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My cakes keep coming out dry and flavorless any advice?

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UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 10:30 AM

I noticed my cakes recently have been dry and flavor less. I've tried multiple different recipes and prepackaged mixes and it still comes out dry and flavorless as a napkin. I want to make a Black Forest Cake but not if it means the cake is going to be bland and dry. I've tried deserts my local bakeries their stuff sits out on display all day yet it's rich in flavor and moist.

I'm going to give up on the cakes and cupcakes if they continue being nothing like the results everyone else gets.

  1. pinehurst Apr 10, 2013 10:37 AM

    Okay...for the "dry" part of the equation...are you measuring your oil/butter/shortening exactly? How about the dry ingredients?

    Does your oven tend to run "hot"? If you've been following the recommended bake times, try taking the cake out a bit earlier.

    I had an aunt who would make TREMENDOUS coffee cakes...actually, all sorts of cakes. Her secret? Sour cream.

    Good luck, UnrealCaker. I know some pros will give good advice.

    8 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst
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      UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 04:47 PM

      Well before I only had a single measuring cup but I bought some measuring scoops so I don't have to constantly clean out my measuring cup for new ingredients.

      1. re: UnrealCaker
        i
        Isolda Apr 10, 2013 05:02 PM

        Scooping could be a problem, as you'll wind up with too much flour. Spoon your flour into your measuring cups (don't shake it down as you go), then level with a knife.

        I think this may be your real problem--you've been using too much flour. Doing the spoon and scoop method may be a bit messier, but it will save you money and save your cakes.

        1. re: Isolda
          souschef Apr 11, 2013 10:28 AM

          It's much easier (and more accurate) to weigh everything. I never use measuring cups for dry ingredients.

          1. re: souschef
            j
            jbsiegel Apr 11, 2013 12:55 PM

            I just bought a kitchen scale to do this. My problem is that it seems REALLY painful to have to convert every recipe to weights. Looks like King Arthur has a good weight equivalent chart, but I can't imagine actually baking something and having to look up each ingredient on the chart.

            I'm assuming it becomes second-nature after a while?

            1. re: jbsiegel
              LMAshton Apr 11, 2013 05:41 PM

              I've converted all my baking recipes to weights, and when I find a new recipe to try, I convert that as well. I use this site: http://www.onlineconversion.com/weigh...

              It's much easier than using a chart.

              1. re: jbsiegel
                Kris in Beijing Apr 11, 2013 06:47 PM

                Just buy European cookbooks?
                Then you'll only have to convert gas marks or F to C.

                1. re: jbsiegel
                  souschef Apr 11, 2013 07:40 PM

                  I tend to avoid recipes that give volumetric measurements, but if I do come across an interesting recipe, I use the conversion charts in "The Cake Bible" (my most trusted source), and then write the weights into the book if I like the outcome.

                  I remember one ridiculous recipe, which I did not make, that called for 1-3/4 cups plus two Tbsp of flour lightly spooned into the cups.

              2. re: Isolda
                pinehurst Apr 12, 2013 09:04 AM

                Got to give a thumbs up to this. One of the reasons that I often fail in baking endeavors is my laziness in measuring precisely. It's a fault, and one that I pay for when I fail.

          2. greygarious Apr 10, 2013 10:43 AM

            You say you have this problem "recently", which implies that previously your baked goods were better. What has changed? The first thing to look at if you can't think of anything is the accuracy of your oven's temperature. Get an oven thermometer (or replace yours). Or, have you begun taking a new medication? These can affect your taste perception and saliva production, although it seems unlikely if you are *currently* enjoying bakery cakes.

            Oil keeps cakes moister than butter does, at the expense of flavor. This is because the water in butter evaporates - a plus with pie crusts and biscuits since the steam makes them flaky, but a problem in cakes. There's a GT thread about increasing amounts of water in lower-price butter, which would make cakes drier than the same recipe baked years ago.

            14 Replies
            1. re: greygarious
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              UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 04:50 PM

              Wow, I've been buying store brand butter could this be it?

              1. re: UnrealCaker
                w
                wyogal Apr 10, 2013 04:51 PM

                No

                1. re: UnrealCaker
                  i
                  Isolda Apr 10, 2013 04:59 PM

                  Yes, I think it could. I have noticed a difference when I bake with a generic store brand vs Land O Lakes. You need the fat to make a moist and flavorful cake.

                  Others may disagree, but you might also try free range eggs if you aren't using them already. They do sometimes (but not always) have more flavor. We bought some white store brand eggs to dye for Easter, and all of us noticed they didn't have as much flavor as the somewhat pricier free range eggs we normally buy.

                  And buy the best vanilla you can find. (I use more vanilla than called for by the recipe, too.)

                  Don't ever leave out the salt.

                  Use King Arthur flour. It really does taste better than other brands.

