How to Get Flat Topped Cakes (or not!)

flat-topped-cakes

I get this question so much that I felt I had to write a blog post just to talk about How to Get Flat Topped Cakes (ummm, errr….OR NOT!)

I think I get the other question just as much and that is “How do I get my cakes to Dome!?” (I think more specifically folks are talking about cupcake recipes for that question though)

So many people comment about my cake recipes here and how do I get them to stay so flat?

But this is not completely true, since I do sometimes have to trim; and this all depends on the recipe I am using.

Here’s the deal.

Some recipes will dome more than others. I hate to break it to ya, But I am not doing anything magical to keep my cakes flat.

But let me preface this entire post to say I can only really speak about my recipes really, since other people’s recipes may react differently than mine, but for the most part it is very much  determined by the mix method.

But generally speaking Creamed Cakes will dome more than Foamed Cakes.

Now this is a general rule since my Butter Cake recipe is a creaming method cake and it stays quite flat, I rarely have to trim anything off of it before I begin building.

And then again my Chocolate Cake recipe is a creaming and foaming recipe combined and it will get a slight dome, but nothing severe.

So it seems to me that most people are looking for slight domes when it comes to cupcakes but flat tops when it comes to cake layers.

So we want the best of all the world’s don’t we!? LOL

If you can try to understand the basics of what we are talking about as far as What Is Cake?

And how each recipe differs, you can start to choose your recipes more wisely to accommodate the specific project you are working on.

For example many people LOVE LOVE LOVE my Vanilla Sponge Cake recipe and often ask me if they can use it for cupcakes.

My answer is always,  “sure you can do it but I’m not sure you want to.”

You see sponge cakes will almost never dome and will more likely even sink slightly.

Because of the structure that relies mainly on the foamed egg matrix it really can’t support a high dome and consequently will almost always sink because of this.

This will also apply for cakes that you want to remain flat as can be since sponge cakes by nature typically do not dome- there you go! Problem solved!

Or is it solved?

Since you also don’t want to be stuck to one type of cake or the other for all your projects right?

I mean, our customers don’t really care about the science behind baking, they just want what they want when they want it!

And that can often mean we have to just deal with some trimming here or there and some cupcake sink-age from time to time.

But there is a product on the market and I have heard some pretty good reviews.

I’m sure you have heard of the Magic Cake Collars that prevent cakes from doming while baking.

I don’t use these, and never have…so it’s difficult for me to even comment on them really; but I will give you a summary of the research I have found online.

As per Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen they found that the Heavenly Bakeware Cake Strip worked the best of all the brands, and since Rose Levy Beranbaum is the queen of cake, I trust this endorsement!

The thing you have to note though, is that this product is intended for EVEN baking and not so much to prevent domes (since again, this is science not magic that is taking place here)

However many have found these to be very helpful in reducing the level of doming that occurs.

For those who do not want to purchase yet another “gadget” for the kitchen, I have been told of a very high success rate in making your own “bake even strips” simply by taking an old towel and cutting it into strips, get them wet then wrap around your cakes securing them with a pin or tack or better yet one of those little hook thingy’s from an Ace Bandage! (that is my contribution to the home version magic strips! Yeah~ MacGyver in the house!)

Basically the idea behind those strips (and the home version wet towel method gives a much clearer picture of the science that is happening here) just like when we bake cheesecakes in a water bath the direct oven heat is displaced through the towel or silicone “magic strip” making a less harsh heat environment.  So by diverting some of the heat that would otherwise penetrate the sides of your cake pan first, the “bake even strips” take on a lot of that heat.  See more below.

 

The reason why cakes dome in the first place (other than the mix method as I mentioned above) is as follows:

  • Too high oven heat will cause the the edges/perimeter of the metal cake pans to heat up much faster than the center batter, which will obviously/ naturally set the batter on the perimeter faster than the rate at which the center batter is baking.  Try to lower the temperature slightly to create a more even baking environment and if you want to try the bake even strips, by all means give it a go! *This is another reason why you may have heard the suggestion when baking cupcakes to start them off at a high temperature like 375°F or even 400°F for the first 10 minutes of baking to get them to “jump” (the edges will always set before the center- and once that batter has set, it is not going anywhere!)
  • The structure of the cake is too strong /tight causing the leavening gasses to be trapped inside and delayed where it can only escape towards the end of baking where it typically erupts through the top center giving that characteristic gorgeous domed top like in pound cake recipes.  Again I cannot speak for other people’s recipes, but here at Gretchen’s Bakery I repeat I have more success in achieving doming with my creamed butter cakes and very flat results in my foamed sponge cakes. You can try to use cake flour if the recipe asks for all purpose (lightening up the structure)
  • Sometimes not enough leavening ingredients (baking powder and baking soda) will cause more doming that wanted, which is strange since you associate doming (rising) with leavening so one would think the opposite, however  when the leavener starts to do “it’s thing” in the recipe, it is actually breaking through the structure of the gluten formation and trying to work it’s way through and out of the batter.  So by adding about ¼ teaspoon more baking powder (or just a pinch more baking soda) can help this. But be warned adding too much will weaken the structure so much that you will have a cake that cannot hold itself up at all! (**See picture below!)
too-much-leavening
TOO MUCH LEAVENING!

