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Frequently Asked Questions - Cakes

We have a nice pound cake formula but lately we have had a severe problem with shrinkage and a gummy streak near the bottom of the cake. I know that we bake the cakes long enough and my bakers are more careful than ever when they remove the cakes from the oven, but nothing seems to eliminate this problem.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Suprisingly, it is often associated with how gentle you handle the cakes after removing them from the oven. You may wish to try "bouncing" or dropping the cake slightly immediately after removing from the oven, which "sets" the crumb and prevents the severe shrinkage and the gummy "sad streak" in the cakes. Also, an increase in the first stage of the conventional mixing method will significantly reduce this problem.

My layer cakes have a very coarse and open grain structure near the top center. How can I eliminate this problem? When I reduce the water in the formula, I get a "dip' in the center.

The clue to the answer is in the last statement of your question. You need more liquids in your batter. There is not enough moisture available for the starch to properly swell and to partially gelatinize. Increase the water in your cake formula in increments of 10% (flour basis) until you get the uniform grain you desire. Too much water will reduce the cake volume and may cause the layers to peak in the center.

I used to make nice layer cakes. Lately I noticed that many times the layer cakes have an open and coarse texture near the top center.

The top center is the last part of the cake to bake. When you add too little water to the batter, the last part of the batter to bake will develop this open and coarse texture. Increase your liquids by about 10% (based on flour) and you should see a significant improvement.

I have run into a problem with moldy cakes. What can I do to the formula to eliminate or to reduce this problem? My customers do not want me to use a chemical preservative.

There is nothing you can do to the formula to prevent mold growth without changing the cakes significantly. Your problem is not the cake. Your problem is coming from other sources; your cakes are sterile when they leave the oven. Check on the following sources for contamination with mold spores:

  1. Dirty oven pads or gloves.
  2. Dirty cooling racks.
  3. Fan moving outside air into the bakery.
  4. Open windows or doors, even when screens are used.
  5. Mold growing on surfaces inside the bakery where moisture condenses, like freezer doors, refrigerator doors, air conditioning ducts, behind sinks.

Packaging cakes (uniced) while still warm may cause condensation of moisture inside the package, which will promote the growth of mold spores present. The problem can possibly be alleviated through changed Aw (water activity) of the cake through major formula modifications. Refer to AIB Technical Bulletin Volume VII, No. 9, September, 1985 for suggestions.

Is there any special problem in freezing of cheesecake? What is the normal storage life of the frozen product?

Cheesecake can be frozen and thawed without noticeable change in appearance, texture, or flavor. Perhaps a storage temperature of OF or lower might be considered a special requirement. A temperature of OF is probably adequate if a storage period of not longer than 2-3 months is anticipated. In order to retain acceptability for 9 months, a temperature of -15F is necessary. Storage times beyond 9 months are of questionable desirability.

My cheesecakes develop deep cracks in the center after they have been removed from the oven.

Many cheesecakes today are really custards. This means that their structure depends on the egg content and their proper denaturation through heat. With today's trend to produce larger and higher cheesecakes and to bake them without the benefit of a water pan, these cakes tend to overbake at the edge before the center of the cake has reached the temperature necessary to coagulate the eggs. This can easily be determined by cutting the cake through the center. If the center has a smooth and creamy texture, the cake is not properly baked and will tend to form deep cracks upon cooling. An overbaked cake will be tough and cracks may form close to the periphery of the cake.

What causes brownies to blister during baking?

The crust of brownies will cause blisters when the egg content is too high and the sugar content is too low. This phenomenon is observed primarily with the cake-type brownies, which have a lower sugar/flour ratio than the fudge-type brownies.

My brownies are too much like cake. I like them to be more chewy.

A brownie with a cake texture is generally formulated with cake flour (chlorinated) and it contains too little sugar or corn syrup. A good "fudgy" brownie is made with unbleached flour and with 2% to 3 times the flour weight of sweeteners. As more of the sweetener is in the form of regular corn syrup, the less sweet and the more "fudgy" the brownie will be. Since the flour starch will not gelatinize in the presence of so much sugar (this is the reason for a fudgy brownie), it is easy to overbake and to dry out such a brownie.

A problem of "volcanic" appearance on the frosting of frozen baked goods (cakes) that has been referred to as "sucrose hydrate" has been encountered. What causes this problem on frozen cake icings and what can be done to prevent the condition from developing?

The phenomenon referred to as "sucrose hydrate" that causes a "volcanic" or "moonscape" appearance on the surface of cake frostings is commonly associated with packaged frosted cakes stored in a freezer where substantial temperature fluctuations occur.

When a packaged frosted cake at ambient temperature or warmer is first placed into a freezer, considerable moisture vapor migrates into the package headspace while the cake freezes. This moisture vapor cools and condenses onto the icing surface where it leaches sucrose from the icing. As the condensate moisture freezes, sugar crystals form and grow on the icing surface. If there is considerable temperature fluctuation in the freezer due, for example, to excessive traffic in and out, there is additional thawing and refreezing of moisture in the package headspace and on the icing surface. This aggravates the problem by leaching more sugar from the icing and accelerating the growth of sugar crystals.

This problem can be retarded by use of higher fat content icing. Prevention of this condition can be achieved by the use of good packaging materials within a minimum of headspace, and by conducting the freezing and frozen storage of frosted cakes in a freezer where there is a minimum traffic flow and temperature fluctuation. (Courtesy of Refrigeration Research Foundation).

The layers in our marble cake separate after baking. What are some of the causes for this condition?

The separation of the yellow or white layer from the chocolate or devils food in marble cake is generally related to differences in batter specific gravity, moisture content, and/or batter temperatures for the two systems. When these conditions are similar for both batters, separation should not occur when baked.

What causes occasional color changes in chocolate cakes?

Chocolate cake color is very sensitive to variations in batter pH, which is the result of interactions of various ingredients and variations in pH of these ingredients. In general, the color of cocoa will vary from cinnamon brown at pH 5.0 to a chocolate brown at pH 7.0 and a mahogany at pH 7.5. This change is a result of indicators in the cocoa which change from yellow in acid to red in alkaline medium. Factors that affect pH include cocoa and chocolate ingredients, eggs, flour, and leavening ingredients. Normally, the proper pH can be obtained in chocolate cakes by adjusting the baking soda level to obtain the desired pH.

Our butter pound cake occasionally develops light spots on an otherwise smooth, golden brown crust. What could cause this condition?

An oven that is too hot during the early baking stage can cause premature release of the leavening, producing small blisters which collapse and form light spots on the crust. A warm batter, such as one that might be produced during a hot weather spell, if temperatures are not checked and adjusted properly, can cause the same condition.

For more information:
Telephone: 785-537-4750 or 800-633-5137
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