My cake is domed too much.
February 20, 2006 2:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I prevent my cake from being dome like?

I am an extemely novice baker, having just started. I grew up on fast food and baked goods from the bakery.

To start, I am using mixes. Figure I'll start there, and work my way up.

When I bake the cake, I end up with a huge dome effect, which while I expect is normal in most cases, my cakes are coming up with even more dome effect than would be expected.

Is there a way to reduce this effect? What pans should I use to try to reduce this. Is this a result of using one large pan instead of two smaller round pans? I am using a large round pan and cooking the entire cake in there.

Any suggestions for this novice are greatly appreciated.
posted by benjh to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAB(aker), but I always cut the dome off, leveling my cakes. I'm not sure about other methods, but this one works well for frosting and making bottom layers. If you're looking for a flat cake, perhaps find your serated knife?
posted by cior at 2:45 PM on February 20, 2006

My wife and all her friends — Martha devotees, every one — all slice off the top of their cakes to get a flat surface. I've seen Martha herself do it. If it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for me.
posted by jdroth at 2:48 PM on February 20, 2006

Aye, even the gurus at Cook's Illustrated don't have much advice to offer other than "hold a serrated knife parallel to the work surface and slice off the domes from the cake layers with a gentle sawing motion" (this from advice on icing a two-layer cake).
posted by letourneau at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2006

Both cior and jdroth are on the right track - but there's one more trick you can use. At most baking specialty stores, or even at places like Joanne's fabric (in the cake decorating section) you can buy cake strips. These are long thin pieces of aluminum-like cloth that you wrap around your pans and pin (use a t-pin, no plastic heads)in place. They create, in effect, a better cake pan. The result, more even cakes - but some slicing will almost always be necessary - and even Martha does it!

Then to deal with the crumb issue while frosting, make sure you do a thin 'skim' coat over the cut sections before you do the full-on frosting.

I also recommend that if you decide you really like baking, invest in some good quality pans - they make a huge difference! Good luck.
posted by dirtmonster at 3:01 PM on February 20, 2006

You can try cake pan strips. I've had mixed success with them. Cutting off the tops is the only guaranteed method that I know.
posted by Flakypastry at 3:02 PM on February 20, 2006

My wife says make sure you've got the right size pan and the right temperature. (She also says "Don't use cake mixes," but you may want to ignore that for the time being. One step at a time...)
posted by languagehat at 3:03 PM on February 20, 2006

It's probably partially a result of overmixing, partially a result of not using the appropriate pans, and partially a result of 'cake mixes suck'.

Baking is far more precise than cooking in terms of ingredients, cooking times and temperatures and really, anything else. Please consider starting with a basic cake recipe from a reputable cookbook, so you at least give yourself a chance at success.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:05 PM on February 20, 2006

Alton Brown levels cakes by putting two pieces of wood the same height as the cake on either side of it to guide the knife while you level it. I think this is kind of silly, as I've never had a problem leveling a cake freehand. And keeping the pieces of wood in the kitchen would be a real pain.

The Cake Bible is a great cake reference, when you're ready to start mixing your own flour, butter, and eggs.
posted by Lycaste at 3:09 PM on February 20, 2006

Actually, now that I read the last part of your question, it probably is that you're using one huge pan. Try using two small pans, if that's what the instructions say to use.

(In other words, what languagehat's wife says. )

Although I don't think this is your problem, you might want to investigate the calibration of your oven, as well as invest in a good oven thermometer. In addition, you should let the oven preheat for a good 20 minutes past the time it says it's reached temperature; the walls need a chance to warm up.
posted by Lycaste at 3:14 PM on February 20, 2006

Spin the pan to push some of the batter outwards prior to putting the cake into the oven. It helps a bit. You will still be cutting if you seek perfection.
posted by caddis at 3:20 PM on February 20, 2006

Also, if you are making a layer cake, bake it it two smaller 9" or 8" round pans. Invert both pans on a cooling rack, remove from pans. Place one cake right-side up, frost. Place other cake, upside down (so the flat bottom shaped by the pan is on top) on top of the right-side up one. Voila! Easy, fast, no cutting involved flat cake.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:35 PM on February 20, 2006

Definitely cutting is the way to get it completely level. I say this with the authority of someone who has taken a cake decorating class. The EASIEST way to get it level involves a cake turntable, though you could probably get by with a lazy susan or whatever. The trick is basically keep a bread knife horizontal and saw with one hand while turning turning with the other. Don't go all the way to the middle on the first pass - spin it around a couple times cutting further each time. This is also a good way to cut a cake into two layers so you can put jam or something in the middle.

