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.
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!)
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!)