It happens to the best of us. You spend all that time preparing a delicious cake, only when you come to take it out the oven you find that it has sunk in the middle. It's pretty disheartening, believe me I know! Unfortunately, once your cake has sunk there's no going back. Once the cake has sunk it has usually cooled down, so putting it back in the oven won't make it rise back up again! However, on the plus side, there are plenty of ways to decorate and disguise your cake so that nobody will ever know that it sunk in the first place! First, lets get into the reasons why this happened so that you can prevent it in the future. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why a cake sunk without seeing the recipe and method, as all cakes are different, however I have listed my top reasons as to why cakes sink, and here they are!
1. Your oven temperature was too low. This slows the formation and expansion of gases which give the cake its volume. You can check the temperature using an oven thermometer to check that it is hot enough, but not too hot as you don't want that cake to burn!
2. You opened the oven door too early- a classic mistake! Opening the oven door before your cake is baked will cause the heat to quickly escape from the oven, and your cake needs that heat in order to rise, so be patient..I would suggest waiting at least 3/4 of the way into the baking time before taking a peek.
3. You took your cake out of the oven too soon. You need to make sure your cake is fully baked before you remove it from the oven. This allows time for the cell walls to dry out and set, which defines the final volume. You can test your cake using a skewer, and if it comes out clean that's a pretty good indication your cake is cooked.
4. Over mixing the batter. This may not actually cause your cake to sink, but it is unlikely to rise as well. When you over mix, you incorporate too many air cells. The cell walls then get over stretched, thin, and weak, and this causes your cake to shrink back once it has cooled.
5. Under mixing the batter. When you under mix, you don't incorporate enough air cells, and it's the expansion of these air cells that give the cake its volume.
6. The ratio of ingredients is wrong. Always check that you have weighed out your ingredients correctly as unlike cooking where you can usually make tweaks as you go along, baking is a precise science. For example, too much sugar or fat interferes with the gelatinisation of starches and the coagulation of proteins- complicated words I know! Since starch and proteins are important structure builders in cakes, you don't want to interfere with these processes. I would suggest using electronic scales so that you can weigh your ingredients precisely.
7. Your cake tin was too small. You may not have heard this to be a reason, but I have found that if I have too much cake mixture for my tin, the cake struggles to rise properly. Most recipes tell you what size tin to use but if not, ensure that there is enough space in the tin to allow your cake to rise. This is particularly important for sponge cakes that often double in volume once baked.
If your cake has sunk, don't worry about it! Trim off the higher points of the cake to get it a little more level, smooth over the top with your choice of icing, and decorate with fresh fruit- nobody will be able to tell! Even if it is a badly sunken cake, you can still cut out the middle part and make a ring cake, or even use the sponge in a ice cream sundae or trifle! There are always ways to make use of cakes that didn't quite go to plan so before you throw it in the bin, use your imagination and create something new!
Do you have a baking question of your own? If so, please pop it in the comments below and I will answer it for you.
Thank you so much for reading!