People often say cooking is art and baking is science, and this is often true. Just like if your experiment goes wrong in a lab, there is often some variable that is overlooked that leads to the same issue occurring again and again.
This is very much true with baking as well, it’s likely one small thing that may be causing a specific issue, and it can be hard to find the issue without a nuanced understanding of baking or food science.
One particular issue that is very common for the home baker is finding that their cake has a hard top or has exhibited some large cracks on top. If you are trying to make a pretty cake this can be a frustrating issue.
In this article we will cover why this happens as well as how to overcome this issue. Keep reading to find out.
What Causes A Crack Or Hard Top?
There is ultimately one reason why these cracks can occur, and also hard tops, and require an understanding of what is happening to the cake while it cooks. Once you understand what causes these cracks to occur, it can be easier to understand the solutions.
When we apply heat to anything, whether cooking a cake in the oven, or frying chicken, the interior of the food item will always cook slower than the exterior of the food item.
This is why you can often end up with chicken that’s raw in the middle, because the interior hasn’t had a chance to cook.
A cake is the same, the outside cooks much faster than the inside. When the outside becomes cooked it often moves from its more wet state to a dry state, but the interior of the cake may not be fully cooked.
The interior of the cake continues to expand as it cooks and causes the already cooked exterior to crack as the uncooked interior expands as it cooks, causing cracks in the surface of the cake.
If the outside, or top, of your cake is hard this is also because the exterior of the cake has been cooked too quickly.
How To Stop Cakes From Cracking?
The variable that controls the cooking of the cake, of any food item, is always temperature. For example, if your chicken is raw in the middle it’s because your pan is too hot and the outside looks cooked when the interior has not even had a chance to cook.
The same is true for a cake. If cracks are forming on the top of your cake it’s likely a result of your oven being too hot.
If your oven is too hot it will cook the exterior quite quickly and not give the interior of the cake a chance to cook, causing the interior of the cake to push through the already cooked exterior as it expands.
The solution to this is to achieve an even bake, to get the interior of the cake and exterior to cook at similar times.
How To Achieve An Even Bake?
There are a few tricks to achieve an even bake that are as obvious as reducing the oven’s temperature to more nuanced signals that a cake is ready to be pulled from the oven.
Know Your Oven
How can my oven be too hot when it’s at the temperature suggested in the recipe?
It should be stated that not all ovens are made the same. You could set three different ovens on 400 F and they could all actually achieve slightly different temperatures and cooking results.
This is often to do with the age of the oven, how it heats up the oven, and various other factors like room temperature.
This means we need to not follow time requirements so religiously on a recipe, they are more of a guideline.
Try setting your timer a little earlier than the recipe recommends if you feel your oven is hotter than others, and pull your cake before these cracks form.
Use Your Other Ways To Test When A Cake Is Done
Rather than religiously relying on a recipe, use your own judgment, and particularly your senses. If you can smell burning, your cake is probably burning. If you can see cracks forming, then it’s time to take it out.
Equally there are other ways to know when a cake is done. Using a toothpick, knife, or any thin item, place this into the center of your cake, not the very bottom, and look at it when you pull it out.
If the toothpick is wet then the middle of the cake may not be cooked, if it is dry then the middle of the cake will be cooked.
Preempt Your Cake Being Cooked
Certain food items will retain even and continue to cook even when out of the oven, a cake is very much the same.
If you use the toothpick method and the cake is a little wet in the middle, but the exterior looks cooked, pull it out and let it sit for a few minutes.
While the middle of the cake may not be cooked when you check, by the time you pull the cake from the oven it may be cooked perfectly by the time you take it from the pan and cut it.
Other Causes Of A Cracked Or Hard Top
It can be worth checking your oven setting. Cakes should be cooked on a fan and in the middle of an oven.
Some ovens have a setting that uses both the fan and broiler at the same time, or you may have the ovens set to broiler on its own. A broiler provides heat from the top only so it will not provide an evenly cooked cake.
Equally, the highest shelf in the oven will be the hottest, try putting your cake lower down, ideally in the middle, in order to get this even bake.
Letting your cake rest is also really important, if you try to remove your cake from the pan without letting it cool you could cause cracks on the cake, let it cool before removing.
The cause of a cracked top or hard top is most commonly to do with temperature. Your oven is likely too hot, or you are leaving the cake in the oven for too long.
Try pulling the cake earlier and relying on your sense to know when a cake is cooked, rather than blindly following a recipe. The cause could also be as simple as having your oven on the wrong setting.