposed to be a moist chocolate cake. I started by mixing the dry ingridients then add the wet ones all at one go as the recipe said. The batter came out too watery so i added more flour to it. In the recipe they divided the batter into two pans of 23 cm but i baked it all in one pan of 18 cm. The cake came out all dense. I didnt mix the batter for too long. What do you think went wrong?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello! Some cake batters are meant to be very watery, and it sounds like this was one of them. The extra flour would result in a very dense texture. Next time, try to resist adding additional flour and your cakes should come out moist, tender, and light. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

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