Fixing Cake Wrecks — How to Deal with a Burned, Dry, Fallen or Crumbly Cake

Posted by on Jan 14, 2011

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cake wrecks
You can find plenty of hilarious galleries about Cake Wrecks online — those confections filled with sugar and promise that crumble into disposal-ready ruins or are iced into head-shaking infamy. 

Yet when you're faced with a gaggle of hungry mouths and a less than table-ready cake, you'll want a copy of "How to Repair Food" nearby. Authors Tanya ZeryckJohn Bear, and Marina Bear have pulled together a shortlist of quick fixes for most of the major food groups, including cake.

Here's how to repair the treat that makes every meal into an event.
If the cake is fully cooked, either cut away the burned parts and cover the cake with icing (even if you hadn’t intended to), or use a rasp grater to “file” away the burned spots. If the cake’s too small now, slice it into layers and consider using a liqueur to sprinkle on the slices. 

Sandwich it back together with filling or frosting. If the cake is not fully cooked but the top is brown, cut away the browned parts and cover the wounds with a first-aid dressing made from a beaten egg mixed with 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Brush it on with a pastry brush and continue baking (lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F).
Fixing unevenly baked or crumbly cake
Baking Unevenly
If you check your cake while it is baking (and you should, after 15 or 20 minutes) and the edges look done while the center is soggy, lower the temperature by 50 degrees F. You may need to increase the baking time. 

Check again in 15 or 20 minutes (and later, check your oven control against an oven thermometer; it may be off). 

Can’t ice it or slice it: Freeze it. Ice it. Slice it. Thaw it. Go, team, go!
fixing dry or soggy cake
Drying Out
If you intend to use the cake fairly soon, brush some melted butter on the top and sides. This retards drying and also makes it easier to spread the icing on. If the cake is drying out in storage, put something moist in with the cake, underneath the cake cover. The cover should be as airtight as possible. The moistest thing of all is a small glass of water. A slice of apple or orange will do nicely, too. Don’t forget to add water or change slices every two or three days. 

Flat, Soggy, Fallen 
If your cake is flat or soggy, you may have forgotten to put in the baking soda or baking powder. Or perhaps your baking powder had expired. An alternative explanation is that you may have added too much leavening (some is good, but more is not better). Of course, at this point it doesn’t matter why your cake is flat — you still have a flat cake. And sadly, no known remedial measure can correct this problem. (Forget the bicycle-pump idea. That only works in cartoons.) As Escoffier (or perhaps it was Joe at Le Greasy Spoon) said, “The cake shall never rise again.” 

But fallen cake still tastes pretty good, even if it looks dreadful. Use your imagination to come up with an interesting fallen-cake recipe. An obvious choice would be to spread it with jam, chop it up, and top with custard (or even pudding) and whipped cream. Voilà: a trifle! Or try the following.

Apple Moosh (ingredients)

Fallen cake
Sweetened applesauce (canned or homemade)
Whipped cream 

Break the fallen cake into chunks. Mix with applesauce. Serve topped with whipped cream. No one will ever know it wasn’t intentional. Is that too easy? 

OK, you can: 
- Spread jam on the cake before you break it up. 
- Sprinkle sherry or liqueur on the cake before applying the whipped cream. 
- Plump raisins in hot water or warmed rum, drain, and mix in with the applesauce. 

Bubbles in the Batter 
Put the batter in the pan. Hold the pan about 6 inches above the floor. Drop it. Do this three or four times, or until the people from downstairs come up to complain, whichever occurs first. The bubbles will go away and so, if you are lucky, will the people from downstairs. 

Check your cake midway through the baking time. As a rule, if it is going to turn out lopsided because of a defective oven or a tilted kitchen or whatever, turning the cake halfway around midway through the baking process should even it up. Check it again after a few more minutes. Keep turning, if necessary. If a finished cake is lopsided, slice the top flat and turn the cake upside down before frosting. 

Sliding Layers
Make sure the layers are completely cool before icing. If it’s too late, consider sticking skewers vertically through the cake layers to hold them in place until things set. Save a bit of frosting to cover the holes. And remember to remove the skewers before serving. If you don’t have skewers, we’ve seen uncooked spaghetti recommended instead, but if they break off, you’re going to have to come up with a good explanation. Spaghetti cake, anyone? 

Unfortunately, there is no good way to unstale a cake. Fortunately, a lot of dessert recipes work very well, sometimes even better, with stale cake. Check your big cookbooks. We suggest the following two possibilities for stale cake, one chocolate and one vanilla. 

Chocolate Meringue Marvel 

Stale chocolate cake, cut into 1-inch cubes
Egg whites 
Grated coconut or chopped pecans 

Put the cake cubes in a baking dish. You can sprinkle with some sort of liquid, such as simple syrup, juice, or alcohol, but it isn’t necessary. Whip the egg whites until foamy, then add 2 tablespoons sugar per egg white and continue to whip until the whites hold firm peaks (you can do this by hand with a whisk, but it will be infinitely quicker and easier with an electric mixer). Pile the meringue thickly over the cake. Sprinkle with coconut or pecans. Bake in a 300 degrees F oven until the meringue is lightly browned. 

Vanilla Rum Delight 

Stale white cake, cut into 1-inch cubes 
Thick vanilla pudding 
Whipped cream 

Put the cake cubes in a baking dish. 

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon rum for each cup of cake. Spoon the pudding on top and stir into the cake. Chill. Serve with whipped cream. 

Stuck to Cellophane Wrapper 
Packaged iced cakes tend to stick to their wrappers. To avoid that nasty possibility, hold the package under the cold water faucet for 20 to 30 seconds before unwrapping. (This works better if there is water coming out of the faucet.) 

Stuck to Pan 
This is one of the most fertile areas for household hint thinker-uppers. Many techniques have been proposed, and they all have merit: 
1. If the cake is still warm, let it sit for 5 minutes; it will shrink a little and may be easier to remove. 
2. When you remove the pan from the oven, place it on a cloth that you have soaked in cold water and wrung out. 
3. Loosen the edges with a knitting needle rather than a knife, place a wire rack on top of the cake pan, invert the whole works, and tap the bottom of the pan, if necessary, with a spoon. 
4. Wrap the cake and pan in a towel as it comes out of the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes. 
5. If the stuck cake is cold, reheat it for a few minutes. 

Next time, don’t use salted butter to grease the pan; it makes things more likely to stick. Instead, use unsalted butter, shortening, cooking spray, or, in a pinch, oil. But your best bet will be to line the pan with parchment paper, if you have some on hand. 

Stuck to Rolling Pin 
Wait a minute — what are you doing rolling out cake batter?

Photo Credits (top to bottom): Dreamstime;;;; 

Reprinted with permission from "How to Repair Food" by Tanya ZeryckJohn Bear, and Marina Bear, copyright 1998, 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press.

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