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I have successfuly made a Lemon Drizzle cake (recipe at end) several times, but the last 3 attempts have all collapsed in the middle to some extent.

One of the attempts collapsed in such a way it almost ended up like a ring, with a 6 cm chasm in the middle.

The ingredients and techniques have mostly been consistent

  • mixer: kitchen aid
  • oven: Aga
  • fat: originally used butter, 2 of the failed cakes used soft margarine. The last used butter. Uncertain whether any of the butter was salted.
  • flour. last techniques have used a new brand of Self Raising flour

Ingredients

  • 225g unsalted butter , softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • finely grated zest 1 lemon
  • 225g self raising flour

topping (although it collapses before this)

  • juice 11⁄2 lemon
  • 85g caster sugar

Recipe

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, slowly mixing through. Sift in the flour, then add the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Line a loaf tin (8 x 21cm) with greaseproof paper, then spoon in the mixture and level the top.

Bake @ 180 c for 45-50 mins until a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the lemon juice and sugar to make the drizzle. Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer or fork, then pour over the drizzle - the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then serve.

Note it collapses while cooling in its tin and isn't directly related to pricking the cake.

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This sounds like a bad combining technique, especially if it was a pound cake. Does the recipe prescribe creaming the butter and sugar, or foaming the eggs and sugar? Also, do you happen to know how much leavening agent your self-rising flour contains? Too much baking powder is a common culprit in falling cakes. –  rumtscho Oct 23 '12 at 18:13
    
Ah, interesting. It is a new brand of Self Raising flour. Is there a fix ? Mixing should be OK. Same Kitchen Aid used throughout, –  itj Oct 23 '12 at 19:49
    
The mixer is probably not your culprit. I was asking what steps you follow in mixing the batter, for example if you are making a pound cake, you shouldn't foam the eggs. –  rumtscho Oct 23 '12 at 20:00
    
Added steps to questions. Eggs aren't foamed. Mixed into butter/sugar mix fairly slowly. –  itj Oct 24 '12 at 6:16
    
No, it isn't connected to pricking. What you observe (most probably) is that for some reason your cake is rising to more than the flour's ability to hold the rise, then falling again when the warm gas (which has kept it risen) cools again. This is common in souffles but shouldn't be the case in a cake. If it doesn't overrise due to foamed eggs, then I would see the problem in the flour, but can't say nothing definitive without trying it myself. –  rumtscho Oct 24 '12 at 7:52

3 Answers 3

It's possible that your new brand of self raising flower has more raising agent. This causes a initial raise to happen faster resulting in large 'bubbles' that are less stable. The cake rises higher and then is more prone to falls.

Fast changes in temperature or air pressure will cause the cake to collapse. That means every time you open the oven, or if your oven isn't very air tight every time you open an close the kitchen door. Loud slams of doors are especially bad.

Higher levels of raising agent are especially an issue if you live at a higher elevation or if there is low air pressure that day.

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I looked into this a bit more yesterday as I wasn't happy this didn't have a test to see if it is the case. If this is indeed the issue at hand the sponge from around the edge of the cake (where it hasn't fallen) will have a "fragile crumb" where the bubbles were large and expanded quickly but set faster so didn't collapse. –  vwiggins Oct 25 '12 at 9:01

A possibility is that it may be under-baked in the middle, if it isn't completely cooked the structure won't have the stability to hold the cake up. Try baking it longer.

Do you have an oven thermometer? It could be your oven isn't holding 180 as set.

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As it's an Aga it doesn't strictly have set temperatures - but same oven used each time - so consistent temperature. Temperature more likely to be too high. –  itj Oct 24 '12 at 12:20
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Agas are anything but consistent, their temperature depends on many factors and can vary significantly. That's why I asked about whether you have an oven thermometer, that way at least you can tell what temperature it is when you plan to bake and vary the baking time accordingly. –  GdD Oct 24 '12 at 12:48
    
Bit of a diversion, but why do you find Aga's inconsistent ? We have a night storage version so temp is maintained by a fan when needed. –  itj Oct 24 '12 at 18:40
    
I had an oven thermometer. May be able to find it (last seen near dog) –  itj Oct 24 '12 at 18:40
    
Agas are cool, but every oven is inconsistent to some degree, even them. Just a 5 degree change can make a big difference. –  GdD Oct 24 '12 at 20:49

I think @rumtscho gave the answer to your problem when he stated "your cake is rising to more than the flour's ability to hold the rise".

If your cakes didn't fall when you didn't use that new brand of flour, and are consistently falling when you are using it, we can point to a guilty.

Why would it be the flour?

(and, if so, how to avoid it keeping falling)

Your recipe calls for a lot of fat and sugar. Fats affect gluten bonds, and sugar softens it. That's why strong flours are should be used in cakes having them.

If that new flour is not a strong one, it might not be able to hold itselft even if it doesn't rise too much.

Another point is the rising agent in that flour. First chemical raising agents were just plain baking soda. You had to add an acid to let them make a chemical reaction that would release gas. That's why most recipes call for lemmon or buttermilk as ingredients.

Modern chemical raising agents include salts that, when heated, release (or get transformed into) acid. It means that, once in the oven, the cake will rise more.

My guess is that your cake is rising more than normal due to the combination of self rasing agent + lemon zest. Also, the flour is probably a weak one, suitable for cookies, but not for this recipe of cake.

If you don't want to change the flour for a stronger one, you can try avoiding the lemmon in your dough's recipe.

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Self-rising flours are usually weaker than all-purpose flours, this is why Corriher advises to use them in situations where less gluten is needed. On the other hand, cake flour is supposed to be weaker than AP flour, going down to as few as 6% gluten. So, if the recipe specifies self-raising flour, it should be OK with weak flours (unless the recipe itself is bad, but it looks like a pretty standard sponge to me). –  rumtscho Nov 9 '12 at 13:58

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