You follow the recipe that everyone else says makes a moist cake and yours turns out dry. Why is that and what can you do to prevent it?
Why is my cake dry? is the most common question that I get asked - and I think it's the single biggest deterrent to home-baking. So if your cake turns out dry, try these remedies.
1. The oven was too hot
I know! You set the oven to the temperature the recipe said, but just check out these three possibilities:
- Fan oven? - Check that the temperature you used was for your type of oven because a fan oven needs a lower temperature (20°C less) than a conventional oven
- Oven runs hot - Unfortunately, oven thermostats vary and your oven may run hot. If your meals and cakes are often a bit dry or are cooked quicker than you expect, this could be your problem so start by turning your oven down by 10°C
- Check the temperature - To be absolutely sure that your oven is at the right temperature, buy an oven thermometer and check it out.
2. You cooked the cake too long
Most cake recipes give a range of times for cooking the cake. This is because all sorts of things vary, including:
- Oven temperature
- Ingredients temperature. On a warm day and/or if your butter and eggs have been out of the fridge for some time, the cake mixture (batter) will be warmer than on a cooler day, so will cook quicker.
Test the cake after the shortest recommended time. If there is no range of times in the recipe, as a rule of thumb, test the cake 5 minutes early for each 30 minutes of cooking time, i.e. after 25 minutes for a 30-minute recipe
How to check properly that the cake is cooked
- The sides of the cake begin to pull away from the tin. You will see a slight gap forming between the edge of the cake and the tin
- The middle of the cake springs back when touched lightly with your finger. This only works for sponge cakes (but once you've mastered it, it's fool-proof)
- A cake tester comes out clean, with no streaks of batter. You can use a thin skewer or a cocktail stick, or if you are uncertain, buy a reusable cake tester or if you're really serious a Thermapen food thermometer.
3 - Your eggs were too small
Eggs vary in size within a particular grade, e.g. a UK large egg weighs 63g -73g in the shell. If you used medium eggs when the recipe calls for large eggs, you won't be adding enough liquid.
Check your egg size
- Modern recipes tend to use large eggs as the default, so if in doubt buy large!
- If you buy mixed weight eggs, weigh each one and write the weight on the shell with a Sharpie
- If your eggs are medium and you need large, add an extra half egg (e.g. the yolk) per 3 eggs, or 25ml milk
- If you're making a sponge cake, weigh the eggs in the shells and add the same weight of butter, sugar and flour (see Victoria Sandwich recipe).
4 - You didn't measure the ingredients accurately
Baking is more of a science than an art, and it is important to weigh ingredients. I always do, even if I can estimate accurately most of the time. This is particularly important if a recipe calls for a spoonful of some ingredient.
If you measure by volume, i.e. in cups, be aware that it isn't as accurate, e.g. a cup of sifted flour will weigh less than a cup of flour that's been sitting in a cupboard for a while. My only solution to this is to weigh the ingredients.
How big is a tablespoon?
- Level tablespoon = 15ml. The ingredients are level with the top of the spoon - use the back of a knife to level off
- Rounded tablespoon = 30ml. As much above the spoon as in it. This is usually the default if no other information is given
- Heaped tablespoon = 45ml (approx). As much as you can cram onto the spoon
- Level teaspoon = 5ml.
BUT if you live in Australia (or you're using Grandma's spoons in the UK, or one of her recipes), a tablespoon is 20ml.
5 - You used a different sized tin
If the tin that you used meant that the cake was shallower (i.e. it was a bigger tin) it would cook more quickly, so reduce the cooking time - or use the tin specified in the recipe.
Where did you find the recipe?
Finally, make sure that your recipe is from a reliable source and gives you enough detail, especially if you don't often bake. If you found it online, ask the author what they suggest when things go wrong.