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. Maria -Assumpta Ogbozor

    Hi, I’m a beginner in baking. My orange velvet cake rose in the oven but sank in the middle 2 minutes after it left the oven. It tastes and looks more like a pudding cake! Please help what wrong with my cake?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for reaching out, Maria! It sounds like your cake needed another 5 to 10 minutes in the oven. My favorite way to test cake is to poke it and see if it bounces back. If it does, it’s done. You can also know it’s fully done by putting a digital thermometer into the center — it should read 205°F. Ensuring the cake is done will prevent it from collapsing. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Lalah

    Wow. Thank you I’m pretty new to baking. So I’m over creaming my cakes. Now i no when I’m adding the dry ingredients to do this by hand. My hand mixer has one speed. However my cake still delicious 😋

    Reply
  3. Chris

    Hey there, so my mud cakes are streaking like this but next level! All of a sudden my mud cakes are turning to gooey gluey gross mess like the above but the complete cake (not just streaks). I am using the same ingredients, same tins, same oven, same recipe, same mixing method but only the last three weeks they have turned to muck/gluey mess that is inedible. I am now on my third ruined cake for the day and I mixed them all by hand and nothing has changed so it’s driving me but please help! I am at my wits end

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Chris, we would love to help troubleshoot what might be going on with your cakes! We’re not sure which recipe you’re using or what kind of mixing method is being utilized, so we would suggest giving our friendly Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253) and we can dig in and help you figure this one out! Morgan@KAF

    2. Maggie

      Did you ever figure out why? Having the same issue here. It started happening in the winter when it’s normally warmer inside with the heat on, so I suspect it might be that my butter is too soft? I’m using a pretty standard pound cake recipe with equal ratios. I have since resorted to a two stage mixing method which resolves the gummy streaks but it is just a tad less airy than what I used to get with the creaming method. Any thoughts?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      We pulled out all the stops and chatted with our Queen of Cake, Food Editor of Sift Magazine, Susan Reid. She recommended using an alternative mixing method: “It’s kind of a hybrid between creaming and paste methods. After butter/sugar is smooth and probably half as aerated as you’re making it now, mix in only 1 of the eggs in the recipe, then (slowly) 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour before adding any more eggs. That tends to stabilize the matrix and keep things better emulsified as the eggs go in. Scraping after each egg is absorbed is also a good way to force yourself to stay in contact with the texture of the batter as it builds. If at any time the mixture looks like it wants to separate, add another 1/4 cup of flour before putting anything else that’s wet in it.”

      Another option? You can try adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of Cake Enhancer to the butter and sugar mixture, which will help stabilize the emulsification and prevent streaks. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Natasha Jeffery

    I found a pound cake recipe that calls for 3 cups each of sugar, flour and 3 sticks butter. Is this a good mix? Also, how can I get the crunchy top on my cake?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re a little concerned about the ratio, particularly of sugar to flour which seems a bit too high in sugar. Pound cake got its name by being made with a pound each of sugar, butter, and flour. (Or at least an equal ratio by weight of those three ingredients.) The recipe you found would be 12 oz butter, 12 oz flour, but 21 oz sugar. We’d recommend trying out a tried and true recipe such as our King Arthur Flour’s Original Pound Cake recipe. For a crunchy top, you can’t go wrong with Sparkling White Sugar! Sprinkling a thin layer across the before just before baking brings you crunch, sweetness, and just a little bit of sparkle. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  5. Tiala

    Thank you. Everytime it’s facing me whenever I try to make cake or cookies. I wonder what’s the time or how? Everytime I fail. I wish to learn more from you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’d love the chance to help and talk through your recipes 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) or online. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  6. Kelly

    Hi, I used a receipe that called for 2 cups of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of buttermilk. Baked without problems. When I took it out of the oven, it dropped, causing dense gummy cake. What did I do wrong. I am a beginner in baking. Help.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Kelly, without seeing the recipe you used, it’s hard for us to diagnose, but 3 cups of sugar is a LOT for any cake recipe unless that recipe also calls for 4 1/2 to 5 cups of flour. Please try one of our recipes, and if you have any questions, the bakers on the hotline can answer them as you’re putting the recipe together. Susan

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