Why cake shrink after baking

The Ultimate Guide: Why Cake Shrink After Baking

Baking is both a science and an art. Every ingredient in a recipe serves a specific purpose. Although baking can be very simple, there are many situations where things don’t quite go as planned. One of these things is a shrinking cake. 

Both beginners and pro bakers experience shrinking cakes and this can happen for a number of reasons. This has happened to me more times than I can admit over my baking years and trust me, it’s far from ideal when it happens. A domed cake you can salvage, a cracked cake you can cover with buttercream, but a sinking cake? How on earth do you fix that?

After many failed attempts and multiple sinking cakes later, here is what I’ve learned about why cake shrink after baking and how to prevent it from happening in the future!

Why Did My Sponge Cake Deflate After Baking?

You Used the Wrong Size Pan

Recipes usually specify the size and shape of the cake pan you need to use, and there is a reason for this. If you think using a 9-inch pan for a recipe that specifies an 8-inch is fine, think again. 

It might not seem like a huge difference, and I’m certainly guilty of using the wrong size pan many times, but the volume difference between 8-inch and 9-inch is around 25%. In the baking world, that’s quite a significant difference.

If you use a smaller pan than intended, the cake will be smaller and deeper, which in turn might cause the middle of the cake to still be wet and undercooked. When the center of a cake isn’t baked properly, it’s going to inevitably shrink and sink in the middle. 

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, a cake in a really small pan can cause it to rise too much and create a dome. As the cake cools, this dome can start collapsing, causing the cake to shrink into itself. 

As a general rule of thumb, fill a cake pan approximately two-thirds of the way. If you really want to be as accurate as possible and are making a tiered cake, you can divide the batter equally between the pans using digital scales.

Wrong Oven Temperature

We put so much trust in our ovens to bake our delicious treats and expect the temperature to be spot-on each time. That’s what ovens are for, right? Sorry to break it to you, but your oven has been lying to you all along. 

When you set your oven at the desired temperature, chances are, your oven might not be near that temperature at all. 

If you want to get the most accurate reading of your oven, get your hands on an oven thermometer. I always have one inside my oven to ensure it’s at the optimal temperature. If your oven isn’t the correct temperature, there are a few ways this can affect your cake and cause it to shrink:

  • If the oven temperature is too hot, the cake will collapse while it’s cooling down. The outer layer of the cake will be baked but the center won’t be, causing it to collapse and shrink.
  • The center will not cook completely and collapse if the oven is not heated sufficiently. Your cake won’t finish baking in time, even if you follow the baking time specified in the recipe.

Check the oven’s temperature and make any necessary adjustments. Avoid opening the oven door while your cake is baking to prevent the hot air from escaping. You also want to be extra careful when closing the oven door. The impact of closing the door too hard can cause the cake to collapse.

Excessive Use of Leavening Agents

Leavening agents such as baking powder and baking soda are vital for the rising of the cake. Ensure that you are using the correct amount of leavening agent. 

Many of us think that adding a little extra leavening will result in a better and higher cake, but it actually has the opposite effect. The structure becomes weak if there is too much leavening. Also, never attempt to exchange leavening agents. Baking soda cannot be replaced with baking powder and vice versa. 

Overmixing and Undermixing 

Why did my sponge cake deflate after baking?

Making any cake batter requires mixing, whether that’s done using an electric whisk or a stand mixer. It produces the tiny air bubbles required to make the cake rise. Overmixing may cause larger air bubbles that can weaken the cake’s structure and may result in a collapsed cake. It can also cause air bubbles to “pop.” Your cake won’t be able to rise correctly if there are no air bubbles. 

Additionally, these air bubbles may disappear after baking and chilling, leaving you with a soft, flat, and unappealing cake.

On the other hand, if you undermix, you risk not producing enough gluten to give the cake structure and prevent it from supporting itself while it bakes.

Different cake batters require different mixing times so keep that in mind when making a bundt cake vs a vanilla sponge for example. 

