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Some time ago, I baked a cake (Sachertorte to be exact). The taste and texture was fine, so my recipe is okay.

My biggest issue was the shape. In the middle it was really a lot higher than on the sides. I would like to redo it in the near future, but preferably with a flat(ter) surface. (Especially since I put icing on top and I don't want it to drip off this time.)

Anyone knows the cause of my problem, or even better a solution? I think I put enough butter on the side of my springform pan, in case this is an option.

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It could be that your oven isn't heating evenly, but that would more likely make one side higher. If it's puffing evenly around, I'm not sure of the cause. –  Martha F. Mar 15 '11 at 18:23
    
It's evenly around. And I don't remember if it was with convection oven or 'normal' oven. –  Mien Mar 15 '11 at 19:10
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related : cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/5163/… –  Joe Mar 16 '11 at 15:20
    
I you have two pans make two thin cakes. Cut some of the dome off with a bread knife. Either way Leave some on 'cause a dome screams lovingly home made, while perfectly flat says factory made and boring! Try a thicker icing? –  TFD Apr 11 '11 at 21:39
    
@TFD: how long do you bake them, instead of one big cake? 2/3 of the normal time? Same temperature? –  Mien Apr 11 '11 at 22:39
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8 Answers

up vote 41 down vote accepted

Why the doming happens

When you heat leavened dough, two things happen:

  1. leavening agent creates bubbles, causing the soft dough to rise. For chemically leavened doughs (baking powder or baking soda), the amount of lift mostly depends on the time the bubble creating reaction goes on and the concentration of non-spent leavening agent.
  2. The gluten in the dough sets, building a sturdy 3-d mesh of long, branchey molecules. When the mesh is strong enough, further bubbles cannot stretch it more, despite the fact that the leavening reaction is still going on. The setting of the mesh depends mostly on heat and the amount of gluten present in flour.

The pattern you are seeing means that your cake gets hotter on the sides than in the middle. The sides get set early and stop rising, while the middle is still soft and continues rising.

This happens because the walls of the pan conduct heat to the sides of the cake quicker than heat is conducted inside the cake. You see the phenomenon in an exaggarated form in a muffin, which is usually higher than wide: it is always rounded on top, and often split, because the liquid core from the middle continues to rise after a crust has formed on the surface. muffin rising

How to prevent it

  • Slower heating
    One good solution could involve a slower, more even heating method.

    This can be accomplished by using a pan which insulates well. With an insulating pan, the sides will stay liquid longer and rise more. Unfortunately there are no insulated drop-out-bottom pans.

    Porcelain
    I have had good results in a porcelain or Pyrex pan. The pan insulates the cake from the bottom and the sides, but not from the top, so you will need to bake it on a lower rack and/or reduce temperature on the upper heater in order to not burn the upper surface.

    Getting a cake layer out of the pan in one piece can be hard.
    To deal with this problem, if your batter is not too sticky, the bottom of the pan can be lined with parchment paper. The sides can be lined with a strip of parchment or well lubricated with fat. This approach is a hassle. papered cake pan

    Insulate a metal pan
    Perhaps, when combined with other approaches, a metal cake pan with thicker walls will work well enough.
    You could also try a more DIY solution, like attaching 2-3 layers of a cut-to-fit silicone rolling mat stripes to the outside of the walls of a metal pan. However, it is quite hard to come up with a good attachment method (glue could release toxic fumes at oven temperatures, if it holds at all). So this method should work, but is somewhat hard to apply.

    Glass and silicone pans
    There are pans with glass bottoms and silicone walls but I think these would not help because the glass would insulate better than the thin silicone.

    Preheating
    Perhaps preheating the detached bottom of a metal pan with the oven could help, but I haven't tried it.

  • Minimize the center
    A second approach is to minimize the liquid core by making a thin cake.
    If the middle of the cake is heated quickly enough from above and below, it will set shortly after the walls do, and there will be no unset center to "bloom".

