Cake tins after being lined

Cake & Pastry

What Makes a Cake Rise

One of the biggest frustrations bakers experience is having a cake that flattens and sinks in the middle. Not only do these cakes look less attractive, but the deflation also affects the cake’s taste.

There are some things you can do that will make your cake fluffy and high. The best way to get a cake to rise is to make it from scratch. When you make a cake with fresh ingredients, you’ll use baking soda or baking powder, which causes the batter to rise. Other techniques will also make a cake high and light.

Keep reading to learn what makes a cake rise. We’ll also explain common reasons why a cake doesn’t rise. The ingredients and the processes you use will affect your cake’s ability to rise.

What Makes a Cake Rise

Cake batter contains multiple ingredients. Before you cook your cake, the batter will be a liquid. As the mixture bakes, it starts to take the shape of the pan, increasing in size. An ideal cake will be light and fluffy. Dense cakes will taste dry and heavy. 

Multiple things can affect the way the cake rises (or fails to rise) and therefore tastes. If you’ve experienced a cake falling flat in the middle, you may need to adjust your process. Here are some factors that will affect the way a cake rises.

Ingredients

When you make a cake, the texture will depend on the ingredients you add to your mix. For the cake to rise and have an airy texture, you’ll need to include a leavener and ensure the ingredients are well incorporated using a stand mixer or KitchenAid. There are three types of leaveners – chemical, steam, and biological. Cakes require chemical leavening agents rather than biological ones, such as yeast, which is useful for baking bread.

Baking soda and baking powder are two types of chemical leaveners that act as rising agents. When combined with the starch, usually flour, these two ingredients create tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. As the batter cooks, these bubbles expand, making the cake rise.

Flour causes the batter to thicken. Most flour contains gluten, which is what allows the cake to form its structure. Gluten occurs as you mix the wet and dry ingredients, flour, leaveners, and sugar. Sugar adds flavor, breaks down gluten, so the cake stays light, and helps the batter turn brown. 

Cakes also need a source of fat that will affect the gluten and keep the texture moist. Oil, butter, or shortening work the best to produce a tender cake. Eggs also provide a fat source, plus lecithin, an emulsifier that blends water and fat evenly for a smooth texture. 

Mixing

For a cake mixture to form the gluten needed to maintain its structure, you have to mix the flour with the liquid. How you mix your cake will affect the texture. 

When you overmix cake batter, it will cause the texture to become dense and heavy. Instead of melting in your mouth, the mixture will taste dry and crumbly. Instead of mixing, consider folding the ingredients together. This process keeps the batter aerated.

How you combine your fat ingredient (butter or shortening) with sugar – creaming – will also affect the way your cake rises. It’s essential to have a smooth mixture without separation. The process of creaming using a hand mixer adds air to the mixture. 

Without the proper aeration, your cake will fall flat. Butter should be at room temperature before mixing with sugar. Cold butter will not cream appropriately because the crystals of the sugar cannot blend smoothly. But butter that’s too soft, such as using a microwave, will cause the mixture to be too runny to blend. 

Eggs are an excellent ingredient for making cakes fluffy. Some types of cakes won’t need a leavener if you use eggs. Other cakes require eggs beaten and added one at a time. Some recipes require the yolks and the whites beaten separately. 

Each recipe should give the specifics on beating the eggs and whether they need to be cold or room temperature. Using too many eggs or doing them wrong can cause your cake to fall flat and taste dense.

Altitude

Where you live can also affect the way your cake rises. The air pressure is lower at high altitudes. If you’re experiencing cakes that are dry and crumbly and you live above 3,500 feet sea level, you may need to adjust your recipe.

The lower air pressure causes cakes to rise higher, making the liquids evaporate faster, leaving the cake dry and dense. 

There are a few things to try to solve this issue. First, set the oven to 375 instead of 350. You’ll also want to increase the amount of liquid ingredients by two tablespoons per cup. 

Reduce one tablespoon of sugar (per cup), ⅛ teaspoon from each teaspoon of baking powder, and five minutes from cooking.

Age of Ingredients

When baking a cake, you want to use ingredients that have not expired. This tip is especially true for leaveners. Once baking soda or baking powder expires, it will not react appropriately, resulting in a dense cake that falls flat instead of rising.

Using stale flour can cause your cake to taste old and dense. Many people get confused about the expiration of flour. Flour can last anywhere from three to eight months, depending on storage and type. In rare cases, moldy flour can cause dangerous levels of mycotoxin compounds.

Attempting to determine flour’s freshness by referring to the expiration or best-by date printed on the package can be deceptive. If you store your flour in a cool, dry place in an airtight container, you can continue to use flour past the date on the label. 

Good flour will have a neutral scent, even past the best-by date. If you notice a sour smell or if the flour has started to clump, discolor, or grow mold, do not use it. Wet flour can often attract insects. Always examine old flour before using it.

Why Did My Cake Not Rise

Most bakers have experienced a cake that doesn’t rise properly. Instead of having an even, flat surface to ice and decorate, you’re stuck with a cake that has high sides and a sunken middle. 

One reason that cakes don’t rise properly is if the batter sets too fast while cooking. Once the edges get fixed, the cake will not rise any higher. If you notice the edges setting after you’ve put it in the oven, reduce the temperature 15 to 25 degrees. Increase the cooking time if needed.

Another option is to wrap the sides of the pan with insulated baking strips or aluminum foil. This barrier will allow the cake to rise higher because the edges don’t set. 

Not following the recipe is also a significant reason that cakes don’t rise properly. If you don’t use the right amount of each ingredient or prepare the cake using the correct steps, your cake can fail to rise. Always use the proper types of ingredients and prepare them according to the recipe. Items like butter and eggs may need to be at room temperature.

The final answer for why did my cake not rise is not using enough batter in the cake tin. Once you fill your cake pans, the batter should cover the pan at least halfway to three-quarters. You may have to mix up more than one batch of batter to fill one pan or use a smaller size. When there’s not enough batter in your pan, the cake won’t become light or fluffy.

In Closing

Cakes rise due to the chemical reaction when leaveners like baking soda or baking powder mix with the starch and liquid ingredients. Leavers produce carbon dioxide bubbles that add air to the batter, creating a light texture. Multiple things can cause a cake to fall flat or fail to rise. Try our tips to get cakes that rise properly and taste great.