Save My Cakes
October 5, 2022 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I have a bake sale coming up in a week that I'm baking 3 things for. My oven has started misbehaving and underbaking my cakes in a very specific way. Please help me diagnose AND adjust for the problem.

So, I have tried three recipes now - and all three of them have come out slightly underbaked, but just on the bottom. All three of them were baked in the same loaf pan I have been using for years without incident. I'm baking at 350 degrees in all cases, with the cake right bang in the middle of the oven.

Here are things I have tried to fix this:

* I have tested the oven temperature (I splurged on a really good oven thermometer) and that showed the oven was indeed coming to the correct temperature.
* I have tried putting the cake back in the oven for an extra ten minutes. It still stayed a little "stodgy" in the very bottom.

No dice. And it's always just on the bottom of the cakes.

I've read a WHOLE lot of things that it could be, and I just don't have the time to try them all before I have to get baking for the bake sale. And I don't have the time to wait for long-term fixes and need to adjust to what I've got. So...should I move the rack? Higher or lower? Or raise the temperature 5 degrees? Wrap the pan in tinfoil at a certain point? Check how I measure everything?

posted by EmpressCallipygos to Food & Drink (17 answers total)
Best answer: I would put a baking sheet, or even two stacked baking sheets, or a pizza stone, in the oven ahead of time and let it get up to temp, then put your cake pans on that. You could also use cake insulators, which are thick insulated fabric strips that you pin around your cake pans. They will slow the heating of the sides and therefore even out the baking of the entire cake. You can get them at, e.g., Michael's.
posted by HotToddy at 7:20 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

If your heating element is on the bottom (it varies), you can also try lowering your rack.
posted by HotToddy at 7:21 PM on October 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Sorry, last comment. I just realized they're loaf pans, so the cake insulators won't really work, as they're made for layer cakes.
posted by HotToddy at 7:23 PM on October 5, 2022

Response by poster: Ooh, I do have some baking stones! I can try that with the next test batch.

I've also been putting things in the oven the minute that the temperature is right on the thermometer, it's only about a 10 minute preheat tops. Would preheating it longer work, maybe?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 PM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Is it taking longer for your oven to preheat? Since ovens use both to and bottom elements to preheat and I am wondering if your bottom element is burnt out, leaving only the top element to heat. I would expect somewhat burnier results in that case, but it is one thing to check.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:56 PM on October 5, 2022 [6 favorites]

Yes to baking stones. Yes to preheating as long as you feel comfortable preheating. I'm guessing your oven needs to be recalibrated--preheat for my own oven means it's about 10-20 minutes from being hot enough. I use an oven thermometer to judge the temperature.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:02 PM on October 5, 2022

If you're using the baking stones, you need to preheat for a LOT longer. Like if you were making pizza, the advice would be to preheat for a full hour.
posted by HotToddy at 8:09 PM on October 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I would consider:

- Covering the top so that it bakes more slowly

- Preheating the oven to a slightly higher temperature

- Calling a repair person (after taking a photo of the exact make/model on the tiny label that's probably inside the oven door). This sound like one of those problems that might be remedied quickly by an expert with the appropriate part, and for some common brands/models, a larger appliance repair business might have some of those parts on hand.
posted by amtho at 8:49 PM on October 5, 2022

Agreed that this sounds like possibly the bottom element is not working. If you have the old school, exposed element style oven, this is very easy to diagnose visually, but if you have the kind where the element is hidden underneath the oven floor, you can still tell by carefully feeling for heat at the bottom of the oven right after you turn it on (if there isn't any, it's not working).

You can also check the temperature at the very bottom of the oven and compare to the middle and top. If they aren't relatively even and the bottom is colder, you've probably got a bad element.

Baking stone preheated for a long time (half an hour) is probably your best bet to cook the bottom of cakes, but replacing the element is not a big deal.
posted by ssg at 9:16 PM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I just realized I forgot to mention that I rent, and so any replacement/repair calls would have to go through a super who is only kind of "meh" - so if I did try to get it professionally fixed it would likely not get fixed until after the bake sale is over. That's actually why I'm focusing on the "how can I compensate for this" rather than outright fixing this.

It's a gas stove so the bottom is enclosed, but I'll test the temperature with the thermometer in the bottom compared to the top tonight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 AM on October 6, 2022

Best answer: Oven temperatures go up and down as the thermostat turns on and off, sometimes through a pretty big range. I know that my oven is gets hot at a fast rate of increase so it overshoots after reaching the desired temp. At the beginning the air would be up to temp but the oven walls, etc, would still be cooler than the air; they take some time to catch up. So I would try a longer pre-heat. You would want that for pizza stones, too.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:23 AM on October 6, 2022

Nthing everyone who says longer preheat and trying stones. Like an hour even. You potentially risk making your problem even worse by introducing an insulating layer between the bottom heating elements and the bottom of your cakes, so you really want to be sure it’s up to your desired temp.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:09 AM on October 6, 2022

Is there a possibility of using an 8x8 pan instead of a loaf pan?
posted by bookworm4125 at 8:31 AM on October 6, 2022

Does your oven have a fan/convection setting? If so, try using that.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:08 PM on October 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay - the soonest I'll be able to test this is Sunday (a little too much going on before then); I'm going to try preheating for a full hour and throwing just a couple baking stones in there. Even if it ends up OVERbaking, I can then fine-tune that (preheat just 45 minutes instead, etc) when I get to the "real" baking for the bake sale.

Thanks all, wish me luck!...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 AM on October 7, 2022

Response by poster: Reporting back after the test!

I preheated the oven for an hour, and did NOT use the baking stones. And the cake baked a little better this time; it was baked enough, but still sank a tiny bit as it cooled.

And then as I was mixing up the glaze for it - and noticing only too late that the glaze was thinner than it probably should have been - that I realized that something else may also be going on. I used to measure all my dry ingredients using a measuring cup, but recently started measuring them by weight, the way everyone says you're supposed to. And....that was about when the wet-bottom-cake thing started happening too. So I guess....somehow using a measuring cup is better for me?

So I'm going to try the long preheat and going back to measuring dry ingredients with the measuring cup again. That may do the trick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:18 PM on October 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Success! I have hacked it -

1. I'm preheating longer at your suggestion.
2. I'm back to measuring dry ingredients by volume instead of weight.
3. I am baking for the longest time suggested by the recipe AND adding five more minutes.

I have one beautiful puffy apple cake cooling on my counter right now and the Mexican Hot Chocolate Pumpkin Spice cake is in the oven. My grandma's cranberry nut muffins are safely packed already.

Thank you!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 PM on October 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

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