Butter Cakes

Copyright © 2000 Sarah Phillips Sarah Phillips, Inc. All rights reserved.
Ultimate Fresh Strawberry Butter Cake Recipe or UFSBCWe've all made cakes that just did not come out right. They fell apart in trying to get them out of the pan, they were too dry, they were misshapen or the frosting looked like a three year old put it on.  
 
IN GENERAL
Shortened (butter and pound) cakes are an emulsion, or a water-in-oil emulsion. What that means is that a major factor in forming this type of mixture for cake batters is the combining of the fat and water components of the formula. These two constituents are normally incapable of being combined. Emulsifiers, such as found in egg yolks, make it possible to blend the fat and water components. As a result, mixing of a cake batter results in the formation of an oil-in-water emulsion in which the various ingredients are evenly dispersed. Characteristics observed in a cake produced from a broken emulsified batter include low volume, coarse crumb, sugary top crust, and tender structure or questions as: How come my cake didn’t rise like the one in the photo?; Or, why is my cake dry? Or, why does my cake sink in the middle?

Cakelette Pops TutorialBAD RECIPE
Cake recipes must be in balance. Sugar and fat are tenderizers, making things tender and fall apart. Flour and eggs contain proteins that hold things together. They become the structure of the recipe. For a successful cake, you need a balance between the two components.
Master cake bakers always use these formulas to ensure success. Remember they are done by weighing ingredients on a scale, not by measuring in measuring cups and spoons.

REGULAR CAKES: Weight of sugar equal to or less than weight of flour
Weight of eggs equal to or greater than the weight of fat
Weight of liquid (milk and eggs) equal weight of flour

HIGH-RATIO CAKES: (many cakes fall into this category) Weight of sugar equal to or greater than weight of flour
Weight of eggs equal weight of fat
Weight of liquid equal or greater than weight of sugar

BATTER CURDLES & SEPARATES
The ingredients were not at room temperature, but will correct itself when the flour is added.
The butter and sugar were not creamed together well enough before adding the eggs.
The eggs were added too quickly.

LOW VOLUME 
Over or undermeasurement of liquids. See How to Measure.
Undermixing or extreme overmixing
Too large a pan
Oven temperature too low or too high
Not properly alternating the flour and the liquid ingredients during mixing
Cold eggs and/or butter.
Old or too little baking powder
Too much fat
Incorrect amount of water.

RAISINS & NUTS SINK TO THE BOTTOM OF THE CAKE
The pieces of fruit were too large and too heavy; batter was not thick enough to hold them.

STICKY TOP
Covering while still warm
Overmeasurement of liquid. See How to Measure.
Underbaking - oven temperature too low and / or too short a baking time
High humidity

SOGGY
Moving the cake before it is set
Underbaking
Cooling the cake in the pan (unless the recipe specifies)
Ingredients out of proper balance. Make sure that you measure correctly. Excess shortening, liquid or sugar will cause this problem.

LARGE HOLES & TUNNELING
Oven temperature too high. Use an oven thermometer to check.
Undermixing or extreme overmixing (too much gluten)
Too much leavening

SHRINKS
Too little batter in pan
Pans greased too heavily
Pans too close together in oven
Extreme overmixing
Too much liquid
Overbaking - too long or at too high a temperature
Improper mixing procedure.

CAKE FALLS
Over or underbeating - too much or too little air is incorporated into batter.
Underbaking - oven temperature too low and / or too short a baking time.
Probably not thoroughly baked - Bake longer or reduce the heat by 25 degrees F and bake longer.
Over or under measurement of liquid or too much sugar. See How to Measure.
Too small a pan
Excessive jarring or moving of the cake during baking.
Opening the oven door before cake sets
Too much baking powder or baking soda Keep recipe close to 1 teaspoon baking powder or 1/4 teaspoon baking soda per cup of flour.
Excessive mixing of the batter.

COARSE GRAIN & SUNKEN CENTER
Oven too cold (baked too slowly). Preheat oven for about 20 minutes.
Sugar and fat under-creamed. Follow my Creaming Steps.
Batter undermixed
Too much baking powder.
Not enough liquid
Too much flour
Used all-purpose flour instead of cake flour.
Careless or poor depositing in the pans.

DRY CAKE / TOUGH CRUST
Overmixing the batter.
Overbaking. Check cake for doneness at lower end of baking time range.
Overbeating egg whites and too many of them
Pan too big. Use the size called for in the recipe or substitute it.
The oven was probably set too low and the cake dried out as it baked. Use an oven thermometer to help you check.
Cool cakes in a draft free area. They will dry out quickly in a draft.
Added more flour than the recipe called for. See How to Measure.
Added less shortening or liquid than the recipe called for. See How to Measure.
Not enough sugar.

PEAKED / CRACKED TOPS
Overmixing
Oven temperature too hot, causing the outside of the cake to bake and form a crust too quickly. As the mixture in the center of the cake continued to cook and rise, it burst up through the top of the cake.
Not using magi-cake strips which prevent the edges from baking and setting faster than the middle
Too much flour or too little liquid
Pan placed too high in oven. Before preheating the oven, adjust oven shelf to the middle.

