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. The Baker's Hotline

      Linda, the most common reason for a hard, dense cake is too much flour working its way into the batter. Measuring by weight using a kitchen scale is definitely the easiest way to ensure that you’re getting the most accurate measurement, but if you’re using cups, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using the right technique to stop any sneaky extra flour from finding its way in. Our guide on How to measure flour can be really helpful in this respect. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  1. Jenniffer

    I have a pink champagne cake that I make for wedding cakes and it’s delish! Unfortunately it wants to sink in the middle as your topic. I have to make several batches this week so I’m going to use your advice and a timer to do every batch more precisely. But, here are my differences than what you mentioned above. The biggest tier (14”) didn’t really sink that much. The 11” a little more, the 8” more, 5” a lot and cupcakes sink all the way like they were a stupid doughnut. It happens at the last 10 minutes of baking. Also, I think the sugar content is pretty high. I bake them all in convection ovens with thermometers. Also, the egg whites are not whipped at all. You guys need this recipe as it’s very popular with brides and you don’t have one! Help me love on it and it’s yours!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Jenniffer! Often times when a cake sinks while in the oven, it is because the batter was over-mixed and too much air was knocked out. Without knowing much about your recipe, it can be hard to tell what might be going on though. Some suggestions for troubleshooting are to whip up the whites and use a sponge cake-like method, reducing the sugar a tad (about 15 to 20 percent), and shortening up your mixing times as well as using a spatula to scrape the bowl often. We hope this helps and best of luck with your recipe. Kindly, Morgan@KAF

  2. Tahira Akhtar

    My cake ended up being too doughy and dense but raised really nicely
    If I whisked the egg whites separately would that help? What can I do? How can I make my cakes more fluffy and light? Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tahira! Using a recipe that includes whipping the egg whites on their own and folding them in is a great way to start. Our Chiffon Cake recipe should do the trick. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  3. Cynthia A Christle

    I have a new GE oven. I am an excellent pound cake maker. My pound cakes are gluey inside. What is the problem? Please help.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Cynthia! If you don’t have one already, we’d suggest getting an oven thermometer to ensure that your oven is running true to temperature. Even a new oven can be a bit off, which will affect how your cakes bake. Also, if the new oven has a convection setting that can change things. If you do have a convection oven, we’d recommend checking out our blog article Convection or no for tips on what bakes best with the convection setting. We hope this helps! Morgan@KAF

  4. Marie Dubois

    i have just been diagnosed allergic to wheat
    i bought the king arthur gluten free flour
    my problem is the cake was extremely dense/ thick

    it was not like my usual cake light and airy

    any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Marie, gluten-free baking can definitely take a while to get used to! It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong with your cake since we don’t know what recipe you were baking, which of our gluten-free flours you used, or any other details about your baking process, but we’d be more than happy to help you troubleshoot! If you give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253) we can work with you in much more detail to help your next gluten-free cake become all that you’re hoping for. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  5. madhumita sengupta

    i made cakes very nicely from december to april, but in May when i go for baking it sink from middle, is it for hot weather, I made my cake in big dekchi,in proper gas flame.
    How i will get my perfect cake pls. suggest.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      While we can’t say for sure, there are a few reasons that might cause your cake to sink in the middle. One is from underbaking, which probably isn’t the issue unless your oven is getting older and no longer keeping temperature as well as it used to. Another is from too much liquid in your batter. If the air is becoming more humid as it warms up, this can lead to your flour and other ingredients retaining more moisture in them, resulting in a wetter batter. In this case, reducing the liquid in your recipe slightly when the atmosphere is more humid could help. Finally, your oven might have hot spots that are leading to uneven baking. You can learn more about how to find your oven’s hot spots here: Identifying oven hot spots. Hope this helps! Kat@KAF

  6. Jane

    Hello, I made a spongecake several times. All from the same recipe and used the same method. The first few ones came out perfect. The few recent ones were dense at the bottom. What could be the case? I used a different oven for the recent ones although I used oven thermometer to make sure I got the same temperature. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jane, that’s tricky! If you’ve switched ovens, you might need to experiment with the best location for your cakes. You might find that the new oven has hot spots or other irregularities that are different from the old oven, especially if it’s a different type (such as gas to electric or vice versa). Unfortunately, it may just take some trial and error to get the hang of the perfect cake-baking rules for a different oven. Hope that helps! Kat@KAF

  7. Carol

    Hi, thanks for this. I tried making a sponge cake like 4 times, the 1st one came out perfect, but the other 3 were so dense, I used the same measurements each time, but I still couldn’t get it right. I can’t afford a mixer so I mix with a wooden spoon. Could mixing by hand be the reason?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Carol — Sponge cakes rely heavily on aeration for their rise, and it could be that mixing by hand, you’re not mixing quite the same way from one time to another, or potentially not with enough vigor. The extra aeration offered by a mixer — either electric or hand — would be a plus. You can get rotary hand eggbeaters or even electric hand mixers for under $20; If you could afford one of them, I think you’ll see better results with your cakes. Best of luck — PJH@KAF

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