How to fix a sticky cake top

How To Fix a Sticky Cake Top: 6 Quick Fixes

Unfortunately, a sticky cake top is a fairly common problem for us bakers. In fact, I am willing to bet that almost every home baker has been faced with this issue at one time or another, along with some other common culprits like domed or cracked cake. It’s not just cake that can fall victim to this problem either, the curse of the sticky top can happen with plenty of other tasty treats including cupcakes, banana bread, and muffins.

When it does happen, it can be pretty frustrating, especially after all that hard work you just put into making the damn thing. Not only can a sticky cake top affect how your cake looks, but it will also impact the taste and texture of your finished bake. If you’re no stranger to a sticky cake top and are unsure how to fix it – or why it even happens in the first place – then you have landed in the right place. In this article, we will be discussing everything you need to know about sticky cake tops; from what causes them to how you can fix them.

Why Is My Cake Sticky On Top?

The most common reason why your cake might have a sticky top is that the sugar reacts with the water in the air. Sugar is a hygroscopic substance, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. When sugar is exposed to humid conditions, it will start to absorb moisture and create a sticky film over the top of your cake. Although there are ways to prevent this from happening, unfortunately, sometimes it is completely out of your control.

sticky cake top

For example, if you are baking a cake in a very humid kitchen, there is a much higher chance that your cake will come out with a sticky top. Even if you are using all the right ingredients and follow the recipe to a T, a perfectly dry top will be a tall order in hot and sticky conditions.

While a sticky top might certainly not be your fault, taking a minute to learn about sugar might just save you a few headaches on your future bakes. After all, all sugar isn’t created equal. Some types of sweet granulated goodness are more hygroscopic than others.

What Does Sugar Do In A Cake?

Sugar is the general term used for a class of carbohydrates with a sweet taste. There are many different types of sugar, but the one we are concerned about here is sucrose. Sugars such as granulated, superfine, brown, or cane sugar are all classed as sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar, to us laymen. These are the most common types of sugars that we all use on a daily basis.

Sugar is by far one of the most important ingredients when it comes to baking as it is used in almost every baked good or dessert.

As we all know, sugar adds sweetness to our baking. But that’s not the only thing it’s good for. Did you know that it also helps with the texture, color, and shelf life of baked goods? Not to mention it also provides aeration to your cake batter.

Sugar is a key ingredient in the structure of cakes, cookies, and other desserts as it helps to bind the ingredients together. It also plays an important role in keeping bakes moist and preventing them from drying out. You can thank sugar for that dreamy caramelized crust on top of your cake too.

When it comes to using sugar in a cake, it helps to know which types of sugars are more hygroscopic. Have you ever noticed a difference in your bakes when you use brown sugar compared to white sugar?

I’m sure you have, I personally see a huge difference, especially when I am making cookies. Cookies with white sugar tend to come out very crisp whereas brown sugar cookies are chewier and have a softer texture. This is because brown sugar contains molasses, which is more hygroscopic than white sugar. This means that it absorbs moisture from the air much easier, making your cookies really moist.

How To Prevent Sticky Cake Tops

Although sometimes a sticky cake top cannot be avoided, there are things you can do to try and prevent it from happening.

1) Choose The Right Recipe

There are literally millions of cake recipes out there, each with its own unique ingredients and baking methods. Some recipes are certainly more prone to sticky cake tops than others. When choosing the right recipe, pay attention to the proportion of wet and dry ingredients as well as the type of sugar it uses and the amount. For me, the best type of cake recipe is one that uses equal parts wet and dry ingredients.

2) And Follow It To The Letter

So now you have found the perfect cake recipe, now it’s time to follow it to a T. I know it’s easy to get sidetracked when baking and start adding a little of this and a little of that or substituting ingredients. But when it comes to preventing sticky cake tops, following the recipe is key.

If the recipe calls for white sugar, don’t substitute it for brown. If it asks you to use buttermilk, don’t try to replace it with milk. Every ingredient in a recipe has its purpose and it’s important to use them as specified.

3) Weigh Your Ingredients, No Eyeballing

I have said it once and I’ll say it again when it comes to baking, precision is key. This is why I always recommend weighing your ingredients with a reliable pair of kitchen scales. Measuring cups can also do the job.

weigh ingredients with measuring spoon

However, keep in mind that measuring cups can be inaccurate, especially when it comes to dry ingredients like flour and sugar. A small difference in the amount of sugar can make a big difference in the outcome of your baking.