    Use a bigger pan.
    I think that Americans mostly use 9 inch pans, but if you used an original sacher recipe from Austria, it is probably meant for a 26 or a 28 cm pan.

    Bake the two layers separately
    Divide the batter into two pans instead of making a single layer and cutting it. This is unorthodox, as you get more crust but it's better than a hunchbacked sacher. You should use a scale or at least a measuring jug to divide the batter, or you'll end up with different thicknesses. Also remember to reduce the baking time, as the core will heat up faster.

    Use a toothpick for probing doneness.

  • Reduce the leavening
    The third idea is to reduce the amount of leavening agent.

    The walls will always set before the core and, if there is enough baking powder, the core will still expand a little bit more. If the concentration of baking powder is low you'll get less bubbles, so less lift.
    Of course, using too little baking powder will also ruin the cake, so you'll have to be cautious and experiment a bit before hitting the correct amount.

  • Lower heat
    The fourth approach is to give the outer portions of the cake more time to rise by baking at lower heat.

    This is somewhat risky, as it can result in a different texture of the final product, due to the different rate at which water will evaporate from the dough and a longer baking time. Also, if your temperature is too low, you won't get a golden crust on a light-coloured dough. This should not be a problem for a frosted cake like the sacher.

  • Less gluten
    The fifth approach is to use a flour with less gluten.

    With less gluten you get a mesh which is less dense and needs more time until it gets firm enough to prevent rising. Use cake flour instead of all purpose flour. A bit more fat will also help to inhibit gluten development but too much will change the taste and texture.

All methods I described should attribute to a solution, but probably none of them will be sufficient by itself. You'll have to pick a combination of them and see what works best for you.

General Cake Techniques

You should also apply all the usual methods for getting a good cake:

  • measure with a scale
  • use room-temperature ingredients
  • sift your flour
  • only combine dry mix with fluid mix at the last moment before putting it into the oven
  • preheat the oven well

These techniques ensure a better batter texture, which means a more even heating. They will also ensure a more consistent leavening process because:

  • the ratio of leavening to other ingredients will be correct
  • the batter will be more thoroughly mixed
  • the leavening reaction will not start early

Not following these techniques is more likely to result in a lopsided cake or a big bubble. I realize that this hasn't happened in the case you describe, but it would be too bad to get an asymmetrically risen cake after you took all the precautions against a disproportionally rising center.

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TLDR :) Very thorough! –  ElendilTheTall Mar 15 '11 at 21:14
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and another thing to try is a wetwrap for the pan (Wilton happens to make one (I am not affiliated with Wilton)). This is an insulated cloth strip that you soak then wrap around the pan prior to putting it in the oven ... does an admirable job at keeping the cake cooking evenly (given that it's not too deep to start with) –  warren Jan 20 '12 at 19:56
    
Thorough, but definitely needs a TL;DR summary at the top. –  Edwin May 26 '12 at 3:52
    
+1 for bigger pan, or lower heat in case of smaller pan. –  Agos Aug 2 '12 at 7:32
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I have never baked a cake that hasn't risen more in the middle than around the sides. Nor, I am almost certain, has anyone else.

Guess how pros get their cakes flat; they cut the top off! To be precise, they cut the top off (generally not totally flat though), then they turn the cake over so the nice flat bottom becomes the top. Then they ice (frost) it.

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You can minimize doming, but there will always be a little bit of rounding on the edge. I don't slice that much off the top, but I cheat by turning the cake over, so I'm icing the bottom of the cake –  Joe Mar 16 '11 at 15:23
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Also the classic two-layer filled sponge cake. You make two thin, wide cakes, so the doming is less pronounced. You cut the top off one to make it completely flat, then you cover it with jam or icing (or both!) and plonk the other one on top. –  slim Mar 16 '11 at 17:00
    
I frequently make a cake that doesn't rise more in the middle. Of course, it doesn't contain any flour... –  Marti Apr 26 '12 at 14:01
    
I've never made a flourless cake, therefore my statement holds true :D –  ElendilTheTall Apr 26 '12 at 14:05
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The problem is just uneven rising because of when the different parts of the cake cook. The solution is to insulate your cake pan.

