What Makes a Cake Rise? These 4 Things Are Essential to Fluffy Cakes

We'll teach you what makes a cake rise, as well as how to prevent cakes from sinking after baking.

Beautiful cakes don't have to come from your local bakery; they can be made in your kitchen. Sure, baking powder or baking soda plays a part in ensuring your cake rises (without a sunken center) as expected, but that's not the only way to guarantee success from the oven.

If your cake didn't rise or had a dense texture instead of the light and fluffy one you wanted, there are factors to keep in mind during your cake-baking adventures. Successful baking requires attention to every detail, and following these guidelines will help your cakes rise with a tender and airy crumb. Every time.

various shaped baked cakes
Andy Lyons

What Makes a Cake Rise

It's essential to learn what makes a cake rise to prevent it from sinking (or rising and then deflating after cooling). Read through these four factors for preparing and baking cake correctly, and you'll never have to wonder why your cake didn't rise again.

1. Leavening Agents

Breads, cakes, cookies, and nearly all baked goods require a leavening agent. These are the key ingredients that make a cake rise. There are two types of leavening agents, chemical (baking soda and baking powder) and biological (yeast).

Since we're talking about cake and not yeast bread, we'll focus on chemical leavening. The reaction of baking soda or baking powder with the liquids in the batter releases carbon dioxide, which forms air bubbles to help your cakes be light and airy.

Baking soda and baking powder aren't interchangeable. So what's the difference? Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) only activates when combined with liquid AND an acidic ingredient. So it's common to see baking soda quick bread recipes like pancakes or muffins.

If your recipe has baking powder, it's a complete leavener. It will do the trick without the addition of an acidic ingredient. Pay attention to how much of each or just one of the leavening agents you'll need to get your recipe right.

Test Kitchen Tip: Always keep an eye on the expiration dates of your leavening agents. Using an expired leavener will result in a flat, dense cake.

2. Creaming Your Butter Mixture

"Creaming" is the part of the recipe when you beat the butter (or shortening) and sugar with a mixer ($32, Hamilton Beach). When creaming two or more ingredients, usually with a hand mixer, the end result should be a smooth mixture with no separation. Creaming incorporates air that helps your cake rise and shouldn't be cut short if you want a fine, even cake texture. Follow the timings for beating in the recipe closely and measure your ingredients correctly.

3. Introduction of Eggs into the Batter

Eggs alone can help make desserts like angel food cake light and fluffy without requiring leavening agents. The cake you make will determine how much beating eggs need. In a traditional yellow cake, you'd beat eggs individually into the batter for 1 minute each. Sometimes the yolks and whites are beaten separately.

Make sure to follow the timings in the recipe when beating in eggs and whether you need to have your eggs at room temperature first. Too many eggs in the batter can result in a dense or compact cake.

4. Oven Temperature

The oven's heat can cause baking powder to react further and cause more air bubbles while setting the cake's structure. Correct oven temperature is necessary to allow the cake to rise before the structure sets. If the oven is too hot, the cake will set too fast before the air bubbles have formed. If the oven is not hot enough, the cake will rise too much, then fall in the center before it is set.

Bake a cake mix cake for a test run to check your oven temperature. (Make sure you've preheated your oven, too.) If the cake is done properly within the time range on the package, your oven is most likely baking at the proper temperature. Use an oven thermometer ($7, Walmart) to see if the temperature matches the setting.

You can also consult your manufacturer's directions or an appliance expert on adjusting the temperature up or down. Keeping your oven clean can also help it stay consistently heated.

Yellow Cake with Chocolate Butter Frosting
Kritsada Panichgul

If for some reason you're still wondering why your cake deflated after cooling, use our cake troubleshooting guide to learn the various reasons why cakes fall and ensure it never happens again. Don't throw the flat cake out, either! Give your cake a new look by turning it into cake pops or cut it up and serve it with ice cream.

Now that you've got the basics for how to prevent the cake from sinking, give your new baking knowledge a try with our double chocolate cake or champagne cake with strawberries.

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