4) Choose The Right Sugar

As you now know, not all sugars are created equal. Some types of sugar are more hygroscopic than others and will therefore absorb moisture from the air much easier.

If you live in a humid climate or it’s summertime, then using less hygroscopic sugar in your baking can help to prevent sticky cake tops. I would opt for white sugar instead of brown if you are baking in a hot, humid climate.

5) Bake Completely Through

I know it can be tempting to remove your cake slightly earlier from the oven to prevent it from overcooking and drying out. But when it comes to sticky cake tops, you want to make sure your cake is cooked through completely. You want your cake to be moist enough but not so much that you have a sticky film on top of it.

cake out of the oven

Your cake should be baked for the full amount of time the recipe says and should come out of the oven dry. I always have a toothpick or skewer handy to check the doneness of my cake.

Another handy tool to add to your collection is an oven thermometer. This will help you to know if your oven is running hot or cold and adjust the baking time accordingly. Changes in your climate and how often you open the oven while baking can also affect the baking times so just remember to take all that into consideration.

6) Cool Your Cake

When I say cool your cake, I mean completely! The best way to do this is by removing the cake from the tin a few minutes after you’ve taken it out from the oven and placing it on a wire rack.

Leaving your cake in the tin for an extended period of time will most likely cause it to sweat and will turn into a sticky mess. A wire rack allows the cake to breathe and cool evenly on all sides.

7) Store Properly

Now that your cake has completely cooled down, it’s time to store it. If you’re not planning on eating your cake right away, make sure you store it in an airtight container. If you are making a layered cake, I would recommend wrapping each layer in plastic wrap as this will stop the layers from drying out.

8) Use Silica Gel Packets

If you live in a humid climate or are really worried about your cake being too moist, then using silica gel packets is a great way to keep it fresh for longer and absorb any unwanted moisture.

fix sticky cake top with frosting

How To Fix a Sticky Cake Top

You have done everything you could to prevent a sticky cake top but somehow it still happened. Now what? Don’t worry, there are a few things you can do to fix it.

1) Trim The Top

The first thing you can do is trim the top of your cake with a serrated knife or a cake leveler. I use my cake leveler religiously when my cake has domed but it also comes in very handy when I want to get rid of the sticky, tacky top. Just scrape off a thin layer from the top and cover it with frosting or icing. Good as new!

2) Frost Your Cake

A great way to hide a sticky top is to simply frost your cake. If you are making a naked cake or don’t want to cover the whole thing in frosting, you can just do a crumb coat which is a thin layer of frosting that helps to seal in any stray crumbs.

frost cake to prevent sticky top

If you don’t want to use frosting, you can make a decadent ganache or spread some jam.

3) Add Sprinkles!

If frosting isn’t for you, you can use the stickiness to your advantage! Add sprinkles, nuts, fresh fruit, or anything your heart desires.

The stickiness will make it easier for all these toppings to adhere to the top of the cake.

sprinkles on cake to prevent sticky top

4) Freeze

I am not a huge fan of freezing cake but if you are desperate to get rid of the sticky top, this is a viable option. Freezing the cake will get rid of all the extra moisture that is causing the stickiness.

To freeze, simply wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container and freeze it for a few hours or overnight. Just remember to let it thaw completely before frosting and serving. Nobody wants to be teased with a frozen cake.

5) Sprinkle Some Baking Soda

This might seem like a strange one but hear me out. Baking soda is a lifesaver when it comes to absorbing moisture.

The trick here is to sprinkle some baking soda on a paper towel and place it on the bottom of a container. Put some parchment paper in between the baking soda and cake layer and seal it with an airtight lid. Baking soda works miracles and should help remove and prevent some of the excess moisture and stickiness. I just wouldn’t recommend adding the baking soda straight to the top of your cake as it will give off a chemical taste.

6) Make Cake Pops!

None of us like to waste food, especially when it is a delicious cake. If there is really no salvaging your sticky cake top, grab all those scraps into delicious cake pops! It might not have been what you were hoping to create, but these little treats are still a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

No More Sticky Cake Tops!

A sticky top is a common baking problem but it is definitely one that can be fixed and prevented now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve!

Being faced with this problem is definitely not the worst thing that can happen to your cake so even if it does happen, don’t stress too much about it. Embrace the imperfection and enjoy your delicious cake!

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