Baking Tips - How to Stop Cakes Burning
Chances are anyone who bakes has at some time burnt a cake, the good news is that by following the baking tips contained here, burnt cakes should become a thing of the past.
Baking, like almost anything else, requires a bit of practice - and it also helps if you have a bit of understanding about what goes on when you bake a cake. Understanding the process means that not only can you solve your burnt cake issues, but you should also be able to say goodbye to cakes which sink in the middle or rise too much.
Making a cake is mixture of art and science. The science is the chemistry of how the different ingredients react together, and the art is in getting the proportions right so you end up with a great tasting cake.
Unless you really know what you're doing it's always best to follow a recipe - but - and it's a big but - you need to be aware that following the recipe to the letter will not necessarily result in a perfect cake.
There are 2 process which make a cake:
- Heat (from the oven)
Ingredients vary per recipe but for a basic sponge cake they include the following:
- Fat i.e. butter
Each of these has a particular purpose within the cooking process.
Fat - this is commonly butter but can also be sunflower oil. Fat provides richness and moisture in a cake and means the cake will last longer before drying out and going stale.
Sugar - this adds sweetness. There are different types of sugar such as granulated (the normal sugar you put in tea or sprinkle on cereal), caster sugar (finer than granulated and most commonly used in baking) dark sugars i.e. demerara (these give a wonderfully dark and toffee like flavour to a cake)
Flour - Sponge cakes use self-raising flour which is plain flour with a pre-added raising agent. This is because you want a sponge cake to be light. The same effect can be gained from using a plain or all purpose flour and adding baking powder. Some cakes i.e. a fruit cake will use plain flour to get a sturdier cake.
Eggs - these provide 2 important functions. They add richness to a cake but most importantly they are a binding ingredient which means they hold the rest of the ingredients together - sort of like an internal glue. As the eggs bind the ingredients together they trap tiny pockets of air which expand in the oven helping the cake to rise.
Understanding Your Oven
All ovens are not alike. The actual temperature in your oven may well vary from what it says on the dial, and will also vary depending how full your oven is - a variation of 10 - 20C is not uncommon.
This means that if your oven cooks and you set it to 180C you could be cooking at anything up to 200C - and for something like a delicate sponge cake that difference will make quite a difference.
The only real way to find out the true temperature of your oven is to use an oven thermometer, however if you find yourself religiously following recipes and getting burnt results it's a fairly safe bet that your oven cooks hotter than the temperature gauge indicates.
If in doubt start at a temperature around 10C lower than stated, a cake can always be cooked for longer but once burnt there's no going back.
For example I know my oven cooks hot by about 10C so if a recipe states a 180C cooking temperature I will cook the cake at no more than 170C and quite often 160C if I want the cake to rise uniformly.
As with temperatures, cooking times can be variable. A cake with a listed cooking time of 25 mins could be ready at any time from 20 - 30 mins depending on the consistency of the mixture and the temperature of the oven so it's always a good idea to check your sponge cake about 5 mins before it's due to be ready.
There are several ways to tell if it's cooked.
- Visual appearance - if the sponge is very pale and wobbles when you move the tin, it's not cooked and will need more time.
- If it looks cooked on top i.e. it is a nice golden colour, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake. If the skewer pulls out clean with no mixture sticking to it the cake is cooked and can be removed from the oven.
- If you don't have a skewer then gently press the top of the sponge, if it springs back to shape immediately it's cooked, if the sponge stays depressed it needs a bit more time - but start checking it every minute as you're very nearly there.
Lining Your Cake Tins
Unless you're using silicone bakeware - which is brilliant and I would highly recommend - then you need to grease and line your cake tins - both the base and the sides.
Lining the cake tins doesn't just make the cake easier to remove from the tin, it also helps stop cakes burning in the oven by providing a barrier between the cake mixture and the cake tin.
How To Rescue a Burnt Cake
Just because a cake has burnt in the oven does not mean it is unusable - unless it is cremated to the point you could use it as charcoal, in which case the only thing to do is give it a decent burial.
If a cake is just slightly singed around the edges you may be able to scrape off the singed bits. If the cake is going to be covered in sugar paste or butter-cream you can cut the burnt parts off and no-one will know (obviously you need to do this uniformly - chopping a large chunk of one side isn't going to work).
Use the cake for cake crumbs. Crumbs have many uses: they are great for cake decorating if you need 'earth' or 'mud', they can be mixed with butter-cream to form a textured cake covering - great for cottage walls, grass or anything else that needs a slightly 'rough' look to it, and they make a good standby bird food in cold winter months.
Ideally you won't have any burnt cakes in the future as you will be following the above tips above on how to stop cake burning in the oven. However, should a cake burn don't look at it as a disaster but as an opportunity to use the cake for another purpose.
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Ammar Aliz on February 18, 2018:
Your recipe is to good i enjoy your article i always taste delicious cakes http://www.masterrusk.com/
Nikk1964 on October 22, 2017:
The most useful page I have come across thank you
Shikha Khungar on May 31, 2015:
Beautifully explained basics...
Ursula Dwyer (author) from Dunstable on May 23, 2011:
Thanks Back 2 Basics, Sophie Angelique and Baker Haley
Baker Haley from A hot oven on May 21, 2011:
This is great! It really explains the role of each ingredient. Thanks!
Sophia Angelique on December 30, 2010:
I like. Nicely done. :)
Back 2 Basics from Maine on December 30, 2010:
Nice reminders for beginner bakers!