KitchenTigress: Cake FAQs

Cake FAQs

This post goes hand in hand with Cake Dos & Don'ts. I hope these 2 posts help shorten cake newbies' learning curve.

a) Why doesn't your cake rise?  »

Short answer: Because you don't follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites are overwhisked and inextensible.
  2. Whisked egg whites, kept waiting too long, deteriorate and become inextensible.
  3. Eggs/yolks are underwhisked. Don't have enough air bubbles, and the structure is weak. Batter deflates during mixing.
  4. Not enough eggs/whites/yolks.
  5. Not enough non-fat liquids, so not enough steam to help the cake rise.
  6. Batter is too thick. Thick batter is too heavy to rise well.
  7. Batter is too thin. Thin batter allows air bubbles to escape easily.
  8. Too little baking powder/soda.
  9. Baking powder is stale.
  10. Too little acid. Baking soda can't activate.
  11. Too much acid. Batter sets too quickly, so it can't rise much.
  12. Wrong flour type.
  13. Batter is kept waiting too long before it's baked, allowing air bubbles to escape, and the baking powder and whisked egg whites to deteriorate.
  14. Oven isn't hot enough. Without enough heat, air bubbles can't expand, water can't convert to steam, and double-acting baking powder can't activate.
  15. Oven is too hot. Batter sets before it rises.
  16. Wrong pan type, which affects the heat transfer. 
  17. Pan is too wide. Shallow batter sets before it rises.

b) Why does your cake crack?   »
Short answer: Because you don't follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites are underwhisked and too extensible.
  2. Too much egg white. 
  3. Too little flour.
  4. Oven is too hot.
  5. Top of oven is hot. The cake crust hardens too quickly, then rupturs when the batter underneath puffs up.
  6. Too much baking powder/soda.
  7. Too much non-fat liquid.
  8. Wrong pan type.
  9. Pan is too narrow.

c) Why does your cake collapse/sink/deflate?  »
Short answer: Because you don't follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Egg whites are underwhisked, so they provide poor structural support.
  2. Oven is too hot. Cake rises higher than it should, so it comes back down due to insufficient structural support.
  3. Too much baking soda/powder.
  4. Too much acid, which causes the cake to set too quickly. The sides rise but the centre doesn't because it sets too quickly. There's no sinking, strictly speaking, but the cake looks sunken.
  5. Uneven mixing.
  6. Too little flour.
  7. Underbaked.
  8. Cooling down method is wrong. Fragile cakes need to cool down inverted and stuck to the pan or they would sink.

d) Why is there a hard layer at the bottom of your cake?  »
Because the batter sets too slowly, allowing starch to separate and sink to the bottom of the pan, where it hardens.

Why does the batter set too slowly?

Short answer: Because you don't follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Oven isn't hot enough.
  2. "Bathtub", if there's a water-bath, isn't metallic. Non-metallic materials don't conduct heat well.
  3. "Bath water" isn't hot enough.
  4. Not enough acid.
  5. Not enough eggs.
  6. Not enough flour.
  7. Not enough starch.
  8. Not enough cream cheese.
  9. Wrong type of cream cheese, that doesn't have enough starch.
  10. Too much liquid.

e) Why does your cake shrink after cooling down?  »
All cakes shrink as they cool down.

f) Why does your cake shrink excessively after cooling down?  »
Short answer: Because you don't follow the recipe.

Long answer:
  1. Overbaking. Cake loses too much moisture, so it shrinks.
  2. Too much non-fat liquid. H2O turns into steam when heated, creating empty pockets which, when excessive, make the cake shrink excessively.
  3. Too much egg white, which is 90% water. Refer to point 2.
  4. Not enough flour.
  5. Not enough yolks.
  6. Pan is prepped wrongly. Don't grease/line the pan unless the recipe says so.

g) Why does your cake fail even though you follow my recipe "closely"?  »

Reader cath's Japanese cheesecake............KT's Japanese cheesecake..

Reader cath asked me what she'd done wrongly with her Japanese soufflé cheesecake. She'd followed all the steps "closely", according to her. Did she really? My recipe says she should bake the cake in a bain-marie. She obviously didn't because her cake is brown all over. If she did, the water would have prevented the sides and bottom from browning.

Not only did cath not follow the baking instructions, she also did not use the same ingredients. Her cake was so overbaked the crust was thick and brown but the inside, she said, was still wet. If she had followed the ingredients detailed, her horribly overbaked cake would have dried out.