                  I know many people weigh their ingredients, and I sometimes do this with a tricky recipe, but for ordinary cakes, measuring in ordinary measuring cups with good ingredients is just fine.

                  1. re: Isolda
                    u
                    UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 06:56 PM

                    King Arthur flour? I heard about that brand when looking up a deep dish pizza recipe, I'm not sure about any store that sells it though, I've been using store brand flour and sugar too is that also bad?

                    1. re: UnrealCaker
                      chowser Apr 11, 2013 04:22 AM

                      King Arthur flour is slightly higher in protein and more consistent. I used to use it but then prices jumped and now it's twice the price of regular flour. I went back to regular flour and honestly don't notice a difference. Maybe if I did side by side comparisons I would but regular flour has worked fine.

                      This was a good thread about how you can get great cookies from regular ingredients.

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/817542

                      1. re: chowser
                        paulj Apr 11, 2013 06:56 PM

                        Higher protein is not what you want when baking cakes.

                        1. re: paulj
                          chowser Apr 12, 2013 09:42 AM

                          Higher but not high like bread flour. I think it's a personal thing. In general, I don't like cakes made w/ cake flour as much but don't want a tough cake that's like a yeast bread either. I do want some toothiness in the cake, not one where the fork cuts right through by its weight alone. Flour percentages, which is helpful to know to get the results wanted:

                          http://www.finecooking.com/articles/c...

                      2. re: UnrealCaker
                        i
                        Isolda Apr 11, 2013 02:41 PM

                        I don't think the sugar matters (I use the cheap stuff, too, unless I need something like demerara sugar), but I prefer the flavor of KA to other brands. Even if that's part of the reason your cakes are lacking in flavor, it's not the only reason. It's probably a combination of the things people mention here--butter, oven temp, measuring (don't scoop with your measuring cup!), etc.

                        Keep trying and you'll get it right.

                        1. re: Isolda
                          chowser Apr 11, 2013 04:45 PM

                          What difference in flavor do you notice in your products w/ the use of KA?

                          1. re: Isolda
                            s
                            sandylc Apr 11, 2013 08:19 PM

                            Sugar matters a lot. If it doesn't say cane sugar it is beet sugar and beet sugar does not taste as good.

                      3. re: UnrealCaker
                        chowser Apr 10, 2013 05:46 PM

                        Possibly but I often use store brand butter, too. I think it could be the measuring method of the flour. You want it fluffy. I turn the container upside down, gently turn it back and then scoop w/out compacting the flour. If you find you compact the flour, you could use a combination of cake flour and AP.

                        1. re: UnrealCaker
                          juliejulez Apr 11, 2013 01:11 PM

                          I've made delicious and moist cakes using store-brand everything. I too think measuring inaccuracy is your problem. You can get a set of measuring cups at the dollar store.

                          1. re: juliejulez
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                            UnrealCaker Apr 11, 2013 05:09 PM

                            I think it also depends on which store brand you're using, the store brands I use are krasdale, stop n shop, foodtown and market pantry.

                        2. re: greygarious
                          sbp Apr 10, 2013 05:25 PM

                          Another reason butter based cakes can tast drier than oil based - when cold, the butter is solid, giving the impression of dryness. Let a butter cake come to room temp, and it will be moister.

                        3. chowser Apr 10, 2013 11:00 AM

                          I'm guessing you're overbaking or overbeating your cakes but it's nothing a simple syrup won't fix. It's easy to flavor so it would work w/ Black Forest cake. Similar to that is the tres leches cake w/ three milks poured over it. It won't be dry even if you overbake it (in fact, might be better):

                          http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/09/tres-leches-cake/

                          If you like mixes:
                          http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/p...

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: chowser
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                            UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 04:48 PM

                            I was thinking about the leches thing but I'm not sure if I have anything that can keep excess leches from sinking out of my cake holder.

                            1. re: UnrealCaker
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                              wyogal Apr 10, 2013 04:53 PM

                              "sinking out of my cake holder." not sure what you mean by that. Keep it in the pan or on a rimmed platter without holes.

                              1. re: UnrealCaker
                                chowser Apr 10, 2013 05:43 PM

                                I pour a little at a time and let it sit. When it looks like it's not absorbing, I stop so I use about 3/4 of the milk mix, As wyogal suggested, you can keep it in the pan but I don't like that much leches in the cake. I like it absorbed but not overflowing.

                                1. re: chowser
                                  u
                                  UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 06:46 PM

                                  I plan on using the leches mix for a black forest cake

                                  1. re: UnrealCaker
                                    chowser Apr 11, 2013 04:20 AM

                                    For black forest cake, I'd use a simple syrup w/ kirsch. Something like this:

                                    http://www.marthastewart.com/316985/h...

