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!)

IMG_7225

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. Sofia

    This sometimes happen to me. My recipe requires the eggs to be separated.
    1) whip whites
    2) add sugar
    3) add yolks
    4) add butter, ovalette, vanilla essence
    5) add flour

    At what stage should i use medium speed? I always mix in the flour by hand slowly.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sofia! We’d suggest using medium speed when adding in your yolks and butter. Dense parts in a cake with whipped whites (also known as a foam) can be from over mixing when incorporating the flour as well, so just be sure that you’re not deflating the batter too much while mixing in the flour. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  2. Jeri b

    I made my first scratch cake. I followed the instructions but it came out a thin dense mess. I will try again following your recommendations exactly. Wish me luck and thank you for your help.

    Reply
  3. Jane Lilly

    You should have an emergency text message 💬 I am definitely going to try it differently next time. Every time I make my cakes are dense and people that eat them are so polite and nice about it but it’s super embarrassing. The flavor is right on its just the texture is not. Could I fold the dry into the wet? The cake that I just tried had me mix the Cake flour, sugar, baking powder, instant pudding, and salt and then I had to add soft cubes of butter to the dry until coarse crumbs. Then add the wet. I didn’t know you could over mix. Also, do you have any tips on making each layer of the cake even? Thanks so much. I love your products ♥️ I used your Cake flour 🙂x

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s not texting, but our Baker’s Hotline is close, Jane! They’re available by phone, online chat, or email to help with baking questions or emergencies of all sorts. To make your cakes even, wrapping cake strips around your pans helps insulate them. This allows the cake to bake evenly. They dome because the edges of the cake set up before the center has a chance to rise, so the cake strips slow down the heat transfer on the edges. We have a whole blog about it. Mixing your cake batters by hand may help! Once you’ve mixed the dry ingredients with the soft butter you can add the liquid and stir it in by hand. Give the Baker’s Hotline a call so we can get some additional details and help you further if you’re ever in a pinch! Annabelle@KAF

  4. Sherill George

    Hi this is the recipe i followed. But regardless of the recipe my cakes are always fully pastry like and soggy.

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    The Best Banana Cake I’ve Ever Had
    Posted on August 10, 2016 / posted in Cakes / 507 comments
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    This is absolutely the best banana cake I’ve ever had! It’s supremely moist with cream cheese frosting, tons of banana, brown sugar, and cinnamon flavor. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    Remember that time I told you about the best banana cake I’ve ever had? It was over on Instagram.

    I enjoyed obsessed over it at a family reunion the other weekend. Kevin’s cousin made it and I stalked her down like a dessert creep and proceeded to talk her ear off about cream cheese frosting and spotty bananas for 35 minutes straight.

    What? You don’t do that at parties?

    MY LATEST VIDEOS

    This is absolutely the best banana cake I’ve ever had! It’s supremely moist with cream cheese frosting, tons of banana, brown sugar, and cinnamon flavor. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    Ok but this banana cake.

    It was the moistest cake I’ve ever eaten. Stick-to-the-back of your fork moist. The perfect cream cheese frosting, both sweet and tangy, sinking into the top of the cake made it even more moist. Sweet, but not overpowering. Mega banana flavor, certainly more banana flavor than any banana bread I’ve ever eaten. Very buttery and cakey from creaming the butter and sugars. Ridiculously rich, decadent.

    The banana cake was dense, but not heavy. If that makes any sense? (Coming from the lady who talks about rotting bananas at social gatherings, but stick with me here.) The crumb was very soft, but they were tight crumbs. The cake didn’t fall apart when you took a forkful.

    Lori told me this cake comes out perfect every time she makes it. And such perfection is reinforced, she told me, when absolutely everyone who has a slice begs her for the recipe. It is, hands down, the best banana cake I’ve ever had.

    And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

    How to make the best banana cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    Mashed bananas for the best banana cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    How to Make Banana Cake

    The recipe starts with 3 mashed bananas (above). Now, make sure those bananas are nice and spotty. As you know, I’m very passionate about spotty bananas. The bananas you see above are just right. More brown spots = sweeter, more banana flavor. Your cake will thank you. I simply mash the bananas in my mixer– the same mixer I use for creaming the butter and sugars. Beat the bananas on high speed for a minute, then transfer to another bowl. I don’t even wash the mixing bowl– just throw the butter right in and start creaming!

