What’s wrong with my cake? 14 common baking problems fixed!

Is your cake just not doing what you want it to do? Has it not cooked properly? Is it just that little bit too dry? Well, if your answer to all those questions is yes then you've come to the right place...

Pumpkin sponge cake cut into slices with powdered sugar on top
(Image credit: Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

What's wrong with my cake? When cakes don't go to plan, this is the question every baker from amateur to expert asks themselves. 

But while some problems are obvious, like cakes that are sunken in the middle or burnt, others aren't identifiable until you take the first bite. Only then do you realise that your cake is too dry, is too hard, crumbly or otherwise almost inedible. By which time, it's probably too late to do anything about the problem.

Whether you're making Mary Berry's famous lemon drizzle or a Black Forest cake, we're here to get your baking back on track with 14 common baking problems and how to solve them.

What's wrong with my cake?

My cake didn't rise

What's wrong with my cake? My cake didn't rise and is as flat as a pancake.

Can I fix it? It’s not always possible to fix a cake which hasn’t risen, as the most common cause of a flat cake is missing ingredients or over-mixing in the preparation process. Raising agents, like baking powder or self-raising flour, are essential in cake baking, as they react with moisture to release gas bubbles which cause the cake to rise in the oven. If these ingredients are missing, the cake will remain flat and airless, like a brownie or a cookie. 

However, if you have forgotten to add your raising agent, you can still salvage your bake and make it into something edible. As long as it’s still reasonably soft, spongy and not overcooked, you can cut it into chunks and top with homemade buttercream or icing to make mini cupcakes.

If you’re sure you have remembered all of your ingredients, it’s possible that your cake hasn’t risen because you haven’t given it long enough in the oven. Double-check your recipe and leave your cake to bake until it rises. Make sure your oven is definitely set to a high enough temperature, and try not to open the oven door too much during the cooking process, otherwise your sponge may sink.

Some tricky cake batters can collapse when they have been over-mixed, for example, genoese sponge, meringue batter, and angel cake mix. Make sure not to over-mix when handling delicate sponge, and avoid sudden movements that may knock the air out of the mixture.

What to do next time?

  • Remember to add your baking powder next time.
  • If you've chosen a complicated recipe, swap it for something simpler like a classic chocolate sponge.
  • Make sure your baking tin is the right size - if it's too big the mixture won't rise enough to fill it.
  • And last but not least, don't over whisk your mix. Once your ingredients are combined, that's it - stop whisking and get baking!

My cake is greasy

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is really shiny and greasy and I have no idea why.

Can I fix it? Greasy cakes are normally just the product of too much butter or fat being used to coat the cake tin. When the mixture is in the lined tin in the oven, the fat fries the sponge so cakes can often come out crispy around the edges or a little greasy on top.

If your cake is just a little greasy on the outside, it's totally safe to eat. Leave as it is or turn your basic cake into a drizzle cake, such as a Jaffa drizzle cake or Rosewater drizzle cake, with icing to hide the shine.

If your cake is greasy all the way through, this is also likely to be because of the butter - but the butter actually used in the cake. If butter is too soft when you're creating the cake mixture, the additional heat created from beating the mixture will turn the butter oily which, in turn will give you an oily cake. Over-beating the batter too quickly and vigorously can also cause the same issue.

These cakes are also fine to eat but if it's soggy all the way through, there's not a lot you can do to save it. When you come round to make the cake again, be sure to measure out your butter and all other ingredients carefully, to avoid adding too much. Make sure you whisk the mixture enough to combine the ingredients but not too much so that you create additional heat in the mixture.

What to do next time?

  • Be sure to measure out your butter carefully.
  • Make sure you whisk the mixture properly.
  • Don't leave your butter out on the side at room temperature for too long - it will start to sweat and become greasy, which could be a big contributor to the problem.
  • Keep your butter at a good temperature and follow the recipe.

My cake is stuck in the tin

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is stuck and doesn't want to move from the tin.

Can I fix it? This is an easy problem to fix. Just run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake, between the cake and the baking tin. Give it a little pat around the edges and on the bottom too. Leave it to stand for a little while - don't attempt to get it out of the tin when it's scorching hot. Let it sit for 15 minutes or more.

To tip your cake out, pop on your oven gloves. Hold the tin with one oven glove, cradle the top of the cake with your other hand and tip it upside down. Tap around the edges until it falls onto your hand, then flip it the right way up and pop onto a cooling rack.

If it's a major disaster and your cake has not kept its shape, don't worry. You can let the crumbled up pieces of cake cool and add them to ice cream to make a sundae, or turn then into the layer at the bottom of a trifle, or mash them up and make cake pops.

What's wrong with my cake?