Now these are general suggestions, and you may need to do some experimentation depending on what recipe you are using, but hopefully you now have a better sense of what is actually happening inside your cake recipes, their structures and the functions of ingredients and mix methods as they pertain to the end result.

Consequently if you cakes are not doming enough you can try all those steps above in the opposite!

I would like to add last, that my practices and what I show you guys here at Gretchen’s Bakery and in all of my videos is and has always been a direct teaching of “how we do things in the industry.”

Since my experience is in high volume retail, hotel and catering production where you would never see hundreds of “bake even strips” or the wet towel method.

That system is just too laborious and in-efficient for a high volume bakery setting that is baking upwards of 100+ cakes day.

For the last 20 years of my career in 2 separate establishments (1 was my own bakery- the other a large catering facility) we used Fat Daddios Anodized Aluminum Pans for baking.

This is a direct quote from their website about the type of pans they manufacture: Anodized aluminum ensures that your cakes bake evenly, giving you a nice rise, and cool quickly preventing overbaking. 

I do believe this to be true and why I only use their pans.  For the serious baker I would recommend to start a set of them for yourself.

They last for years and years and years! I had my bakery for 10 years and they are still going strong! (this was not a paid endorsement! I just really think the pans are great!)

CLICK HERE for more about Anodized Aluminum Pans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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30 Comments

  1. My Grandmother uses a clean dish towel and applys some pressure on top of the cake after she removes it from the oven. Her cakes are perfectly flat and no trimming needed.

  2. Wow, what an imformative post. I have printed this one off for my notes.

    Can I just weigh in on the Magic Cake Collars – I do use them every time I bake as I find my cakes will have dry sides and high domes in the centre.

    At home I bake in Stainless Steel cake tins, not sure this would be a problem, but your professional opinion would be most appreciated here.

    I don’t have a commercial brand cake collar, I make mine from dampened paper towel and foil. Never fails and I don’t have the dry and cracked cakes that I used to get.

    The evenness of the top of the cakes is also really good as well with the collar on the tin.

    1. Excellent Dan thanks for the input! I use Fat Daddios pans (I used them in the bakery and I also do at home) this is from their website: Anodized aluminum ensures that your cakes bake evenly, giving you a nice rise, and cool quickly preventing overbaking. Im going to update my post to include this info about the pans.
      I have also heard about the damp towels and if that works the same (and I have been told it does!) then awesome!!

  3. Hi Gretchen,

    Whenever I bake your fudge brownie recipe in the oven, it domes too. It never bakes flat. I don’t know if its just my oven, but usually during the baking I press the doming flat again and it almost seems like sort of a crust. I know it’s not related to cake doming, but it seems like no matter what recipe I use, whether it is a boxed or from scratch brownie or cake, it never comes out with even just a slight dome.
    Any idea what could be happening?

    1. Brownies and cakes both. what I’ve noticed with the brownies is that it bakes up with almost a big air pocket in it. like a HUGE air pocket. When it bakes I have to take a spatula and push it down flat again. It happens whether I use margarine or buttter.

    2. Convection is the one with the fan right? Ours is just a normal oven, I’ll have to snap a picture the next time I make a batch. I always bake mine in a cookie sheet, could that be why?

      1. Yes it is the fan one, Im really not sue what is happening for you. What kind of pan grease are you using? Its possible there is too much water content causing steam (Im just troubleshooting every possible angle! LOL)

    3. I’ve always used cooking spray. I’ll have to make up a tub of your pan grease. I get paid soon so I will be making a batch. I’ll try it with your pan grease this time instead, and let you know how it turns out. I’m glad you are so helpful! I never would’ve thought it would have to do with the cooking spray.