    I really love the mix of brown and white sugars in this banana cake. Brown sugar and banana pair wonderfully together and the brown sugar leaves the cake even more moist. Plus, a little brown sugar flavor is never a bad thing!

    Let’s see, what else. Oh! The cinnamon. Just a little bit, nothing overpowering. 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon pairs with the brown sugar and banana flavors.

    Here’s the batter. There will be some pretty lumps.

    Ok, let’s face it– are lumps ever attractive? Ever?

    How to make the best banana cake on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    One more thing to note: buttermilk. Hey, how often do I express my love for buttermilk in desserts? You’re lucky I don’t hunt you down at parties and talk your ear off about… dairy.

    But anyway, as you guessed, buttermilk is the moist-maker. The cake wouldn’t be what it is without it! I rarely have buttermilk in my refrigerator, unless I have a ton of baking to do that day, so I always sour whole milk instead. For this recipe, you’ll need 1 and 1/2 cups of buttermilk. So here’s what I do instead: measure 1 Tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar, then add enough whole milk until I reach 1 and 1/2 cups. Stir it around, let it sit for a minute, then pour into the batter. To keep the cake extra rich, I do recommend whole milk when you are souring milk– not any other milks.

    So, soured whole milk OR buttermilk. Your two best bets in this banana cake.

    The silkiest, best cream cheese frosting! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    Is this not the silkiest and smoothest cream cheese frosting you’ve ever seen? Well, it’s the silkiest and smoothest cream cheese frosting I’ve ever tasted! It’s pretty similar to my favorite cream cheese frosting, but there’s a little less cream cheese for the amount of butter. So, this makes the frosting a little more silky. And definitely more buttery!

    There’s also a lot of cream cheese frosting. You will think I’m crazy (-er than you already think I am). When you begin slathering it onto the cake, you’ll probably go “Sally, this is way too much frosting!” But it’s not. You want a nice thick layer. It’s essential to the cake’s overall awesomeness.

    This is absolutely the best banana cake I’ve ever had! It’s supremely moist with cream cheese frosting, tons of banana, brown sugar, and cinnamon flavor. Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

    YUP. The best banana cake I’ve ever had. Let me know if you try it!

    Banana cake recipe
    The Best Banana Cake I’ve Ever Had

    Yield serves 12 Prep Time 30 minutes Cook Time 45 minutes Total Time 5 hours

    This is absolutely the best banana cake I’ve ever had! It’s supremely moist with cream cheese frosting, tons of banana, brown sugar, and cinnamon flavor.

    Print Recipe
    Ingredients

    Banana Cake

    3 large ripe bananas (about 1 and 1/2 cups mashed)
    3 cups (375g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
    1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
    1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
    3 large eggs, at room temperature
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, at room temperature1
    Cream Cheese Frosting

    8 ounces (224g) full-fat block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
    1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
    3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar, plus an extra 1/4 cup if needed
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    Directions

    Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9×13 inch pan.
    Make the cake: Mash the bananas. I usually just use my mixer for this! Set mashed bananas aside.
    Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. Set aside.
    Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy – about 1 minute. Add both sugars and beat on high speed for 2 minutes until creamed together. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs and the vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until combined, then beat in the mashed bananas. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix. The batter will be slightly thick and a few lumps is OK.
    Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Baking times vary, so keep an eye on yours. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you find the top of the cake is browning too quickly in the oven, loosely cover it with aluminum foil.
    Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely. After about 45 minutes, I usually place it in the refrigerator to speed things up.

    What do you think i am doing wrong.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for reaching out to our team as a trusted baking resource, Sherill, and for taking the explorer’s attitude regarding the many possibilities of baking!

      While our team is always happy to make specific recommendations regarding our recipes and straightforward substitutions, recipes and adjustments that fall outside the scope of minor changes often require research and hands-on testing to analyze. Though we’re simply not equipped to offer that service to our customers at this time, we hope you’ll feel empowered to continue researching and putting your baking ideas to the test!

