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I have been baking cakes for years, scratch and boxed, but recently, when I take my cakes out of the oven, they start to fall. In the oven they rise so nice, but when I take the pan out to cool the cake, it immediately starts shrinking. What is happening? I am using the same Wilton pans that I have always used.
If you’re baking the same recipes the same way you always have, with the same equipment, and you haven’t altered the ingredients involved, the problem is more than likely your oven. If the temperature is too high the cake will rise and fill up with hot air like a balloon, and its exterior will set too quickly. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, the cake’s crumb will develop unevenly, and it won’t set firmly enough to support itself. Even if the cake passes the toothpick test, once the hot air inside cools down the cake will deflate as its flimsy crumb collapses under the weight of that beautifully cooked top.
The good news is that your oven is not trying to gaslight you—it might just be getting old. Anytime you preheat your oven you’re not actually heating it to an exact degree, but rather a general temperature range that can fluctuate during the baking process. If you’re baking something at 350 degrees, your oven might crank up the temp to 380, turn off the heating element, and coast downward to 320 before kicking on again. After years of going from hot to cold thousands upon thousands of times, your oven’s components begin to wear down and might not be able to register or hold temperatures with the same sort of accuracy it had when it was shiny and new. Your oven is not intentionally ruining your cakes; it’s just gradually breaking down as it gets older, as we all do. To fix the problem, buy yourself a sturdy oven thermometer that will keep you up to speed on what’s really happening in your oven, so you can adjust your settings as necessary.