  4. I bought FOUR sets of Fat Daddio pans after one of your videos.
    I have round 3″ and 4″, and square 3″ and 4″. I didn’t pay for all of them. I asked for birthday, Easter and .christmas presents to be FD pans. Lol. They’re fantastic, cake never sticks and they clean with just a little warm water as there’s no residue on the pans.

    Thanks for the information, Gretchen. Xx

  5. The only time a domed cake can be a problem is when icing. Otherwise, it looks like a well risen cake.

    At one of the beginner cake decorating courses I took, I remember the teacher suggesting putting a flat lid or pan on top of the cake as soon as it icomes out of the oven. She also suggested putting a can of whatever on top to weigh it down. Weighing it down for about 5 minutes flattened the dome. By doing this, you skip dealing with the crumby mess. Then, flip the cake over and use the bottom as the top.. I’ve tried it, it works.

    I think it all depends on the cake — heavy fruit cake (bakes flat), a pound cake generally domes abit etc. etc.

  6. I also use Fat Daddios pans. But the thing I found that ends the domed cakes is cooking the cake layers in a waterbath, just like cheesecakes. I have never had a domed cake when I baked it in the waterbath.

  7. Thank you for once again sharing your wealth of knowledge on the science of baking. It’s really great to have information like this as a resource.
    I use the bake even strips (the kind that you wet, wrap and pin) a lot, and have found that they dramatically reduce doming. The one advantage to this type of strip is that they can be used with a variety of pan sizes and shapes. That being said, the silicone strips that you refer to in the article look like they’re a heck of a lot easier!

  8. I have a problem with the sides only rising halfway up and a huge mushroomy shaped dome with the silicone giant cupcake pan. Do silicone pans require any special temps? I use a pan coat with shortening and flour….

  9. I just take a long serrated knife and cut the tops off” if I need them to be perfectly flat”. I freeze my cakes too after I’ve removed them from their pans. I place a plate on top of my cake inside the cake pan then flip it over, then I place my cake round on top and flip it over. Once it is frozen I slice the uneven parts off. It’s just so much easier. I’ve been decorating Cakes since 1977. And I attended a technical school in Atlanta to learn how to bake and decorate. And a lot of it has changed over the years, but I agree it all starts with the right ingredients and the right cake pans, the right cooking temperatures. Cakes used to be so dry, now they are wonderful and moist. I still have my favorites, Elvis Presley’s Whipping Cream Pound Cake still #1. Thanks for all of you cool recipes Gretchen, I admire your art work…

    1. LOL! Now that’s ONE way to get flat tops! LOLOL! I love that!!

      Thanks for the additional information and feedback and for your support totally! You are welcome too! 🙂

  10. I have been going through the same thing making cakes and cutting the tops off.
    But now I found the “Wilton Bake-Even Strips” package of 6. They are fabulous . I kept checking the cake in the oven I couldn’t believe they work. I hope you have as much success with them as I have.
    I told my baking family and friends.

    Happy baking!
    Theresa

  11. This is a really helpful blog post Gretchen. I have been using only Fat Daddio’s pans for several years. They give a nice even bake throughout the cake. I made my own strips out of old towels and they work great at keeping the top of cakes flat.

  12. Help! I came to this site to find the best way to make a Boston Cream pie. I make them almost every year for my daughters’ birthday cake & her birthday is next week end. Every year it turns out beautiful, then we have to move it & take it to her house & when we to take the cake lid off, the cake has slid or cracked or something! Im getting paranoid about baking it for her, because she says sonething or won’t let me make it for a few years, but she asked this year. I want it to be perfect! I have the best tasting recioe for the cake & custard & I usually make it in 3 or 4 round cake pans. Help please! Suggestions?

  13. I would love to make a suggestion. I’m a home baker too afraid to make the leap. So my hobby takes up so much space. I would love to see a video of your bakery and the way you store things. I am on a quest to store my bulk flat cake boxes vertically because they take up so much space. I’m always looking for better ways to organize. Sprinkles, cake pans? And I would also love to see some airbrush techniques. I’m thinking about making an air brush booth. Have u heard of or seen an airbrush booth? Hard to airbrush in my house without a mess. You are the best!

    1. Hi Samantha! Thanks for the message and I will note this request, however I am in a major transition with my blog biz right now, #1 is a huge job that needs to FIX what is wrong with it, and maybe you dont experience it from the front end, but there is A TON wrong from the back end! So bare with me, this is going to be a process (and why I havent been posting much lately) Thank you for the support!

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