  • Next time you're making a cake remember to grease your baking tin before adding the mix.
  • Use butter, oil or non-stick and cover your tin in greaseproof paper, parchment or tin foil instead - any of these methods will save the day!

My cake is burnt

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is burnt.

Can I fix it? If it’s ridiculously burnt, and by ridiculous we mean black beyond saving then bin it – you don’t want to get an upset stomach eating burnt cake. But if it’s just a little crispy around the edges but is soft on the inside then cut off the edges, using a rigged bread knife. Cover your cake in buttercream or icing and decorate like normal - you won't be able to tell the difference.

What to do next time?

  • Make sure you bake your cake at the right temperature and pre-heat the oven properly. If it's too hot the cake will cook too quickly and burn on top.
  • If your cake is not cooked, but is starting to brown on top, cover it in tin foil or baking parchment. This will make sure the centre continues to cook but the outside doesn't.
  • Keep an eye on it and check it every 5-7 mins until done.

My cake is raw

What's wrong with my cake? I've just baked my cake for the correct time but it's not cooked at all and it's raw.

Can I fix it? If your cake hasn't even begun to cook, pop it back in the oven. Make sure the oven is on and on the correct temperature too.

If your cake is not cooking in the middle, then put it back into the oven and cover tightly in tin foil. The tin foil will trap the heat and help to cook the inside of your cake. Bake for another 10-15 minutes and check after 5-7 mins to make sure it's working.

Your cake might not look very appetising when it comes out of the oven, so leave it to cool. Then cover the cake in the buttercream to hide the lumps and bumps, if there are any.

What to do next time?

  • Checking oven temperature is key - if it's too low it won't cook and if it's too high it will burn.

My cake mix has split

What's wrong with my cake? I've started to cream my butter and sugar together, along with the egg, and my mixture has started to split.

Can I fix it? Before it splits any more, add in your flour. Fold it with a wooden spoon or mix with an electric hand whisk until combined. The quicker you act the more likely you'll be able to save your mix and stop it from curdling.

What to do next time?

  • You don't have to cream your butter and sugar together, you can use an all in one method instead. For this method, take a look at the recipe for Mary Berry's Victoria sandwich cake.

My cake is too dry

What's wrong with my cake? I've just taken my cake out of the oven and it's extremely dry.

Can I fix it? If your cake is dry to the point of crumbling when you remove it from the tin then turn your cake into cake pops instead. To do this, add some homemade buttercream or candy melts to the mix and mould your cake into balls. If it's a little bit dry but still edible, cover it in a thick layer of buttercream or icing and decorate with moist ingredients like butter, chocolate etc.

What to do next time?

  • Double check how much flour you add to the mix. If you put too much flour in, the wet ingredients will absorb the flour leaving your cake dry and crumbly.
  • Your cake can also end up dry if you don't add enough butter or eggs. Make sure you follow the recipe correctly next time and always double check your oven temperature.

My cake has sunk in the middle

What's wrong with my cake? My cake has sunk in the middle and I don't know why.

Can I fix it? It's not really possible to fix a cake that has sunk in the middle, as the most common reason for this is too much leavening agent - like baking powder. Too much baking powder causes the cake to rise too quickly, as the gas from the baking powder escapes the cake before the mixture has had a chance to cook in the middle. When this happens, the middle of the cake collapses. If your cake has sunk in the middle but is cooked the whole through, then there's not much you can do about it. Just cover the top of your cake with buttercream to disguise the concave in the centre.

If you cake isn't completely cooked, cover it in tin foil and bake for a further 5-10 minutes. Check it again after 10 minutes or so and if it needs longer, bake again. This is unlikely to fix the whole problem but it will make your cake edible, so cover any imperfections with buttercream and icing. To avoid this when you bake again, double check your recipe and make sure to leave your cake to cook in the oven. Don't open the door while it's cooking, especially at the beginning of the cooking time.

What to do next time?

  • Make sure you don't open the oven door whilst your cake is cooking - especially at the beginning.
  • Double check the temperature on your oven and if all else fails, use two baking tins instead of one next time.
  • Cooking two separate sponges and then sandwiching them together will avoid any unwanted caving.

My cake has risen unevenly

What's wrong with my cake? My cake risen on one side but not the other.

Can I fix it? Once your cake has been cooked, cut off the top and level the surface with a large bread knife. You can then cover your cake in fondant or buttercream to hide the cut marks.

What to do next time?

  • Next time you get baking, make sure you whisk your flour properly when you add it to your wet ingredients. If the flour doesn't blend evenly it will make the cake bake uneven.
  • Double check your oven temperature too. If your oven is too hot, this can have an impact or if your oven is not working properly, this can be a tell-tale sign as the heat is not spreading evenly around your machine.