Also when storing your don't forget to properly label [self link] any container you put it in, to prevent dangerous mishaps.
posted by aubilenon at 3:37 PM on February 20, 2006

Could you possibly be incorporating too much air into the batter? In addition to the doming, do you also find big air bubbles in the cake when you cut into it? (In which case, stop whisking and mixing so much!)

Also, using one big pan would (i think) give you one big dome, while using two smaller pans would give you two smaller domes.

When I've made layer cakes with mixes, i just take the cake that is going to the bottom layer, and turn it upside down, so the small dome is on the bottom, and gravity gets rid of it. I don't mind the small rounding on the top, to be honest. (On the other hand, I've never had this phenomenal cake-doming you all speak of, just a slight rounding. And what's wrong with that, anyway?)
posted by Kololo at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2006

Using a basic cake recipe really isn't that much harder than a packet mix - and I've always had better results from a recipe than a mix (though it's been many years since I used a mix).

If the cake is over-risen, that suggests too much baking powder - which if it's in a cake mix, just says it's a crap packet - I'd try another brand.
posted by wilful at 3:45 PM on February 20, 2006

I usually slice off the tops with a bread knife. If you've an aversion to waste or just like to optimize, you can break up the excess mound pieces and layer them in a glass dish or bowl with whipped cream and raspberries (or any other fruit you have around) smashed with a little sugar and whatever liqueur or fruit juice you have in the house, and voila, you've got two desserts--delicious cake and half-arsed English trifle (which I actually enjoyed more than the cake last time).
posted by jenh at 5:42 PM on February 20, 2006

My mother has always used metal layer cake pans, and used a simple length of terrycloth toweling, folded to the height of the pan, and pinned (metal safety pin) around the pan. Probably important to note that she soaks the toweling in water so they don't ignite while baking.

Now that I consider it, that seems very damned weird, but I don't think it's any more complex than that.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:48 PM on February 20, 2006

Cutting is a pain if you want to frost, since you'll lose the crust and the crumbly bit in the middle gets all mixed into the frosting and makes a mess. What I do instead is to spread the batter out to the sides of the pan, leaving a broad shallow indentation in the middle of the pan (so the batter makes a convex shape). That's it! As the cake bakes it'll naturally rise in the center and end up flat. This works every time for me, try it and see if it does for you too.
posted by cali at 6:16 PM on February 20, 2006

Emperor, it's not weird. That's how they handled it in the olden days, before the kitchen gadget industry exploded. The wet towel. Still works, but it's a pain.
posted by wryly at 8:13 PM on February 20, 2006

cali, put the cut portion of the top layer facing down so that you end up frosting the portion which was contacting the pan and is nice and smooth. I do what you do by spinning the pan. Does yours really come out flat? I get a reasonably flat, yet still slightly domed layer. I usually can then just flip it upside down without cutting. With a big dome, flipping it without trimming off the domed portion leaves the top layer a little unstable. By creating a depression prior to baking I get it flat enough to be able to avoid cutting, which is good because cutting the layer is a big pain and you can really screw it up. Nevertheless, for a perfect show cake I still would trim off the slight dome.
posted by caddis at 8:32 AM on February 21, 2006

Sounds to me like there is too much rising action (baking powder) in the recipe. Maybe try using the high altitude directions on the box and see if it makes a difference. I saw on a PBS show that cakes are supposed to be level, but most mixes are not.

You may also want to try cake mix from Trader Joe's - they are very tasty and might work better.

Wife of 445sumermag
posted by 445supermag at 8:46 AM on February 21, 2006

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