Baking Bothers: Sinking Cakes

Q. Why does my cake sink after removing it from the oven?

Charlotte White says: The short answer is ‘because it is not done’. There is a whole world of science and magic that goes into baking that I will never fully understand (or be able to explain to you without waving my hands around like a crazy blonde Brian Cox) but what I can tell you is that, by taking the cake out of the oven too soon, you have stopped the reactions that were causing the cake to rise in their tracks.

The cake has stopped rising in the middle and collapsed inwards. This same scenario can occur if you open the oven door whilst the cake is baking – by opening the oven door, you are letting the heat escape and this will stall the baking process.

To avoid this happening again, you will need to spot the signs that tell you when your cake is done. Again, I cannot stress enough, you need to avoid opening your oven door until it is absolutely necessary.

Here are some signs to look out for:

1. The cake will look risen in the middle. Cakes cook at the outer edges first, so if the middle has risen nicely, you are on the right track.

2. The cake will be starting to shrink away from the edges of the cake pan. This should be only very slightly, if the edges are going brown and dry, it has been in the oven too long.

3. The cake will ‘spring back’ under your fingers. If the cake is risen in the middle and the edges are starting to shrink away, you will need to open the oven door carefully and touch the centre of the cake. We professional bakers have very little heat sensitivity left in our fingers (and you can probably see why!) so please exercise caution when putting your hand in the oven! A properly baked cake will spring back slightly under your fingers if you press it gently. If your fingers leave a dent in the cake, it is not done yet.

4. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will come out clean (or with a tiny crumb or two on it).

Remember though, hot cakes continue to cook after they have been removed from the oven. With practice, you will be able to spot the signs and remove your cake the moment that it is ready to come out.

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