My cake has shrunk

What's wrong with my cake? My cake started off at a good size and now it's shrunk.

Can I fix it? If your cake has shrunk but it cooked the whole way through and looks edible, then eat it. It might not look pretty but we're sure it will still taste good. You could also cut your bake up into cubes and make mini cakes instead.

What to do next time?

  • Always make sure your cake mix is not too cold when it goes in the oven. If you're using lots of ingredients that have been stored in the fridge, it's best to allow them to reach room temperature before combining or before baking.
  • Over-mixing your cake mix can have an impact too, so keep your electric hand whisk on a steady speed and stop whisking when combined.

My cake is too dense

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is too dense and heavy.

Can I fix it? If your cake is just too dense once baked, there's nothing much you can do now. Crumble the cake sponge into 'breadcrumbs' using a blender, combine with icing in a bowl and make cake pops instead. The density helps cake pops stay together so it's perfect, whereas it's not so welcome in traditional cakes. Alternatively, cover it in buttercream icing to give it a bit of moisture, or serve with cream or ice cream to make it taste lighter.

What to do next time?

  • Don't over-beat or whisk when adding your ingredients. If you over-mix, you can loose air and air bubbles which help to create a light, soft sponge.
  • Use the correct flour. If the recipe suggests self-raising flour, use self-raising flour and so on. Opting for the right flour and the right amount will help with the density of your cake.

My cake is crumbly

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is so crumbly, I can't even hold a slice in my hand without it falling apart.

Can I fix it? If your cake is too crumbly to enjoy, you could cover your cake in icing drizzle and disguise the crumbliness with cake decorations instead. Adding moisture like a light buttercream layer or icing will help to hold some of the cake together. Just make sure everyone has a fork or spoon for eating it.

Turning crumbly cake into cake pops is also an easy option, with plenty of recipes out there to teach you the method - from basic cupcake cake pops to toffee apple cake pops.

What to do next time?

  • Make sure your moist ingredients are measured properly. If the recipe says to use eggs, but doesn't say whether large or medium, opt for large next time as medium just might not have been big enough to bring the mixture together and hold it in one form.
  • Make sure you are using the right ingredients too. If it's a specific flour the recipe uses, then opt for that next time. It just might make a difference to your cake.

My cake is hard

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is so hard but it's supposed to be nice and soft. 

Can I fix it? If your cake is hard you may have just overcooked it or over-mixed the mixture when combining ingredients. When flour is combined with liquid after mixing, the gluten in the flour stars to develop. It creates an elastic-like material and traps the air created by leavening agents, such as baking powder, which helps the cake to rise. Over-mixing the cake produces too much gluten and turns your soft cake into a bake more similar to bread. 

To keep your cake tender, don't work your mixture too much. Simply mix with a hand or electric whisk until the ingredients have combined. Most recipes come with mixing times so if yours specifies how long you should mix your batter for, be sure to stick to it.

What to do next time?

  • Make sure you don't over-cook your cake next time. If your cake is cooking on the outside and is browning, but it is still moist on the inside, you should cover in tinfoil and carry on cooking for 5 minutes at a time. Check as you go so you don't overcook it.
  • If you hand mixed your cake ingredients, then you may want to opt for an electric whisk instead.

My cake is too moist

What's wrong with my cake? My cake is so moist, I don't feel like it's cooked properly.

Can I fix it? If your cake is super moist, you may want to pop it back into the oven and give it a bit more time to cook. Cover in tin foil and cook at the same heat as before, but keep checking every 5 minutes until the cake is looking a little less moist.

What to do next time?

  • Some cakes are supposed to be moist so make sure you check the description of the cake before making it, especially if you're not a fan of moist cakes. Opt for more solid cakes like loaf cakes or tray bakes.
  • Check the ingredients. Too much butter or too many eggs can make your cake super moist. If you've not got enough flour to balance this out then your cake can be super moist.

From how to cut a birthday cake to top tips for making kid's birthday cakes, we're here to make baking - not to mention decorating with our easy cake decorating ideas - that little bit easier.

Jessica Dady
Food Editor

Jessica Dady is Food Editor at GoodtoKnow and has over 11 years of experience as a digital editor, specialising in all things food, recipes, and SEO. From the must-buy seasonal food hampers and advent calendars for Christmas to the family-friendly air fryers that’ll make dinner time a breeze, Jessica loves trying and testing various food products to find the best of the best for the busy parents among us. Over the years of working with GoodtoKnow, Jessica has had the privilege of working alongside Future’s Test Kitchen to create exclusive videos - as well as writing, testing, and shooting her own recipes. When she’s not embracing the great outdoors with her family at the weekends, Jessica enjoys baking up a storm in the kitchen with her favourite bakes being chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and a tray of gooey chocolate brownies