                                    1. re: chowser
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                                      UnrealCaker Apr 11, 2013 05:06 PM

                                      That recipe looks interesting, although I'm still thinking about using leches instead of the kirsch since I don't like the taste of it and I'm really just making the black forest cake for the chocolate and frosting part, the cherries is really nothing more but decorations to me. Also could I use the juices from maraschino cherry jars as a syrup/soak?

                                      1. re: UnrealCaker
                                        chowser Apr 11, 2013 06:07 PM

                                        If you like the way it tastes, you could. I'm not a big fan of maraschino cherries. You could also do a cherries simple syrup, or use your favorite alcohol. Rum would be good, too. I think the tres leches would be good, too, just dilute the chocolate flavor a little but ti's not a big deal.

                              2. re: chowser
                                m
                                modthyrth Apr 10, 2013 09:57 PM

                                As soon as I read the OP, I thought of a soak as well. I usually go with a 50% simple syrup, 50% complimentary liqueur, but a fruit juice works well, too. Even the best cake recipes can really soak up way more than you'd ever expect.

                                1. re: modthyrth
                                  chowser Apr 11, 2013 04:23 AM

                                  And for cakes, like genoise especially, it makes all the difference. A lemon simple syrup makes the most lemony cake.

                                  1. re: chowser
                                    m
                                    modthyrth Apr 13, 2013 12:40 AM

                                    I'm making two groom's cake-style cakes for the 20th anniversary party of the company my husband works for. The party is tomorrow (today, technically, I guess?). I made my favorite butter cake recipe, a bright lemon simple syrup (using lemons from our tree), and a filling that's essentially a raspberry fool/super stabilized raspberry whipped cream. Oh, dear God, it tastes amazing. Judging by the scraps left over from leveling the cakes, at least.

                                    On the other hand, it's a good thing I don't do this professionally because I did not give myself enough time to create the vision I had in my head. At least it'll taste fabulous, and hey, if anyone complains, I'll give them their free back. ;-)

                              3. 1POINT21GW Apr 10, 2013 11:38 AM

                                Until you post back with your answers to some of the good questions that have been asked so far, I'll offer some fairly universal tips to baking cakes.

                                - Make sure there's enough salt in the batter. Many recipes don't include any salt. This is almost a sure fire way to guarantee blandness.

                                - Try taking 1/2 cup heavy cream and whipping it to just past soft peaks then folding this into the final batter. It will lend a moistness and wonderful flavor to the final cake.

                                - Preheat a baking stone in your oven while you're preheating the oven as normal. Preheat the stone and oven for an hour though. Then, bake your cake directly on the stone. This will give the cake an early boost in rising, thus giving you a lighter, less dense product.

                                - As mentioned by greygarious, I too would highly encourage you to not trust your oven's thermometer and, rather, monitor your oven's temperature with an oven thermometer. This could make a big difference in all of your baked dishes.

                                Can you post some of the recipes you've tried?

                                16 Replies
                                1. re: 1POINT21GW
                                  LMAshton Apr 11, 2013 05:45 PM

                                  Salt - no kidding! I add salt to pretty much all the cake and other sweets recipes I encounter - almost none of them include salt, and I can't think of any that don't benefit from it.

                                  1. re: LMAshton
                                    u
                                    UnrealCaker Apr 11, 2013 05:58 PM

                                    if a recipe doesn't call for salt how much should I add?

                                    1. re: UnrealCaker
                                      LMAshton Apr 11, 2013 06:02 PM

                                      I'll add perhaps a quarter teaspoon for an 8" square cake.

                                      1. re: UnrealCaker
                                        1POINT21GW Apr 13, 2013 11:17 PM

                                        For a typical 9" two layer round cake, I usually use 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon of salt. I see this cake has 3/4 teaspoon of salt in it. That should be right on it.

                                      2. re: LMAshton
                                        1POINT21GW Apr 11, 2013 10:43 PM

                                        Exactly!

                                        1. re: LMAshton
                                          1POINT21GW Apr 11, 2013 10:43 PM

                                          Can you post one of the recipes you're wanting to try next?

                                          1. re: 1POINT21GW
                                            LMAshton Apr 13, 2013 12:25 AM

                                            Did you mean to post that as a reply to me?

                                            1. re: LMAshton
                                              1POINT21GW Apr 13, 2013 11:33 AM

                                              No I did not. I'm sorry. I hate this forum's design. It's like stepping back into the internet from the 1990's. My reply was meant for the OP, UnrealCaker.

                                              Again, sorry for the confusion.

                                              1. re: 1POINT21GW
                                                u
                                                UnrealCaker Apr 13, 2013 12:21 PM

                                                http://allrecipes.com/recipe/black-fo...

