Why Didn’t My Cake Rise?

When baking a cake, there is little worse than the disappointment of a cake that failed to rise. If you keep being beset with shrunken flat sponges that look nothing like the picture in your recipe book, it’s time to work out what’s going wrong, so check out the common cake problems below that cause many people’s sponges to go south.

1. Ingredients not fully combined

Ensuring your ingredients are properly combined is an essential part of getting a well baked, tasty cake. If you use real butter, like we do in our cakes, one reason for ingredients not combining properly could be cold butter. If your butter is too cold, it won’t blend properly with your sugar if you’re creaming the mixture, or will leave little blobs of unmixed butter in an all-in-one recipe. Either way, you’ll have the same results: crystalising sugar and a flat sponge with greasy parts where the uncombined butter melts in the oven.

How to avoid it:

Ensure your butter is soft enough to combine with the other ingredients. It should squash easily between your fingers but not be melted. For the perfect softened butter every time, read our butter softening guide. If you’re still struggling, try baking spread or margarine, but we think real butter gives a nicer tastier cake, and with a bit of patience, you’ll get the technique, so it’s worth persevering.

2. Forgot the raising agent

Raising agents are included in many recipes. The most common raising agents are baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, however self raising flour also has some raising agent already mixed in. This is why recipes using plain flour often ask for more baking powder to be added than recipes using self raising flour.

How to avoid it:

Make sure you add the right amount of baking powder or bicarbonate of soda, or if you substitute plain flour for self raising flour, that you add enough extra raising agent to compensate. Be careful though – too much raising agent and it will spoil the taste of your cake.

3. Didn’t beat the eggs enough

Eggs are an essential part of any cake, which is why cakes without eggs are trickier to get a good rise with. If you’re a fan of The Great British Bake Off, you’ll remember seeing Duncan Bannatyne baking a chocolate and orange cake with a fair few eggs in it, however he didn’t get nice, light fluffy sponges in his finished cake. The reason? He didn’t beat his eggs for long enough.

Beating is the time when your ingredients get combined, but also when the air gets introduced. Making sure your eggs are nice and frothy before adding them into the mixture means extra air before you combine them with the other ingredients, giving more chance of a light and airy cake.

How to avoid it:

Lightly beat your eggs in a separate bowl before adding in to the mixture. This also helps prevent bits of egg shell slipping into your cake mix, as you’ll see them and can remove them before it’s too late!

4. Sunk in the middle

A cake that has sunk in the middle usually means a culprit has opened the oven door too soon. If you have a solid door on your oven, and your cake smells done, it’s always tempting to check how it’s getting on. However if you open it too soon before the mixture has fully cooked, the air will escape and you’ll end up with a sunken middle to your sponge.

How to avoid it:

Don’t open the door until the cake is cooked, or if you’re worrying about it being overdone, no more than 5 minutes before the initial baking time. Most of the time, you’ll find you need to leave the cake in for an extra 5 minutes rather than pull it out early, so relax and trust that it will be OK.

If you’re buying a new oven, choose one with a glass door so you can watch the cake and see as it becomes golden brown.

Some cakes can catch around the edges, especially if you’re baking in a large tin where the edges will cook through quicker than the centre, or if you’re baking a chocolate cake, which is harder to judge by colour alone. In these instances, especially if you’ll be covering your cake with icing or frosting after releasing it from the tin, use baking parchment to line your tin and the barrier should protect the edges from the direct heat of the tin.

Whatever mishaps you have in the kitchen, don’t be disheartened and put off baking. Cakes go wrong sometimes, but you just have to try again. One good thing is that even if your cake doesn’t look perfect, it will probably still taste OK as long as it is cooked through. Even sunken cakes can be rescued with some fresh fruit or ice cream, to give a less fluffy but still very satisfying homemade treat.

One thought on “Why Didn’t My Cake Rise?

  1. Very usefull. Just baked my very first cake and it didn’t rise as much as expected. Next time I will beat the eggs first, on their own, before adding to the sugar and flour. Thanks. Very helpful.

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