It is, of course, everyone's prerogative to not follow my recipe. Whatever floats your boat and all that, you know? Just please don't whine and ask me why if your boat sinks. When you ignore my instructions and then you want me to speculate about which part of my instructions you have ignored, my blood pressure goes up. I become very sarcastic when my BP rises. My response to cath was: "If what you did is close to the recipe, then the moon is close to planet Earth." 

h) Why does your cake fail even though you follow my recipe to a T?  »
There're only two possible explanations for your cake failure. Either my recipe is crap, or you fail to follow my recipe to a T even though you think/say you do.

If the former – my recipe isn't crap but let's assume it is – I'm not going to admit it, am I?

If the latter, why your cake fails boils down to what part of the recipe you fail to follow. Which part is that? You should know, not me. I'm not there when you bake your cake. You are.

Some people might use 1 cup flour when the recipe says 100 g. Or 4 egg whites when the recipe says 180 g (because they see 4 yolks in the video). They then say they follow the recipe to a T.

Is 100 g flour =1 cup? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. No one knows, not even you, unless that 1 cup flour you measured is weighed. If you use conversion tables online, 1 cup of flour may be converted to 110-150 g depending on which website you use. The huge range should tell you what a farce cup measurements are.

4 egg whites = 200 g? Unlikely. Depending on the size of the eggs, 4 whites may be 80-180 g.

i) Your cake pan is bigger/smaller than mine. How do you adjust the recipe?  »
You must scale the recipe by the percentage difference in size.
  1. Calculate the surface area of the pan used in the recipe.
  2. Calculate the surface area of your cake pan.
  3. Scale the recipe up/down by the percentage difference between the two pan's surface areas.
A round pan's surface area is 3.1 x r x r. A square/rectangular pan's surface area is l x b.

If you can't handle the arithmetic, get a primary school kid to help you. You may want to pretend you're testing him/her.

j) You want to scale the recipe up/down. What pan size should you use?  »
The pan size must be proportionate to the quantity of ingredients.
  1. Calculate how many percent you want to scale the recipe.
  2. Calculate the surface area of the pan used in the recipe.
  3. Increase/decrease (2) by (1). This is the surface area of the pan you need.
  4. Using (3), calculate the length and breadth, or diameter, of the pan you may use. The height of your pan should be the same as mine or higher.
A round pan's surface area is 3.1 x r x r. A square/rectangular pan's surface area is l x b.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about or your little brain is threatening to explode, please seek assistance. A primary school kid (with a pass in maths) should be able to help you.

k) Your pan type is different from mine. Does it matter?  »
Only round, square and rectangular "regular" pans made of the same material are interchangeable.

A chiffon cake should be baked in a two-piece chiffon tube pan that's not non-stick. Some people use a bundt pan instead, probably thinking all pans with a hole in the middle are the same. Sigh . . . they are, I presume, not civil engineers, architects or lawyers.

l) Why do I (sometimes) whisk egg whites before egg yolks?  »
The stability of whisked egg whites depends on the amount of sugar and cream of tartar added. If there is no cream of tartar and very little sugar, egg whites must be whisked after yolks or they would lose the extensibility that makes the cake rise, as they sit waiting. If there is cream of tartar and enough sugar, then the egg whites are quite stable and may be whisked before yolks, without adversely affecting the final product.

m) Why do I use a whisk to fold whisked egg whites?  »
A whisk is better than a spatula for folding egg whites. Each prong on the whisk is equivalent to one spatula, so folding with a whisk is faster. Speed is crucial because if the folding takes too long, the egg whites would deteriorate and lose their extensibility, resulting in a cake that's short and dense.

Some people believe whisked egg whites should be folded gently, and therefore slowly, or they (egg whites, not people) would deflate. That's wrong. There's no need to be gentle because the egg whites are whisked by the equivalent of a tornado (or two). It doesn't get more violent than that. Folding gently isn't necessary but at least it does no harm. Folding slowly, however, is a big (possibly fatal) mistake. The longer whisked egg whites wait, the more inextensible they become, the less the cake rises.

n) Why do I (sometimes) block the oven's top heat?  »
When the top of the cake browns and hardens too quickly, it'd try to stop the batter underneath from rising. If it succeeds, the cake would be short and dense. If it fails, the cake would crack. Blocking the top heat keeps the crust thin and soft, so the cake rises well and doesn't crack.

o) Wouldn't the cake collapse if you open the oven to rotate it (the cake, not oven)?  »
No, not if you're fast. Yes if you knock the pan against something or slam the oven door, but these are separate issues from opening the oven. Your cake will be fine if you don't lift the pan. Just slide it around the rack, turning it 180°, then close the door gently. The oven should be opened for no more than 2-3 seconds.

p) Can you replace     (fill in the blank)     with     (fill in the blank)    ?  »
Can you replace cake flour with plain flour? Plain flour with self-raising flour? Self-raising flour with plain flour? Plain flour with coconut flour?