      If you’d like to speak with one of our bakers and describe the pastry-like/soggy texture you’ve been experiencing, we’re happy to have a conversation with you at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  5. Trish

    I made a pound cake and yet again it has the line of dense, soggy cake in the middle. I read that I’m mixing it wrong per your notes above, but I creamed the butter and sugar for 5 minutes, then added the eggs one area time beating for 1 minute after each. I’m wondering if that isi too long? Also, not sure how long to mix after adding the flour. I also never put the Kitchenaid mixer higher than the first mark. How long do you mix the flour? An you help me?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Trish! So we can best help you, why don’t you give our King Arthur Flour’s Original Pound Cake recipe a go. It calls for you to beat the butter (on its own) until it’s light in color — basically white. Then you slowly add the sugar and the eggs while the mixer is on a lower speed, around 2 or 3. Once you’ve added the flour you want to mix until just combined to prevent any unnecessary gluten development. We hope you enjoy the recipe and that the finished texture is pleasing. Annabelle@KAF

  6. Eric

    so over the last 3 days I’ve backed 3 different Funfetti Cake recipe’s, the first- was super dense and spongy, pretty much bread. the second- turned out better but still dense and heavy. the third- had better flavor and a little too dense still. this was the recipe that I just used.. any suggestions.?? I have a cake due for Saturday morning and I’m stuck..
    Ingredients
    9 Tbsp butter softened
    3 cups sugar
    1 cup canola oil vegetable oil would also work
    4 tsp vanilla extract
    4 cups+ 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
    4 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1 1/2 tsp salt
    1 1/2 cup milk
    9 egg whites room temperature preferred
    1/2 cup sprinkles

    Instructions
    Preheat oven to 350F and prepare 3 8-inch round cake pans by generously greasing and flouring. Be sure to shake out excess flour.
    In stand mixer, beat butter on medium-low speed until creamy.
    Add sugar and oil and beat until all ingredients are well-combined and creamy.
    Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then stir in your vanilla.
    In separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, and salt.
    Measure out your milk.
    With mixer on medium speed, gradually alternate between adding the flour mixture and the milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until each one is almost completely combined before adding the next.
    Pause occasionally to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.
    In separate bowl, combine your egg whites and, with a hand-mixer on high-speed, beat until stiff peaks form.
    Using a spatula, gently fold your egg whites and sprinkles into your batter. Take care to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so that ingredients are well-combined, and take care not to over-mix.
    Evenly divide cake batter into prepared pans.
    Bake on 350F for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer comes out clean or with few crumbs (should not be wet). For best results, rotate your cake pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking.
    Cakes will be a light golden brown when done baking.
    Remove cakes from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Run a butterknife around the inside rim of each pan and invert each onto a cooling rack.
    Allow to cool completely before frosting.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for reaching out to our team as a trusted baking resource, Eric, and for taking the explorer’s attitude regarding the many possibilities of baking!

      While our team is always happy to make specific recommendations regarding our recipes and straightforward substitutions, (perhaps try adding a few tablespoons of Cake Enhancer?) recipes and adjustments that fall outside the scope of minor changes often require research and hands-on testing to analyze. Though we’re simply not equipped to offer that service to our customers at this time, we hope you’ll feel empowered to continue researching and putting your baking ideas to the test!

      If we can ever help you locate one of our recipes, or connect with any of the many resources on our website (starting with the invaluable Learn section), please do let us know at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or here. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello, Salman. We don’t work with acetic acid in our flour, so for best results, we’d recommend consulting the creator of the recipe you’re using, or the manufacturer of your flour. Annabelle@KAF

  7. Double d

    I have read your key to perfectly mixed cake, I have never had to think of over or under mixing my cake it just turned out perfect. Could it have anything to do with the manufacturer ingredient .I have never changed or altered my ingredients.

    Reply
  8. Doubled

    Hi I have been making the same cake recipe for the past 20years the best cake recipe ever always a hit. The last few years I have been disappointed and discouraged from doing what I loved. My recipe is as follows 2cups sugar,2 sticks butter, 3 cups flour, 1 tsp bp, 4 eggs, 1 cup milk. What could possibly be causing the issue ? My chocolate cake and carrot cake still perfect.

    Reply

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