What Happened to My Cake? A Troubleshooting Guide


Have you ever followed a cake recipe word-for-word and waited impatiently for the batter to transform into a perfect, moist, fluffy cake? It’s thrilling.

Unfortunately, it’s equally disappointing when the outcome is something else. Sometimes we receive an “expectations vs. reality” check when we pull out a burnt, drearily dry, or a terribly sunken cake from the oven. Aaaargh, the horror!

If that’s why you’re finding yourself on this page right now, don’t panic yet. It might be possible to rescue your cake. Plus, knowing what went wrong will help you avoid the same mistake a second time and make you a more informed baker. Just keep reading this nifty troubleshooting guide. 

9 common cake fails: why they happen and how to avoid them

1. My cake didn’t rise

If your cake resembles a pancake more than a fluffy, spongy cake, it didn’t rise as intended. 

Why does it happen?

You may have overbeaten your ingredients, leaving your batter too dense and devoid of air bubbles to sufficiently rise. Mismeasured or ineffective (from being past its shelf life) baking powder could also render a cake flat. Adding enough good-quality baking powder, a leavening agent, is essential for a cake to rise properly. 

A lack of elevation could be caused by employing a baking pan that’s too big as well. A disproportionately large pan would naturally flatten the cake because there isn’t enough batter to fill out the pan amply high.

What to do next time

Don’t forget to add adequate, unexpired baking powder. Avoid whisking the batter too much; mix only enough to combine the ingredients well. Also, defer to the recipe for the size of the pan.

What to do now

Even if your cake is flat, its taste could be delicious. If yes, it’s not destined to be thrown away. You can top it up with buttercream frosting (aah, score!) to mask its humble structure. Or cut out chunks to serve as tiny cakes. 

2. My cake is burnt

If you were greeted by a burning smell when you opened the oven instead of the delicious aroma you were expecting, you’re understandably disappointed. 

Why does it happen? 

The most plausible reason is that your oven wasn’t set to the right temperature for baking your cake. It was too hot! 

What to do next time

Make sure your oven is not overly hot. You can use an oven thermometer to confirm the baking temperature. You can also check on your cake a little earlier or more often the next time.

If you’re replacing the pan size or the type of pan (metal, glass, or ceramic) in a recipe, be sure to make required adjustments to the baking temperature or baking time to avoid this burn. 

What to do now

If your cake is scorched, there's not much you can do. It’s not worth consuming such a cake, health-wise. If it’s only burnt slightly, or in certain spots, you can opt to carve out the burnt parts and dig into the rest.

3. My cake is too dry and crumbly

A dry cake can be particularly disappointing, especially if it crumbles so much that it can't be served as a single cake. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a bite of a rich, moisture-laden cake? But sometimes we end up with a parched dessert. 

Why does it happen?

You may have been too heavy-handed with the dry ingredients in your recipe, such as flour, or added too few wet ingredients, such as oil or butter. It’s highly common to add incorrect amounts of dry and wet ingredients accidently if you’re not using the proper techniques or implements to measure your inputs. 

Overbaking and overly hot ovens can also dry out your cake. 

What to do next time

Measure ingredients exactly! Precise measurements of ingredients are critical to the chemistry of baking. To attain the right texture and decadence, use our step-by-step guide to measure different baking ingredients correctly.

Also ensure that your baking time and oven temperature are right (sometimes, we make errors while converting fahrenheit into celsius and vice versa). 

Strive to avoid overbaking. Baking time varies with ovens, humidity, and altitude. One way to determine if your cake is done is by gently pressing down on the cake. If the top bounces back fully, you can safely pull the cake out of the oven. But if your finger leaves a dent on the surface, it’s not there yet. You can also try the classic toothpick test.

What to do now

One way to fix a dry cake is to apply a heavy layer of frosting for some added moisture. Or serve with a scoop of ice cream or dessert sauce. There's no reason for a dry cake to not taste good. Bon appetit!

4. My cake sank in the middle

Sometimes, cakes turn out concave: the edges of are golden and perfect, but the middle is deeply sunken, or ahem...a let-down.

Why does it happen?

There could be several reasons. Using too much leavening agent, such as baking powder, is one. Too much leavener makes the cake too lofty. The structure of the cake can’t support this rise, so it ends up sinking in the middle.

Another reason a cake collapses in the center is opening the oven door prematurely. Temperature fluctuations from gusts of cold air, especially before the structure has had a chance to properly form, could cause sinkholes. 

Lastly, it could be because the batter was sitting out for too long after you combined the ingredients. 

What to do next time

Be careful while measuring leavening agents. Also, resist the urge to check on your cake until the last few minutes of its baking time. Or better yet, don’t throw open the oven doorjust peek through the glass! Finally, be sure to pop your batter into the oven as soon as you’re done mixing.