Substitution of ingredients is the top FAQ on both my blog and YouTube channel. If I had a recipe for boiling water, someone is bound to ask if there's a substitute for water. Or if he could make boiled water without water, like the reader who asked if she could make Japanese cheesecake without cheese. And the other reader who wanted to make Hong Kong egg tarts without eggs.

Some readers can't be bothered to come up with alternatives. They want to replace something, and they want me to tell them what to replace it with. Of course, they have an unspoken condition. The substitute must be something that they like, and that they have or will fall out of the sky and land in their laps.

One reader, jas, asked if it's OK to use "normal milk" instead of full-fat milk. She obviously didn't know what "normal milk" is. She didn't know what full-fat milk is either, and she didn't want to know. She just wanted it removed from the recipe, so it couldn't bother her.

Ladies and gentlemen, yes, you can. You can put and not put whatever you like in your cake. Because it is your cake. Your boat, float it your way. Good luck.

q) How many eggs/whites/yolks do you need?  »
Eggs come in different sizes. They may be as small as 30 g each without shell. Or as big as 70 g. That's a difference of more than 100%. I don't know how many eggs you need because I don't know the size of your eggs.

How about stating x number of medium or large eggs? Because what's labelled large in one country (US) may be labelled medium in other countries (UK). Some countries (Singapore and Malaysia) don't have size labels. Besides changing from country to country, labels may also change over time.

Even if there's no labelling problem, what if you have the wrong size? Go buy the right size? Replace the right size with the wrong size? How? These questions are all redundant if you weigh your eggs.

r) Is your oven too hot/cold?  »
I don't know. I am not a thermometer.

s) Can I convert grams to cups?  »
Of course I can, as soon as someone tells me how to measure block cream cheese and strawberries with a cup. And as soon as everyone who measures with cups agrees on a universal method. Do they want to :
  • Scoop or spoon flour? 
  • Sift or not sift? 
  • Tap or not tap? 
  • Level or shake? 
  • Use a dry cup or liquid cup? 
  • Use an American customary cup (236.6 ml), American legal cup (240 ml), Japanese cup (200 ml), Australian/metric cup (250 ml), or Canadian cup (227 ml)?

t) What brand/model is my mixer?  »
I bought my mixer about 10 years ago. What was a good brand then may or may not be a good brand now. I suggest you refer to recent product reviews for up-to-date recommendations. All the major brands for small kitchen appliances – such as KitchenAid, Bosch, Braun, Philips, Kenwood, Cuisinart, etc – would have the type of mixer I use.

u) Where did I buy my mixer?  »
I get asked this question a lot, which is quite puzzling. Why would anyone need to know where I bought my mixer? If you want to buy one, then go buy one. A mixer is a small kitchen appliance, so you go to retailers that sell small kitchen appliances. Any departmental store or shop that specialises in household appliances would stock a few brands.

v) Where can you buy cake flour in Australia?  »
Why would someone living in Australia ask someone who is not living in Australia where to buy stuff in Australia? WHY? Somebody . . . ? Anybody?

Here's where you can buy cake flour in Australia:

Make Google your bitch! (Or stud, if you prefer.)

w) Where is the recipe?  »
This is one of the FAQ on my YouTube channel. Viewers who ask the question either can't be bothered to look, or they don't have enough intelligence to figure out where to look. If the former, they don't really want my recipe. If the latter, they wouldn't know how to follow my recipe anyway.

When I first started my YouTube channel, I told viewers who couldn't find the link to my recipe to click on "show more". (I was afraid if I'd said "description box" instead, they didn't know what that was.) Some people said they read looked at my blog but couldn't find my recipe. One viewer asked "Where is show more?" I just gave up, to save my sanity. Now, my answer to the question is: "Viewers need an IQ of at least 55 to access the recipe. Sorry for the restriction."

x) What is     (fill in the blank)    ?  »
What is cake flour, pandan, lye, etc? Any "what is" question has shitloads of answers on the Internet. Why would anyone want to wait for me to reply instead of getting the answer, plus photos, with just a few clicks? What planet are they from? They don't know how to Google?

y) Do I weigh eggs with/without shells?  »
Let's say you need 220 g eggs which may be, say, 414 eggs. How do you weigh 14 of an egg with its shell? And when the white and yolk are weighed separately, how do you split the shell? Maybe those who ask if eggs are weighed with shells know how. I am not so clever. Besides, there's nothing in my recipes about discarding egg shells. If the weight stated is for eggs with shells, then the shells would be in the cake.