Kitchen Quick Tip: How Not to Break Your Cakes

broken cake
Image credit: More Sweets, Please

I came of age during the Clinton years and developed my political and philosophical sensibilities during the Bush II years. Talk about times of excess. What I learned from my country’s leaders is that you can be silver-tongued or severely tongue-tied and still push an agenda of over-consumption.

But is excess always so bad? When it comes to political ideology, I’d have to say YES, but I crave a little excess in my art. Blame it on Bacchus, but I enjoy gorging myself on the firecracker stylings and storylines of novelist David Mitchell. I love the heightened emotion evoked through the bright and ornate detail of a Georgia O’Keefe or Frida Kahlo painting. I hear a bit of that howling wilderness every time I cue up a Fever Ray song. My favorite 19th century neck-bearded American philosopher once said, “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil…”.

hong kong nature wilderness
Hong Kong, 2008. Image by Author.

Certainly an ideological focus on excess in America has served to anesthetize most of us to the primordial wildness latent in its citizenry, but I believe exuberantly created art–wildness packaged–is a medium that can allow us access to the untamed in ourselves and others, or as David Mitchell says, “Imagination is what makes art fertile.

Death by Cake? Image by Scott Hove.
Death by Cake? Image by Scott Hove.

Which brings me to cake. No, I’m not suggesting you shove an entire cake down your gullet because your Id urges you on. Even Thoreau, the quintessential penny-pincher, enjoyed a modicum of excess. When his mother served him a hefty slice of her homemade cake, I imagine he appreciated a nice crumb and even icing.

For anyone who’s tried their hand at cake baking, you know it’s not always easy to create an fancy cake. While I’ve begun to master frosted two- and three-layer cakes, the tube and molded cake continues to elude me. As I noted in an earlier post, lining you flat-bottomed cake pans with parchment paper makes a huge difference in preventing the layers from cracking when removing them from the pan, but parchment paper has never worked for me when I’ve papered bundt or molded pans. I end up with a weirdly shaped cake product, and since I rarely frost a bundt cake, my ineptitude sits atop the cake platter for all to see.

cake tricks
Image Credit: Bimbo Mechanics.

Below you’ll find a few great methods for keeping your cake in shape:

1. My favorite cake baker, Elizabeth over at Savory Salty Sweet shared this tried and true cake-saving strategy:

I credit most of the bundt cake release secret to the fact that I am a very thorough and precise greaser-and-flourer (though I am fairly certain that “flourer” is not actually a word). I always grease my cake pans with butter (not oil or shortening), and I take special care to flour them along every greased inch. The second key to making sure you cakes release properly is to always allow them to cool in their still-hot pan for at least 10 minutes. Trying to release a cake from its pan when everything is piping hot from the oven is almost impossible. You want to give the cake time to settle into itself, and when it is super hot, the structure of the cake is far too loose to hold its shape.

It’s worked for her every time. I suspect my failure with this technique has much to do with my impatience. I tend to rush through the greasing and flouring phase.

2. Another cake release technique worth trying is the “steam” treatment; and

3. If you’re willing to be thorough in cake pan prep, there’s the “aluminum foil” treatment.

cooking light fluted cake
Image by Cooking Light.

Do you have a nifty trick to removing cakes from their pans without maiming them? I can use all the help I can get.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Cathy says:

    Interesting methods! I’ve never had problems with the grease and flour method. But I do get impatient sometimes letting the cake cool down. Once a swiss roll cake cracked when rolling it – for that very reason. Patience is a virtue, they say!

    1. gwynnem says:

      So true on the patience part. I’m not the best at patience when it comes to homemade cakes. 🙂

  2. Katherine says:

    I was once a master cake maker in my youth while enrolled in cake decorating through 4-H. I also used the grease and flour method every time and had no problems!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Is this Katherine P., my Denver yoga and Parks and Rec gal pal? If so, you need to come on over and help me get this tube cake pan in order!

      1. Katherine says:

        It is I, your Denver gal pal!

  3. gwynnem says:

    Oh! And if any of you have advice on how to deal with tube cake or bundt cake pans when you make cakes that use berries, I’ll be forever in your debt. Of all the cakes that have failed, my bundt cakes featuring berries well… “take the cake” on failing.

  4. Excellent post! Love the Death by Cake image 🙂
    I love bundt cakes, but I am not good at baking them. I wish I could help more 🙂

    1. gwynnem says:

      I do like to find “killer” images on the internet. ;P

  5. Generally a generous layer of butter and flour works for me as far as greasing goes. For bundt cake pans with all the nooks and crannies– I give it a lengthy spritz of cooking spray. As for the berry thing, I’m not certain but if the reason why it’s sticking more is because the berries are heavy and sink to the bottom (only to have their sugars caramelize and stick to the pan), I know that tossing the berries in a bit of flour prior to adding them into the mixture works to prevent them from sinking to the bottom. So perhaps that could also prevent them from getting to the edges and sticking?

    1. gwynnem says:

      That’s an excellent tip for the berries. The sinking to the bottom of the pan has been the problem for me. Thank you!

  6. Oh! It requires patience on the greasing/flouring front… darn it! Looks like I’ll have to take my bundt pan out of its hiding place and work on the meditative process.

    1. gwynnem says:

      I’m with you on the patience, but it seems as if it could pay off in the long run.

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