Take a look at how much less mixing a chocolate cake requires!

Underbaked Cake

Another reason why your cake may shrink is if it is not baked all the way through. An underbaked cake will definitely collapse. Here are some easy ways to tell if your cake is completely baked through:

  • Toothpick Test. Prick the center with a toothpick to check if the cake is still moist inside. The cake is ready if the toothpick comes out clean.
  • Look for the Cake Edges. A definite sign that the cake is fully cooked through is when the borders of the cake begin to pull away from the pan’s sides.
  • Finger Test. Give the cake’s top a quick, light touch with your finger. If it’s ready, the cake will spring right back. If it leaves an indent, your cake needs longer in the oven.

Opening the Oven too Early

Most ovens have hot and cold areas and heat inefficiently. Many recipes specify turning pans halfway through the advised baking time so the cake bakes evenly. However, the cake may sink if the cake’s center is still wet when you move the pans around. 

When moving pans, wait until the cake is about 3/4 of the way through the recommended baking time. Also, the hot air escaping from the oven and the cold air entering the oven can stop and ruin the rising process. Opening the oven while the cake’s center is still liquid can cause the cake to sink and shrink.

How to prevent cake from sinking after baking

Incorrect Measurements of the Ingredients

Following the recipe down to a T is important. Measuring incorrectly is easily done, especially if you don’t have the correct measuring tools. Success or failure in baking can depend on whether a few ounces of flour or eggs are missing. Your cake won’t have the necessary structure and may shrink if the required amounts and ratios aren’t used.

How to Prevent Cake from Sinking After Baking

Do you want nicely raised cakes with shape retention after cooling? Here are some tips that will help you achieve the greatest results:

Use Fresh Ingredients

Using fresh ingredients in baking is very important. Check the expiration dates on baking soda, baking powder, flour, and other ingredients. Use fresh eggs and milk. Most importantly, ensure the ingredients are at room temperature before using them. 

Measure Your Ingredients Accurately

Measure your ingredients Accurately

The cake will not hold firmly and fall if you’ve gone rogue and made up your own measurements. The best way to measure ingredients is by using digital kitchen scales. This is the most accurate way.

Eggs and Butter are at Room Temperature

It’s crucial to let the butter and eggs get to room temperature before using them. In other words, cold eggs don’t combine well with other ingredients effectively. They can result in pockets of batter that could cause your cake to fall. 

While also butter won’t combine with the other ingredients if it is too cold. On the other hand, too soft or melted butter will likewise disintegrate, altering the cake’s consistency and texture.

Know Your Oven

Knowing your oven well can make all the difference in whether your cake will stand tall and proud or keel over. So, grab a glass of wine and sit down next to your oven. Get to know it, get familiar. 

Use separate oven thermometers aside from the built-in thermometer that comes with your oven. The size of your oven also matters. Make sure that you are not overcrowding your cakes when you bake. Have roughly 1 inch between each pan.

Bake at the Right Time

Avoid letting your batter sit for too long without being baked. This is easier said than done, especially if you have a smaller oven and don’t have the space to bake multiple cakes at the same time. 

While you can wait 20–25 minutes as the first batch bakes, a few hours will undoubtedly cause sinking because your batter quality will start to deteriorate. 

To Sum It Up

A shrinking cake is far from ideal but with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve now, your cakes will be shrinking no more! If your cake does shrink, don’t throw it away! You can still use it if it’s still baked through. 

You can cover the shrinkage with a thick layer of buttercream frosting or decorate it with fresh cream fruit. If you really don’t want to serve a shrinking cake to your guests (understandable) you can make it into delicious cake pops.

Several things, including insufficient leavening agent, an overheated oven, over or under-mixing the batter, underbaking, and inappropriate ingredient measurements, can make a cake shrink after baking. You can overcome these difficulties and create the ideal cake with the proper knowledge. Mistakes can be avoided if you know what causes them!

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