The Exploratorium is more than a museum. Explore our online resources for learning at home.

The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking
Candy Bread Eggs Pickles Meat Seasoning
Ask the Inquisitive Cooks    

"What makes cakes fall?"

Dear Anne and Sue,

What are some of the problems that make a cake fall? Every cake I bake caves in the middle. Thanks.

— Unhappy Cake Baker


Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

(Meet the Inquisitive Cooks)


Dear Unhappy Cake Baker,

It's annoying to go to all the work of making a cake, anticipating a special treat ... and then have it fall! Perhaps it's some comfort to learn that it's likely happened to most of us at some point in our cooking careers. But you're wise to look for reasons as to why your cakes are collapsing.

Sometimes it's the fault of a poorly designed recipe. Other times it's measuring incorrectly or not accurately following the method of a particular recipe. We can likely eliminate these reasons in your case, however, because you mention that every cake falls in the middle.

One reason that comes to mind immediately is that the temperature inside your oven differs from the temperature indicated on the oven dial. All ovens need recalibrating occasionally. If the oven temperature is too low, the structure of the cake may not set sufficiently, even though it may have been in the oven for the recommended amount of time. Thus, it collapses once it's removed from the oven. You can check your oven's accuracy by buying an inexpensive oven thermometer, found at hardware and cooking stores. Sometimes it's surprising to find a considerable temperature discrepancy between the dial and the oven.

Also check for doneness with a cake tester or skewer inserted just off-center in the cake. If it comes out with wet batter clinging, it needs more time in the oven. Many factors affect the exact time each cake takes to bake, so don't simply use the time recommended by the recipe. You, the cook, are the best judge of when your cake is done.

Occasionally cooks assume that they can reduce the amount of sugar or fat in a cake recipe to save on calories. However, both these ingredients have a strong influence on the texture and volume of baked products, so you can't arbitrarily mess with sugar and fat proportions and assume that the cake will be the same. Sugar also affects the temperature at which the cake sets, so changing proportions also changes baking times.

Perhaps, too, your baking powder is old and no longer effective. Baking powder keeps for about a year, providing it's stored with the lid on tightly. You can test its effectiveness by dissolving one teaspoon in a cup of hot water. If lots of tiny bubbles form and rise, it's still working. If not, replace it.

We'll bet that one of the above reasons applies. Wishing you lofty cakes that bake as they should!

Anne and Sue




- - - Science of Cooking - - - Webcasts - - - Ask The Inquisitive Cooks - - - Share & Discuss - - -


© Exploratorium | Use Policy | Privacy Policy