                                                and I was thinking of using that tres leches mix since I have most of the ingredients for it

                                                1. re: 1POINT21GW
                                                  Jay F Apr 13, 2013 12:50 PM

                                                  <I hate this forum's design.>

                                                  Same here. It's like they purposely made it worse.

                                                  1. re: 1POINT21GW
                                                    LMAshton Apr 13, 2013 04:50 PM

                                                    No worries. I totally agree with what you're saying about the site design. It does make things confusing. :(

                                              2. re: LMAshton
                                                s
                                                sandylc Apr 12, 2013 08:52 AM

                                                I don't think I've ever encountered a cake recipe that didn't have salt!

                                                I see we are on different continents; this could be the reason for the difference!

                                                1. re: sandylc
                                                  LMAshton Apr 13, 2013 12:24 AM

                                                  I can't imagine why. I don't use cookbooks - they weigh too much and I can't take 'em with me (with two exceptions, and they're both for Sri Lankan cuisine). I use online recipes solely.

                                                  1. re: sandylc
                                                    m
                                                    modthyrth Apr 13, 2013 12:46 AM

                                                    Really? I've encountered many, and I always ignore that and add a dash!

                                                    My microbiologist/pastry chef mother (she's had a few other careers in-between those two degrees) explained it many years ago to me like this: You remember those science experiments you did in grade school where you mapped out the different parts of the tongue? One area tastes sweet more intensely, one bitter, one salty more strongly, etc.? Adding an 1/8t measure of salt isn't going to be enough to really register as salty to anyone, but it will activate that region of the tongue more thoroughly. It will taste better, without people really understanding why.

                                                    1. re: modthyrth
                                                      y
                                                      youareabunny Apr 13, 2013 05:10 AM

                                                      I think the taste areas of tongue were debunked long ago. Taste buds are spread all over.

                                                      1. re: youareabunny
                                                        m
                                                        modthyrth Apr 13, 2013 11:30 PM

                                                        My understanding is that while all areas do taste all things, different regions taste different flavors more intensely. But research may have changed since I last read anything about it, certainly!

                                              3. eLizard Apr 10, 2013 12:35 PM

                                                do you have a convection oven?
                                                also, some bakeries use a ton of oil......at least in my experience. so although it's moist, it's also greasy. i love recipes with buttermilk and/or sour cream for tang, soft crumb, and moisture

                                                1. m
                                                  maxie Apr 10, 2013 03:41 PM

                                                  These Ina Garten recipes are all moist and delicious. Try one of them, and see how you fare. http://www.foodnetwork.com/search/del...

                                                  1. y
                                                    youareabunny Apr 10, 2013 03:50 PM

                                                    Use coffee instead of water.

                                                    1. Ruthie789 Apr 10, 2013 04:07 PM

                                                      You need to use whole milk, fresh eggs, good butter and good quality vanilla. The whole milk makes a difference, and since you like chocolate, buttermilk enhances the chocolate flavour.

                                                      1. u
                                                        UnrealCaker Apr 10, 2013 07:14 PM

                                                        I realized could sifting also be another problem? I don't have a sifter cup I just use a strainer and shake it a lil to push it through

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: UnrealCaker
                                                          chowser Apr 11, 2013 04:17 AM

                                                          I just whisk it. The key is in the measuring, not the sifting, unless the recipe specifically calls for sifted flour.

                                                        2. Kris in Beijing Apr 10, 2013 07:31 PM

                                                          Did you get a chance to check the temp of your oven?

                                                          Here's KA's home page:
                                                          http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

                                                          Although many people are commenting on eggs, milk, vanilla, and butter, IMHO that is mostly about Taste.

                                                          Try room temperature ingredients and softly spooned flour measuring. Sifting with a strainer is fine.

                                                          And try not to overblend or over mix.

                                                          Let us know how your experiments go.

                                                          1. paulj Apr 12, 2013 12:30 AM

                                                            An evolution in cake preferences might also be an issue.

                                                            In a long thread about 'why would anyone use a cake mix', posters who dislike mixes complain that they have artificial flavors, and are too moist and gummy.

                                                            Some classic cakes, like the Genoise, are normally dry. The genoise consists of beaten eggs and flour and sugar, and a minimal amount of fat. A new recipe, the chiffon cake, uses a generous amount of oil to add moistness.

                                                            A trend in commercial mixes is to add 'puddings' (really modified starches and emulsifiers) to create the moistness that many consumers want. Note all of the 'moist' and 'rich' descriptors. Mixes also use flavorings, since consumers want strawberry cakes that taste more of strawberry than the strawberries ever do.

                                                            The bakery cakes might be using the same sort of flavor and moisture enhancers that the mixes do. If your expectations are based on bakery cakes, you might be disappointed with most home baking recipes.

                                                            But you might have more success with recipes that are naturally moist or well flavored, for example a spice cake or a carrot cake.

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