Chocolate Cake Nightmare!

Decorating By Crazy4Bay Updated 10 Jul 2010 , 3:28am by leafO

Crazy4Bay Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 3:56pm
post #1 of 14

I'm so exhausted and frustrated I might collapse! I've been taking the Wilton classes - I finished Basic and am one class into Flowers & Cake Design. My baking skill is pretty good to begin with, so it's really the decorating that I'm learning at this point.

My favorite chocolate cake recipe is the Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate cake...the one on the back of the cocoa tin. I've made it a hundred times and always get excellent results. This is the cake in question today.

Tomorrow is my sister's 25th anniversary. We're throwing a surprise party for them. 6 weeks ago I offered to make the cake, thinking that I ought to have enough skill to pull of a cake for family by the time the party arrived. I'm already pretty nervous about being able to pull it off. Then the chocolate cake issue through my anxiety into overdrive.

I'm doing three tiers - 10", 8" and 6". The top and bottom are the aforementioned chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache. The 8" is a yellow butter cake with strawberry cream filling. The 8" is turning out just fine - my only fear there is keeping it cold enough for the filling to keep its form.

I started baking cakes earlier this week. For some reason, the chocolate cakes first of all took about 15 minutes longer to cook. The tester was clean, the top bounced back. They looked good coming out of the oven (I did a 10 and a 6 in the oven). I turned my attention to them again after 10 minutes to get them out of the pans. Both had sunken in the middle and shrunk away from the sides so bad that they didn't even have a shape any more. Into the garbage they went. I had enough batter to make my other 10 inch layer, so I popped it in. It took almost an hour to cook. When I took this one out, same thing, but it didn't shrink/sink as badly and I kept it, thinking that it wouldn't be too misshapen after being torted & layered with another 10".

Last night, I rebaked the cakes. I used baking strips this time along with the flower nail hoping it would help. Everything looked great, then it just deflated like a sad balloon. Down to about 1/4" high. It looks like a tart. The 6" turned out decent enough so I kept that one. I tried to think of anything that was different. I realized I did buy the baking spray to use instead of greasing & flouring. So I nixed that and greased/floured. Baked the 6". It turned out pretty decent but still shrank a little bit.

Bolstered, I baked yet another 10" this morning and greased/floured the pans. It looked gorgeous in the oven. Still took about 50 minutes before the tester was clean & cake bounced back. Low and behold, when I turned to take it out of the pan, the SOB collapsed again! When I flipped it out, it was incredibly moist/dense, but it did not look underdone. The sides were very crumbly and the cake was quite heavy. Again, tester was clean (I poked it around in a couple of spots near the center & it came out clean in all spots). I cooled it for a while and popped it in the freezer while I torted/filled/crumb coated all the other cakes.

I leveled/torted/filled the bottom 10" layer and it seemed fine. I took the new 10" out of the freezer. I was concerned with the crumbly sides so I decided not to torte it. It leveled okay. When I put the cake lifter under it to slide it onto the bottom layer, it was HEAVY. Definitely didn't slide as easily as other cakes. I managed to get it on & crumb coat. I stuck it in the freezer to try to get it to hold its shape a little more solidly before I put a final coat on.

I just don't know what I'm doing wrong with these cakes! I have an oven thermometer - I monitor the temp, I don't open the oven to check until 35 minutes have passed...I don't understand why this week they aren't coming out! I'm also worried about that heavy 10" layer. Is it just super moist? Could it be underdone, even though the tester was clean? I'm feeling a lot of pressure to get this right tomorrow, and I'm feeling like my first big cake is going to be my first big fail.

Two of my three layers are waiting to be smoothed and then I'm planning to do a diamond impression with silver dragees, a silver ribbon border on the bottom and just white roses on top with a silver '25' (I made the roses yesterday so at least they're done). I thought it was a simple design to try, but now my confidence is shaken and I'm thinking I was way overambitious.

Phew, sorry for the novel...I just needed to get that off my chest before I dive back into the fray! icon_cry.gif

13 replies
CakeMakar Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:12pm
post #2 of 14

Sorry I can't help you, but I feel your pain. I hate when "tried and true" recipes don't work for some odd reason. Oven's right, conditions all seem the same, not raining or super hot, and for some reason it just comes out funny.
I love the chocolate butter cake on Smitten Kitchen's blog, if you want to try another.

indydebi Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:13pm
post #3 of 14

That's the only scratch cake I can make, so I share your confusion on what happened. It's usually so foolproof!

carmijok Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:19pm
post #4 of 14

What's the weather like in your area? I worked at a bakery and when she had to do chocolate cakes we stressed if the weather was rainy or humid because she would ALWAYS have issues with the cake--either sinking or sticking. But only the chocolate ones. Never mind that the bakery itself was cool inside. On days like that she would overfill her pans...yes there was run-off but she got enough rise to be able to level the cake and not deal with a sunken depression in the middle. Don't know why that was, but weather might be affecting your outcome. Good luck!

