Cake

Why Cakes Crack (& How to Prevent It)

February 18, 2016

Today in the test kitchen, we made a cake we'd been eyeing ever since Yossy Arefi wrote about it: All-Natural Red Velvet Cake.

When it came out of the oven, the color was on point (thanks to the fresh beet purée that gets added into the batter), but the top was cracked. Really cracked.

Our cake cracked—not under pressure, but under heat.

According to Mary Berry, of Great British Bake Off fame, cakes crack when the oven temperature is too high (or, similarly, when the pan is placed on an incorrect rack. For a refresher on how to arrange your oven racks for optimal baking, refer to Alice Medrich's rules).

In an oven that's too hot, the outside of the cake cooks at a much faster rate than the inside. A crust forms early on, but as the inside of the cake continues to cook and rise, this crack crusts. You might experience the same problem if the cake recipe has too much leavener or if you've used a pan that's too small.

In the case of our red velvet cake, we veered away from the original recipe: Instead of baking the cake in two 8-inch pans, we poured all the batter in one 10-inch springform pan. This meant that the cake batter was deeper in the pan, which increased the chances that the crust would form before the insides of the cake were even close to being cooked.

So what can you do the prevent this problem?

  1. Make sure your oven is at the right temperature. Get a thermometer; make sure it's accurate.
  2. Use the appropriate-sized pan.
  3. To encourage even cooking (let's say you are adjusting the recipe to a different size pan, you daredevil), some bakers recommend adding another pan, filled only with water, to the oven along with your cake. The water will steam and cause the cake to cook more evenly.
  4. If your quick breads are cracking (...and aren't they always?), you can create a shallow furrow in the batter with a spoon before sending the loaf into the oven. You'll end up with a more orderly line down the center of the loaf.
  5. Avoid opening and closing the oven during baking, as this can cause the temperature to fluctuate.

And if you do end up with a badly cracked cake, take assurance in the fact that it will probably still taste good (our red velvet did) and that you can always make a trifle:

14 Comments

Nici September 16, 2017
Fantastic! Thanks for the tip....i think my pan is a triffle (heheh) small or quite possibly my eyes are to large. :)
 
navahfrost February 19, 2016
Wilton makes cake strips that don't have velcro or a pin, and they are easier to use. They have a small loop, sort of like on a belt before the buckle, which stays in place when wet. They work really well. I think you can get them on amazon.
 
MelissaHM February 18, 2016
I use one of those Wilton flower nails placed upside down in the center of the pan so that the middle cooks evenly, as well. You end up with a tiny little hole in the center, but it's not noticeable, and I don't have the cake strips. It helps keep the top of the cake a little flatter.
 
Cookie! February 18, 2016
The cake strips are special cloth strips that you wrap around the pan to insulate it and ensure even baking. I pin damp strips of a bath towel around my pan and it works in the same way.
 
Windischgirl February 18, 2016
Thanks for this info, Sandra. I haven't yet used my cake strips because I was a skeptic...I'm pulling them out for the next cake I bake!
 
Sandra R. February 18, 2016
I find the cake strips help prevent this. They also prevent the dome from forming that you have to cut off to level the layer's surface.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 18, 2016
Can you tell me more about these cake strips?
 
Sandra R. February 19, 2016
http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/507848/?catalogId=3&sku=507848&cm_ven=Google_PLA&cm_cat=Shopping&cm_pla=default&cm_ite=default&gclid=CI3g7fDbg8sCFdcagQod4nECuQ&kwid=productads-plaid^83090268103-sku^507848-adType^PLA-device^c-adid^45527541463<br />oh my, that is a long link! These are with Velcro, mine are so old they came with pins! These are soaked in water and when damp fastened to the outside of your cake pans. They work well. But you have to remember to use them!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 19, 2016
Wow, cool! I can't wait to try those out.
 
mrslarkin February 19, 2016
betteirene taught me how to make my own cake strips. They help to keep the cake from doming, when you need a flat cake.<br /><br />I have a cake that I make pretty regularly, and it's been cracking like crazy. I reduced the temp by 10 degrees and this has helped a lot.<br />
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. February 19, 2016
How do you make your own?
 
mrslarkin February 19, 2016
Fold up long lengths (to fit around your pan) of paper towels and wrap in heavy duty foil. I pin the strips closed.
 
beejay45 February 23, 2016
King Arthur has those strips, too, in several sizes. (sorry for the lack of link) My mom never worried about the dome on layer cakes -- one layer went up-side-down on the plate, where it nestled into the depression in the center. Voila! One dome handled. The other layer went dome-side-up, and everyone in the family thought cakes were supposed to have that nice, round top. Me, I like the dome. ;)
 
Samira August 6, 2018
Wet paper towel wrapped with foil and wrap that foil I. To a long strip that you can wrap around the pan.. works perfect for me and no done on my cakes..<br />