If you've ever wondered what ingredients make a cake rise or had a few too many homemade cakes sink in the middle, you're in the right place for answers. Here you'll learn what makes a cake rise as well as how to make sure your cakes will rise to be light and airy with a tender crumb every time.

By Katlyn Moncada
Updated March 09, 2020

Beautiful cakes don't have to come from your local bakery; they can be made right at home. Sure, baking powder or baking soda plays a part in making sure your cake rises (without a sunken center) as expected, but that's not the only way to guarantee success from the oven. If you've ever had a cake that sunk in the middle or had a dense texture instead of the light and fluffy one you wanted, there are more factors to keep in mind on your cake-baking adventures. Successful baking requires attention to every detail, but following these guidelines will help ensure your cakes always rise to the occasion with a tender and airy crumb. Every time.

various shaped baked cakes
Credit: Andy Lyons

1. Leavening Agents

Breads, cakes, cookies, and pretty much 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 cake and not yeast bread here, we'll focus on the 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 become light and airy. One thing to note, though, is 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 some type of acidic ingredient. 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 and 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 on 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. 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 should not 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 type of cake you’re making will determine how much beating eggs need. In a traditional yellow cake, you'd beat eggs individually into the batter 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 heat of the oven can cause baking powder to react further and cause more air bubbles while setting the cake's structure. Using proper oven temperature is important 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. To check your oven temperature, bake a cake mix cake for a test run. (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. If not, consult your manufacturer's directions or consult an appliance expert on how to adjust the temperature up or down. Keeping a clean oven can also help your oven stay consistently heated.

Now that you've got the basics for making sure your cake will rise, give your new baking knowledge a try with our double chocolate cake or champagne cake with strawberries. Though unlikely, if for some reason your cake still came out of the oven a little too flat to serve (but still tastes good), don't think it's destined for the trash just yet. Give your cake new life by whipping it up with some frosting and making some cake pops for your next party or cut it up and serve it with ice cream.


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