What to do now

A sunken cake can be redeemed. If it’s only slightly depressed in the middle, just throw in an extra lump of frosting to compensate. On the other hand, if you’ve got yourself a deep pit, then scoop out the remaining cake from the center and pour in a creamy filling or frosting inside. Wasn’t that your plan all along?

5. My cake rose unevenly

Perhaps, your cake didn’t rise evenly; one edge rose nicely, while the others remained flat.

Why does it happen?

Usually, this happens because the ingredients didn’t combine uniformly. Or because of hot spots in the oven which lead to uneven distribution of heat, lending cakes haphazard shapes. 

What to do next time

Try mixing the batter more thoroughly, but beware of overmixing. if your cakes persistently turn out uneven, the problem likely resides with your oven. Turning your baking pan a few times in the oven while your cake is baking might work. 

What to do now

You can level the cake off with a sharp knife for a more balanced surface. Apply some icing or frosting to conceal the top! Frosting makes cakes better anyway, right?

6. My cake is too dense 

Generally, people prefer softer, lighter cakes. Dense textures are undesirable because they feel heavy and hard.

Why does it happen?

Your batter probably had too many wet ingredients or leavening agents. Under-beating fats and sugar (usually before dry ingredients, such as flour, are added) or overmixing the batter can also make cakes dense. Folding in a lot of air while mixing is important to make cakes light and fluffy. 

Don’t fretgood recipes usually specify what consistency to achieve while mixing ingredients in every step of the process; just follow their lead! 

Another possible reason for too much density is that your oven isn’t hot enough or you’re skipping the preheating step. Ovens that aren’t hot enough won’t allow a cake to rise properly, imparting density to cakes instead.

Replacing ingredients in a recipe can also leave cakes dense. For example, using all-purpose flour instead of cake flour won’t always produce the same results.

What to do next time

Measure ingredients precisely. Also, ensure that you’re preheating your oven. You might want to test the temperature of your oven with an oven thermometer too. Lastly, spend a few minutes researching the effects of substituting ingredients in a recipe. It doesn't always work! 

P.S. We have a detailed egg-replacement guide for bakers.

What to do now

There’s not much you can do to make a cake less dense. Dense cakes can often taste good though. You can pretend it’s a giant brownie?

7. My cakes has a cracked top

Cracked tops might be normal and desirable in some cakes, especially dense cakes. But if it wasn’t intended, there could be a few reasons why that smooth surface has eluded you this time.

Why does it happen?

The cake may have risen too quickly, causing cracks, either because the oven was too hot or because too much raising agent was in the batter. Another possibility is that the baking pan used was too small for the volume of the batter. Both of these reasons can account for cracks in a cake.

What to do next time

Double-check the baking temperature of the oven. For the most accurate measurement, use an oven thermometer. If you’re not using the pan specified in the recipe, opt for a substitute that’s more likely to work—you might have to research a bit to find a better alternative. Make adjustments to the baking temperature or baking time accordingly.

What to do now

Just lather the cake with a generous layer of frosting. If you’re sensing a pattern here, yes, frosting can conceal most cake fails! 

Cake being frosted

8. My cake is too moist

If your cake feels overly moist or gooey from the inside, causing you to doubt whether or not it’s done, there might be an easy fix.

Why does it happen?

Some cakes are designed to be more moist than others; check the recipe notes to determine the intended texture of your cake. But if the cake is unintentionally gooey, it might be because there are too many wet ingredients, such as butter or eggs, in your batter. Or perhaps you under-measured the dry ingredients. Either way, the balance between the dry and wet ingredients could be off.

What to do next time

We cannot emphasize this enough: measure your ingredients carefully and systematically. There’s a reason baking is called a science! 

What to do now

For now, you might want to pop your cake back into the oven for a few more minutes. If the outside of the cake is perfectly golden, cover the pan with tin foil to prevent more bornwing while the inside bakes a bit more.

9. My cake is greasy

Is your cake unappetizingly greasy and shiny? We hate it when this happens!

Why does it happen?

There might be too much oil or butter in the batter. Or the butter may have been too soft.

What to do next time

Be meticulous while measuring butter or oil; a digital scale will give you the most accurate reading. Whisk or combine ingredients uniformly. And don’t soften the butter too much!

What to do now

If your cake is just a smidge greasy, a layer of frosting or glaze can successfully hide this problem. But if it’s laden with grease all throughout, it might be too unpalatable. Maybe skip eating this one. Sorry.


Even long-time bakers encounter cake failures from time to time. After all, baking a cake is not a cakewalk (haha)! 

Baking mistakes are all part of the process: you’ll learn from every cake you bake. Besides, most failed cakes can be rescued by applying layers of frosting, slicing to serve as chunks, or converting into cake pops or mini cakes. As disappointing as the mistakes can be, the successes are so worth it!

Happy caking!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published