You can wrap your cake pan in a damp tea towel (reserve one or two just for this purpose) or there are special insulated strips that are sold specifically for this by baking supply stores. Basically it insulates the outside part of the cake and the whole thing rises more evenly.

You might also want to tap your pan to distribute batter evenly and remove air bubbles before putting it in the oven, but this on its own is unlikely to get a flat cake.

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Or use a bain-marie (and make sure your pan doesn't leak). –  Aaronut Mar 15 '11 at 21:23
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Apparently you can also end up with a peak in the middle due to under- or over-mixing your cake batter. Also, letting your batter sit too long before baking will affect rising if your recipe includes baking powder. –  Allison Mar 15 '11 at 21:40
    
Bain-marie is an easy options and has always worked for me. Just submerge your cake pan into a bigger container full of water. –  nico Mar 13 '12 at 8:01
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Use towel strips! http://judyscakes.blogspot.com/2011/01/making-cakes-rise-evenly.html I cut mine to fit around the pan evenly and pin together.

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my cookery teacher always told me to scoop out a hollow in the centre and spread it to the edges. That way the centre is playing catch up. If you still have a dome you can compensate with icing/ slice the top off or turn the cake over. The latter works especially well for a fruit cake that will be fully iced. Turn over and fill gaps at bottom with marzipan before covering the whole cake.

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I stumbled across this page about uneven baking of cakes. I bake about 2-3 cakes for special occasions each week. Doming can be a real issue so to ensure an even bake I use bake even strips. I attach an Amazon link where I purchased mine from but I am sure you can find them elsewhere. I bake 6, 8, 9, 10 and 14" cakes in aluminum pans 2" deep which I line with paper and a cake release oil. I use a rule that any sponge should be no more than 2" deep to allow the outside to cook in time with the middle. Any deeper cakes can result in an over bake on the edge to ensure a bake in the center. If there is a small dome in the middle of the cake I would always slice this off to give a flat top but I have found this to be minimal. The bands are soaked in tap eater prior to use (do this while making the cake batter), gently squeeze excess water and the wrap around the tin. I bake sponge cakes at no more that 150C (300F or Gas mark 2) on a low shelf. So basically a slow low temp cook but check you oven temp as they vary so much!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bake-Even-Cake-Strips-Pkg-1-1-X36/dp/B004BQ3KM4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1388777939&sr=8-2&keywords=bake+even+strips

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I've read somewhere that if it's domed slightly, once you take the cake out of the oven, straight away push the dome down ever so gently with a kitchen towel. This will release any air that's built up in the dome. It works if the dome isn't very high.

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A similar option is to invert it onto a wire cooling rack -- so then the weight of the cake is pushing down on the bulging part. This works if it's just slightly domed; if it's too much, the cake might split on you (as it won't have the internal strength 'til it's cooled) –  Joe 2 days ago
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Ok, I am late coming to this question, but the simple solution is to turn the baked cake OVER. you get a flat top by making the bottom become the top. Once it has been iced it doesn't matter....

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But wouldn't it crack? There was a height difference of almost 2 inch (5 cm) between the middle and the sides. And not really hill-like, more vulcano-like. –  Mien Mar 12 '12 at 22:35
    
My experience is that the cake will even out once inverted. –  Cos Callis Mar 12 '12 at 22:59
    
A 2 inch dome is quite pronounced, maybe you'd need to trim some of it but icing the bottom would still give you the best finish. If you turn the cake out while still warm it seems to flatten the dome quite a bit though. –  vwiggins Mar 13 '12 at 9:41
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