UNEVEN CAKE LAYER
Oven shelf not level
Bent pans
Uneven depositing of batter
The flour was not blended sufficiently into the main mixture.
The temperature inside the oven was uneven.
The oven temperature was too high.

UNEVEN BROWNING / BURNED ON ONE SIDE
Uneven heat circulation. Make sure the pan has at least 1-to 2-inches space between the sides of the oven and another pan, if using.
Pans too close together in oven. Improper placement in the oven will cause cakes to bake faster on one side.
Gently rotate the cake pans (don't pick up the pans, spin them) about 2/3 into the baking time for an even bake.

BURNT BOTTOM / UNDERCOOKED BATTER
Inadequate air circulation in oven. Make sure the pan has at least 1- to 2-inches space between the sides of the oven and another pan, if using.
If you have to bake two pans in the oven at once and they won't fit on one shelf, stagger them between the two shelves.

HEAVY LAYER ON BOTTOM
Not enough mixing
Too much liquid
Too many eggs

THICK / HEAVY LAYER
The butter, sugar and eggs were not beaten together long enough.
The flour was beaten at too high a speed.
Too much flour was added to the creamed mixture.
The oven temperature was not hot / or too hot enough.
Excessive baking time. Check cake at the beginning of the time range for doneness or 10 minutes before the stated time.

GRAYISH COLOR
Low-grade flour

STICKY WET LAYER
Not had the batter folded with beaten egg whites sufficiently

CAKE STICKING TO PAN
Not greased and floured the pan enough. See How to Prepare Pans.
The cake cooled too long in the pan before trying to remove it.
Not baked long enough.

TOUGH CRUST OR CRUMB
Too little fat
Too little sugar
Excessive mixing.
Batter too stiff (insufficient water).
Batter too thin (excessive water).
Can be a meringue-like crust: is created by egg whites when the batter is beaten too much after eggs are added. To avoid it, blend in the eggs, one at a time, on low speed until just blended.

HANGING OVER SIDES OF PAN / BATTER OVERFLOWS PAN
Too much baking powder
Too small a pan - Make sure you used the right size pan. The uncooked mixture should fill the pan by no more than two-thirds.

BITTER OR POOR FLAVOR
Excess baking powder will cause the batter to run over the pan, so measure carefully.
Either the oven was set very low or you put too much batter in the pan.
Check your oven setting and never fill the baking pan more than 1/2 full of cake batter.
Improper mixing procedure.
Improper cleaning and greasing of the pans.
Faulty baking conditions.
Improper cleaning of the equipment.

CRACKS & CRUMBLES
Too much shortening, baking powder, or sugar.
Taken the cake from the pan before it had cooled enough.
The layers may have needed a little extra baking time.

CRUST TOO DARK
Oven too hot.
Excessive top heat
Dark pan

CRUST IS SHINY & STICKY
Oven temperature too cool.
Removed the layers from the oven too soon.
Too much sugar

TOP LAYER OR CRUST COLLAPSES WHEN TAKEN FROM OVEN
Improper blending of the flour and baking powder/soda which can cause holes in the finished cake.
Overmixed flour when added to the cake, causing too much gluten. Too much gluten causes a cracked and domed top. 
Improperly emulsified eggs: Eggs should be added ONE AT A TIME, with the mixer speed on low. Make sure it's fully incorporated before adding the next egg. This step helps to incorporate more air in the batter and adds emulsifiers from the egg yolks, the most important step when making a pound cake. It results in a creamy mixture that holds in the air bubbles in, previously created through creaming. A cake baked with poorly emulsified batter will be grainy in texture, will look uneven and/or may even sink when baked.

DENSE AND HEAVY GRAIN
Excessive liquid in the batter.
Improper mixing procedure.
The eggs were too small. Always use large eggs when baking.
Insufficient air was whisked into the egg and sugar mixture.
The flour was not folded in gently. Always mix in the flour at the lowest speed.
The melted butter was too hot when added, causing it to sink down through the whisked foam.
The oven temperature was too low.

BURNT ON TOP
Oven temperature too hot.
Incorrect amount of water.

LACK OF BODY
Excessive mixing.
Insufficient liquid.

OFF COLOR
Improper mixing procedure.
Oven too cool, (baked too slowly).
Unclean equipment.

POOR KEEPING QUALITIES
Excessive baking time.
Insufficient Liquid.
Improper mixing procedures.
Cooled in a drafty location.

BROWN PATCHES / LIGHT SPOTS
Especially true in yellow cakes. Due to the high sugar and fat content in yellow cakes, they tend to brown unevenly. A anodized aluminum pan will help with even browning. 
A perfectly measured and mixed batter will fail if your oven temperature is incorrect. An oven that is too hot during the early baking stage can cause premature release of the leavening, producing small blisters which collapse and form light spots on the crust. Therefore, invest in a good freestanding oven thermometer to accurately measure your oven. It is readily available from the grocery store.