We all try to avoid making dry, flat, or dense cakes. But how can you guarantee you'll produce a perfectly moist and soft cake? By knowing what makes a cake spongy, you'll be able to make a light, fluffy cake every time.

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It's a sad day when you spend a lot of time whipping up the ingredients for that chocolate cake you've been craving only to find the cake is too dense or rubbery when it comes out of the oven. Successful baking requires attention to every detail. Tiny factors like measuring ingredients correctly, knowing if your oven runs hot or cold, and proper mixing are just a few different factors that could be causing your cakes to lose that soft texture. Keep these key points in mind before you make your next cake.

Don't Overmix Your Batter

The culprit behind what makes a cake tough could be overmixing your flour. Flour is the foundation of baked recipes because it provides structure. When combined with liquid and after mixing, flour's protein (gluten) begins to develop. The elastic substance traps and holds air produced by leavening agents (keep an eye on the expiration dates!), enabling your cake to rise. You know how you have to knead yeast bread to get the best texture? Yeah, you don't want to do that if you want a soft cake. For tender cakes, avoid overworking your mixtures once liquids are added to prevent the development of too much gluten. The mixing times on your recipe are there for a reason, so pay attention to those.

measuring flower for cake
Credit: Kritsada Panichgul

Measure Ingredients Properly

We have a whole guide to measuring ingredients the right way that you'll want to check out. The key here is to make sure you're using the proper tools (dry or liquid cups) before you measure ingredients. For example, you'll want to spoon flour into the cup and level it off with a knife rather than scooping it right out of the bag. Packing too much flour in your recipe will cause a dry cake.

Use the Right Bakeware (and Prep Them Correctly)

When it comes to baking cakes, our Test Kitchen recommends using aluminum or metal baking pans. Nonstick or not, they are lightweight and conduct heat well for even baking. You'll also want to prep your pans correctly. With the exception of angel food cakes and chiffon cakes, most cakes require pans to be greased and floured to prevent your cake from sticking.

Temperature Is Key

If you have an older oven, you might want to invest in an oven thermometer to test whether your oven is heating to the proper temperature. Bake at the correct temperature and let your cool for the specified time. And as tempting as it is, avoid opening the door too soon so you don't let the heat escape and cause your cake to sink. Our Test Kitchen also recommends baking with room-temperature ingredients, especially eggs and liquids. If you're ready to bake asap, use our handy tips on softening butter.

Yellow Cake Salted Chocolate Ganache
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Cake Troubleshooting Guide

Did you follow all the steps to creating a soft cake and are wondering why your cake is still too dense? Consider these possible causes of common cake baking issues.

Cake Has Coarse Texture

Possible reasons your cake is too course include:

  • Excess baking soda
  • Too little liquid
  • Butter and sugar not thoroughly blended

Cake Sticks to Pan

Possible reasons your cake stuck:

  • Insufficient greasing
  • Cake removed from pan too quickly
  • Cake cooled in pan too long

Cake Is Dry

Possible reasons your cake is dry:

  • Excess flour or baking powder
  • Too little shortening, butter, or sugar
  • Oven too hot or cake baked too long

Cake Is Heavy or Dense

Possible reasons your cake is heavy/dense:

  • Too little baking powder
  • Too many eggs
  • Batter is overmixed

Cake Sinks in Middle

  • Pan is too small
  • Too much liquid
  • Opening oven or moving pans during baking
  • Oven temperature too low or cake not baked long enough

Now it's time to bake the cake of your dreams! Start simple with a delicious soft cake recipe such as the classic yellow cake. Then practice your buttercream frosting skills. Or if you want to make a soft and spongy cake without eggs, try making this easy Depression-era cake.

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