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Jan 1, 2013 10:11 AM

Baking 101

It seems to me whenever I bake a cake it does not cook evenly. The middle is always still mushy while the sides are nicely browned.

Why would this be, and how to combat this problem?

Many thanks

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  1. If you haven't got one, use an oven thermometer to check that the oven temperature is correct. Preheat the oven to the proper temperature; resist the temptation to put the cake in the oven before it is fully preheated. Be sure to use the same size pan as specified in the recipe. Bake the cake on the center rack of the oven. Ensure that the ingredients are measured accurately. If all these things are done, it is hard to see how a cake could fail, unless you are cooking at altitude and not making any adjustments. Is it only cakes that give you trouble in the oven?

    1 Reply
    1. re: janniecooks

      You know something, I didn't have it on the centre rack. I normally do but this time I forgot. Duh! That's probably why.
      Thank you janniecooks!!

    2. Check your oven, it may need to be recalibrated.

      Assuming it is properly calibrated, the problem maybe that you are not preheating long enough, or that your oven is "leaky"..

      Despite the temp reading, an oven doesn't get to one temp and hold it indefinitely. It fluctuates on a rolling curve So if you set an oven at 350F, it will heat to that point and as it cools the heating coils will kick back on and usually overshooting the set 350F mark and then shut off and let the oven start to cool again ... this cycles repeats indefinitely until you turn off the oven.

      So yes you can easily end up with a 50F degree variance (or more) between what you set the temp at and what the actual temp is inside the oven.

      The best way to combat this is with mass. Use a baking stone (e.g. FibraMent) in the oven. They are about 3/4" thick and will really soak up and help radiate heat keeping a much more constant temperature in your oven. In other words, flattening out that temp curve.

      Also the longer you preheat the better, but at least 20 minutes is required on almost every oven, esp. older ones with less insulation.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Ipsedixit--I've noticed that leaky oven business myself. If I leave the baking stone in, would I put the cakepan (in the OP's case) on the stone, or just have the stone "somewhere" in the oven for radiating heat? Thanks!

        1. re: pine time

          I wouldn't put the pan directly on the stone - you'll end up over-cooking the bottom of the cake before the rest of it is done.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            thanks--was my guess, too, which is why I'm curious as to where it lives in ipsedixit's oven!

            1. re: pine time

              I leave pizza stones on the bottom rack, on the bottom rung. The added benefit is if there is spill over, it catches it.

              1. re: chowser

                I leave pizza stones on the bottom rack, on the bottom rung. The added benefit is if there is spill over, it catches it.

                Yes, do this.

      2. Maybe your oven is not at its required temperature, despite what the thermometer says. I'd get an oven thermometer and adjust your oven accordingly (I've often had to set my oven at 355 when the recipe calls for 350).
        Another trick is to turn the cake around halfway through the baking (unless you're baking something REALLY delicate, like a souffle).
        Third: sometimes it just takes longer than the recipe says. I've found this often applies when reducing a sauce; the recipe will say 5 minutes, and it takes 20 to actually do the job. So just keep doing that cake test (insert a toothpick in the middle; if it comes out clean ie: no crumbs or batter, then it's done!
        Let me know if any of this helps. Good luck!

        1. Not much of a baker (except for cookies for holidays), but have come to a very UNscientific conclusion about the SIZE of the eggs used!?! I ALWAYS use JUMBO eggs... can get them super fresh at less than $2/dozen at favorite little Asian Market nearby. Thinking just about all recipes call for LARGE and if ya use 2 Jumbo, instead of L... could almost be like using 3 eggs??

          7 Replies
          1. re: kseiverd

            when recipes call for large, use large if you at all can.

            There are volume differences between the sizes, and it can make or break some recipes, particularly things like angel food or chiffon cakes.

            1. re: kseiverd

              I've pondered that myself. Egg size can be so subjective and what are now called large eggs seem to be pretty darn small.

              I don't remember what I baked a little while back but my "large" eggs seemed so dinky that I ended up adding an extra whole egg plus a yolk to compensate.

              I'd like to see more weight measures for eggs, maybe.

                1. re: sunshine842

                  I think she meant she'd like to see them in recipes.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      I know...but since that likely ain't gonna happen...... :/

                2. re: kseiverd

                  A large egg is 2 oz, a jumbo 2.5, so not like using 3 large.
                  That said, not every egg in a carton is the same size - a carton of large will be 24 oz (or more). When I get a carton home, I shuffle the eggs around to get them in size order, then make sure not to use the smallest ones for baking.

                3. You might also make sure you are bringing your eggs (and butter and any other dairy goods, unless otherwise specified) to room temperature before starting the mixing. If the batter is colder than the recipe-author expected, due to refrigerator-temperature eggs and butter, the result would be a less-cooked interior even while the oven was able to bring the edges up to oven temperature.

                  A quick way to bring eggs to room temperature is to let them sit in water for 4 or 5 minutes. Butter can be microwaved on a medium heat, rotating it occasionally; timing depends on your microwave.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Julia_T

                    I've also softened butter easily on the large holes of a box grater. Somehow, I always overshoot the time in microwaving butter and end up with melted!

                    1. re: pine time

                      I've had the same problem in the microwave. if I'm in a big hurry, I cut my butter into pats and warm place them under my under counter halogen lights. That works really well. I've also placed the butter in a heavy duty zipper bag and kneaded it by hand. ATK suggests putting in a zipper bag and smashing it with a rolling pin.