Why is my cake sinking in the middle?

What have I done wrong?

 

So you have made the perfect batter, your spring-form is greased and lined and ready, the oven is preheated and you are ready for the cake to go in! 

A cup of tea later and the timer goes off. You remove the cake from the oven and it deflates!! My cake has sunk in the middle! 

Give this a read below to see how I figured out the answers to my question “Why is my cake sinking in the middle?” and how I managed to fix it!

Why Do Cakes Sink In The Middle? 

Wrong Oven Temperature 

You’ll be surprised at the amount of times your oven temperature won’t actually be what you’ve set it at.

So, it’s always worth checking the internal oven temperature now and again.

For perfectly baked cakes, you want to set your oven

If you don’t trust your oven, it might be time to invest in an oven thermometer.

Overbeating 

Did you overbeat your cake batter? This is a likely cause of a sunken middle in your cake! 

Over beating will cause too much air to be put into the batter. This means it will rise quickly, but then sink back down quickly once it’s out of the oven. How sad.

Until I realized that the best practice is only to mix your ingredients as much as it takes to incorporate the mix sufficiently, I fell into the over-beating trap quite a lot! 

Too Much Raising Agent 

Very simply put, if you use too much raising agent in your cake, it will rise faster than you anticipate, but it will also sink rapidly shortly after too! 

Even the smallest amount over what the recipe asks for will leave you with a cake that sinks significantly when cooling. 

Too much raising agent can also make your cake taste very chemically. No one wants that!

If you are using self-rising flour in your cake recipe, make sure you don’t add any extra baking powder. Too much raising agent will end up having the complete opposite effect.

Baking tip: make sure you check the expiry date too, this can also be an important factor! If a raising agent is out of date it won’t work. 

Under Baking 

Are you guilty of taking your cake out too soon? 

This will be another factor in your cake sinking in the middle! 

If your cake has not had time to properly bake and ‘set’ in the middle, it will be under baked, doughy and dense in the middle, and it will end up sinking. 

The best thing to do here is to check its done-ness about 5 minutes before your timer goes off by inserting a skewer or clean knife into the centre of the cake.

If it comes out clean with no smears, it is done! If there is batter residue on the skewer, leave it in for another few minutes.

Opening Oven Too Soon 

As tempting as it is to peek in the oven and check to see how your masterpiece is doing, my ultimate word of advice here is don’t! 

Opening the oven too soon can rapidly change the temperature of the oven, even if it’s just for a short few seconds, and this will potentially cause your cake to sink in the middle. 

If not already on, pop the oven light on to have a peek, but don’t, under any circumstances, open the oven until you are at least a few minutes away from taking your cake out. 

Using Wrong Pan Size 

So this element is crucial in avoiding a sunken cake! 

If you use a cake tin that is too shallow and wide, you run the risk of making a biscuit rather than a cake! 

If, however, you use a cake tin that is too deep and high, you are risking the batter not baking efficiently, especially in the middle, during the bake time. If this is the case, it will come as no surprise that the undercooked, doughy center will sink. 

The trick here is to always use the most appropriate cake tin for the recipe, not too deep, too shallow, and not one that makes it difficult to remove. 

How to fix a sunken cake 

Could you fix it by levelling out the cake? 

Potentially, yes! Depending on the severity of the skinage, you could attempt levelling off the outer areas of the cake with a serrated knife  or a cake leveller to match the depth of the sunken part. 

The risk here is that you ruin the integrity of the structure of the cake which then won’t hold up to much else as it will be too delicate.

If you do attempt to level it out, make sure you do this once the cake has completely cooled down, otherwise you will ruin your cake. 

If your cake has sunk so much that if you try and level it out, there will be no cake left, try making cake pops or cake truffles!

Filling it with icing/cream?   

This is probably the best option to disguise a sunken middle! 

If you are doing this, you can place more cream or icing in the dip and decorate around it with decorations of your choice. People will never know if it looks too pretty!

This trick will work well if the sinkage isn’t too much. If your cake has sunk a lot, then filling it with icing or buttercream will make it very stodgy and you will end up eating buttercream with cake instead of cake with buttercream!

It Is A Complete Disaster! What Do I Do Now? 

If your cake has turned out to be the biggest disaster ever, don’t fret! And don’t throw it out (unless it is still mushy in the middle).

If the cake has sunk and there’s no disguising it, cut the middle out! Use a ring just larger than the diameter of the dent, and cut it out.

You can then decorate it as a Bundt-style cake with maybe some fresh fruit in the middle? 

If you have tried a levelling rescue mission and failed, try making abstract cake pops, like we mentioned above, with the surviving cake.

cake

So now we know the answers to the question “Why is my cake sinking in the middle?” and some things we can do to avoid the disaster, or indeed disguising the disaster! 

It’s always so important to follow a recipe exactly in baking, it is a science after all!

But sometimes, it might just be the recipe itself that is all out of proportion and creates a sunken cake. In this case, just move on and find a recipe that works better for you! 

The major things to avoid to get a perfectly risen cake that stays that way are making sure your oven isn’t too hot, don’t open the oven to peek at your cake part way through baking, and making sure the proportions of your rising agent are correct. 

These elements, along with the correct cake tin size for your perfectly mixed (and not over-mixed) batter, you should be making strong steps to creating a masterpiece cake that doesn’t sink in the middle! 

And, if in doubt, decorate! 

 Happy baking!

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