A cake that is dense or dry is a huge disappointment after you’ve spent time measuring out ingredients, mixing them together, and have been looking forward to enjoying your creation. There are a number of things that can lead to a cake being too dry, but all is not lost.
You can rescue a dry cake by brushing it with a sweet syrup to moisten it up, and you can learn from your mistakes so that your future cakes are not dry. Baking a cake for too long or not paying proper attention to the recipe are common errors that result in dry cakes.
Here we reveal tips for ensuring your cake is moist, light, and fluffy, along with some ideas on how to save a cake that comes out of the oven too dry.
What Causes a Dry Cake and How to Prevent it
The most common reason that a cake turns out dry is that it has been overcooked. In many ways, if you realize your cake has been overcooked this is actually a good thing because it is the easiest problem to fix. One minute too long in the oven can be the difference between a moist cake and an overbaked cake, so don’t underestimate the impact that neglecting the cooking time can have on the finished cake.
Fix: Set a timer
The first thing to do to ensure your cake is cooked properly is to follow the advice on the recipe. This will usually involve ensuring the oven is preheated before you put the cake in. Set the oven to the temperature listed on the recipe, and then set a timer for the number of minutes the recipe suggests you cook the cake for.
If a recipe says the cooking time is 30 to 45 minutes, you should set your timer for 30 minutes. After this time has passed, you should check to see if the cake is made. If it isn’t ready, return it to the oven and keep repeating this process every one to two minutes until the cake is perfectly cooked.
The cake will give you signs as to whether it is ready to come out of the oven or not. It should be slightly coming away from the edges of the cake pan, and when a toothpick is inserted into the cake it should come out clean or almost clean with a few moist crumbs. You can also gently press a fingertip into the top of the cake to see how it responds. A cake that bounces back to its former shape is fully cooked, if it leaves a dent then it isn’t ready to come out of the oven yet.
Cause: Improper measuring
Cake recipes are an exact science. If your cake is dry there’s a possibility you didn’t measure the ingredients properly. Too much flour will result in a dry cake, or a lack of wet ingredients can also cause a cake to lack moisture.
Fix: Measure carefully
Ensure your kitchen scales are working properly, and use them! Estimating ingredients might work in cooking, but it won’t work in baking. You need to accurately measure your ingredients according to the recipe so that your cake comes out how it’s supposed to.
Cause: Ingredient substitutes
If you have substituted ingredients in the recipe then this can result in a dry cake. If a recipe calls for butter, you need to use real butter. Don’t be tempted to substitute it for a spread or oil, as these won’t perform in the same way and therefore won’t give you the same results. Many people also believe that baking powder and baking soda are interchangeable, but they are not.
Fix: Use exact ingredients
The next time you make a cake, you need to use the exact ingredients listed on the recipe to ensure it comes out moist. Swapping out ingredients will mess with the science behind the cake, typically leading to poor results.
Cause: Recipe not followed
It’s important to follow a recipe’s instructions precisely because this can alter how your cake turns out. If you don’t mix a cake for long enough or mix it for too long, you can end up with a dried-out cake.
Fix: Follow the recipe exactly
When a recipe calls for the batter to be whisked, whisk it. If it calls to be folded, fold it. If it wants to mix for 3 minutes, mix it for 3 minutes. It might sound obvious, but some people disregard the recipe instructions, believing they know better. Each cake recipe is individual, and precise instructions should be followed if you want good results.
Cause: Doubled recipe
If you want to make double the amount of cake, it seemingly makes sense to double the ingredients. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems such as over-mixing or under-mixing. When making a large amount of batter, you can also end up with ingredients that haven’t been properly dispersed throughout the mixture.
Fix: Make two separate batches
Cake recipes should never be doubled. If you need extra cake batter, then you should make two separate batches that get mixed separately.
Cause: Refrigerated butter
Most cake recipes that use butter call for butter which is room temperature. This is because room temperature butter will be properly creamed when mixed with sugar, which will trap air. During baking, the trapped air will expand to result in a fluffy, moist cake.
If you try to cream butter straight from the refrigerator, then it isn’t going to be able to trap and hold as much air, which typically leads to a dense and dry cake.
Fix: Use room-temperature butter
This one is a simple fix; next time you make a cake that uses room-temperature butter, be sure to use room-temperature butter!
How to Save a Dry Cake
If your cake is dry for any reason, you can save it so that it’s still good enough to eat or serve to friends and family.
Brush with a glaze
Make a sweet glaze for your cake and brush this over the top using a pastry brush. A simple syrup works well, or you can make a syrup flavored with lemon. Alternatively, brush maple syrup or honey over the cake to infuse it with sweetness and moisture.
Make a poke cake
A poke cake is made when you poke holes into a cake using the back end of a wooden spoon. Once the cake has several holes, pour caramel or chocolate sauce all over the cake. It will seep into the holes and moisten the middle as well as the outside of the cake. You could also use toffee sauce, raspberry coulis, or any sweet cause you like.
Serve with custard or ice cream
You can save a dry cake by serving it up with wet ingredients such as ice cream, custard, or whipped cream. If the cake is very dry, chop it up into small chunks and use it as a topping on a bowl of ice cream, or use it as the sponge base for a trifle.
Dip into coffee
Cut the cake into fingers and serve it alongside coffee. You can then dip the cake into the coffee to moisten it and give it a new flavor.