Crazy4Bay Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:24pm
post #5 of 14

Maybe that's it - we've had five days of high 90s here - with the humidity it's more like 100. My house has A/C, but maybe there are air pressure changes at work or something. My yellow butter cake turned out quite nice, so perhaps chocolate cake and high humidity/heat outside don't mix. Thanks for that tip - I'm going to try another one after the heat wave breaks and see how it turns out.

2SchnauzerLady Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:26pm
post #6 of 14

Have you checked the expiration dates on your baking soda/powder (Sorry, can't remember which is in the cake)?

matthewkyrankelly Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 4:41pm
post #7 of 14

The weather is horrendous up here! My pool is 92F. The lake is 85F. Ugh!

I use this recipe too for chocolate. It is usually foolproof. I would buy new baking powder, just in case, and rebake. Use the strips and the nails. Mine sometimes go longer too. Double check your oven temp or maybe bake it next door icon_smile.gif .

Good luck

Vkandis Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 5:36pm
post #8 of 14

From your description of the 10 inch at least it sounds like the structure of the cake is not enough to support it. While the cake may rise nicely in the oven while baking, if it the structure of the cake is not strong enough it will collapse. The catch is it could be due to a number of issues.

While others have cited potential issues, it could also be due to too much leavening. So how you have too much leavening? Not because you mismeasured but because you have too much leavening in the batter for the pan the cake is being baked in.

So the recipe produces enough batter for you to make two 8 in. rounds or one 10 in. round so it should work right? Well here is the problem the larger the pan the further the distance from the sides to the center of the cake. Thus the structural dynamics of a 8 in. round are not the same as a 10 in. round. In this case the larger the cake the stronger the structure needs to be.

Why would you have a weaker structure? Because the leavening that produces a sufficient structure for an 8 in round is too much for the 10 in round making its structure weaker and thus prone to sink. Larger cakes require less baking powder per cup of flour in order to produce a sufficient structure.

Ill give you an example from the Cake Bible. In the section on producing a 3 tier chocolate cake Barenbaum provides 2 recipes based on the sides of the rounds. The recipe for two six inch rounds and two nine inch rounds called for 3 tablespoons of baking powder for 4 ¾ cups flour (no baking soda in this recipe). The recipe for two 12 inch rounds calls for 5 ½ cups of flour and but only 2 tablespoons + 2 ¾ teaspoons baking powder.

Yes the two recipes produce different volumes of batter but notice even though the flour increased for the 12 inch rounds the amount of baking powder decreased (it did not increase proportionally). Thus for the larger rounds the ratio of flour to baking soda is less than it is for the smaller rounds.

If you want to give it another try, the suggestion offered by professional bakers is to decrease the baking powder in a recipe. Barenbaums suggestion is try decreasing it ¼ of a tsp. The Herseys recipe does use both baking soda and baking powder (if I have the right recipe). But in recipes with both baking powder tends to do most the leavening which is why you would try decreasing it.

The catch is there is no hard and fast rule for how much to decrease itit could be too much of a decrease. There is no guarantee that ¼ tsp decrease in baking powder will produce the sufficient structure, you have to try and adjust.

indydebi Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 5:38pm
post #9 of 14

vkandis, very educational post! thumbs_up.gif

Crazy4Bay Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 6:15pm
post #10 of 14

Wow, thank you, Vkandis! I really appreciate your insight. I never knew leavening should be adjusted for pan size. I did know that too much could cause a sink, but did not know that you should use less for a larger pan. I can't wait to try again with less baking powder and see if it helps! icon_biggrin.gif

carmijok Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 8:40pm
post #11 of 14
Originally Posted by indydebi

That's the only scratch cake I can make, so I share your confusion on what happened. It's usually so foolproof!

Since this the same chocolate recipe you use, have you ever had similar problems with leavening when using larger pans? (this is the best chocolate cake recipe around BTW)
Experimenting can get to be pretty expensive! icon_eek.gif

goodiegoddess Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 9:03pm
post #12 of 14

I make this recipe as well, both cupcake and cake. Just a thought, if I am in a rush and don't let it mix as long the cupcakes often sink in the middle. I find this cake is very "mixer" friendly soooo, if you rebake I would try leaving it to mix a little longer after you have added the water.

Hope this helps

Vkandis Posted 9 Jul 2010 , 11:28pm
post #13 of 14
Originally Posted by Crazy4Bay

Wow, thank you, Vkandis! I really appreciate your insight. I never knew leavening should be adjusted for pan size. I did know that too much could cause a sink, but did not know that you should use less for a larger pan. I can't wait to try again with less baking powder and see if it helps! icon_biggrin.gif

My pleasure, trying to hone my meager decorating skills -- have my first Wilton class tomorrow but have spent some time trying to learn the "science" of baking. Hope it helps. thumbs_up.gif

leafO Posted 10 Jul 2010 , 3:28am
post #14 of 14

I use that recipe for my chocolate cakes too, it's so moist and yummy. It's so moist though that it can have problems keeping it's structure in larger cakes. I have had problems at times in the past with it falling in the middle even though it tests done. Since then I played with the recipe a bit and now I always add 1/3 cup more flour or reduce the water by 1/4 cup. I found it also helps to add a tsp of meringue powder to the liquid ingredients.

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