I tried this recipe:


However, when I did it, the cake came out dry and dense and not very tasty. According to many other comments, it should not be this way.

Now, perhaps, there is a problem with the recipe...but Alton Brown's recipes (while not 100%) are usually pretty good.

What are the probable causes for dry and dense in this case? What can I improve next time?

  • Are you asking about this cake specifically or random techniques for various cakes (which would be too broad, imho)?
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:04
  • Are you using an oven thermometer?
    – Jolenealaska
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:04
  • @Stephie Let's stick with this specific cake.
    – ericg
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:24
  • @Jolenealaska yes, I am using an oven thermometer. I believe I was baking at the right temperature. However, I was also using a thermometer to measure the internal temp of the cake as suggested and think this may have led to over baking. Is there any reason, according to the recipe, why the cake should not be moist?
    – ericg
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:25
  • Hi ericgorr, your post was indeed too broad in its original state. People can improve their technique in dozens of different ways. Instead of closing, I reworded your question so it now fits. I hope your cake turns out better next time!
    – rumtscho
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:33

1 Answer 1


For this recipe, the most likely issues are:

  • overbaking and wrong oven temperature
    Simply put, removing too much humidity during the baking process. Wrong oven temperature can aggravate this problem, especially if it is too low (to hot = burned edges and wet center).

  • over-mixing
    This recipe is very sensitive to overmixing, which means forming gluten strands that make your cake dense. Alton Brown specifies the mixing time in seconds for a reason. As a beginner, you could use a whisk instead of a mixer and stir just until the "just combined" or "no more lumps" stage, not more.
    Technically it uses the same technique as muffins, not the beat eggs / butter / sugar until fluffy technique known from cupcakes

  • waiting before baking
    This recipe gets its "lift" almost exclusively from baking powder. It is activated the moment it gets wet and then even more when heated. So if you don't bake the batter right away, it may "fizz out" somewhat, leaving you with a dense cake. This will take longer to fully bake and again be dry.

  • wrong measurements
    The recipe states "ounces", which is a weight unit. I other words, you need a scale to measure your flour and cocoa. While a (US) fluid ounce is two tablespoons or 30 ml, an ounce is 28.3 grams. So for water, you can roughly exchange one for the other, but never, ever for other materials, especially light and dry stuff like flour.
    (Yes, I have seen this happen.)

From your comments, overbaking might be the main problem here, possibly combined with overmixing.

  • I am using a scale to measure the ingredients by weight. I didn't wait before baking. I am pretty sure the oven temp is accurate, but I will pay closer attention to this. I almost certainly over-mixed by quite a bit. I really had no idea this was possible. It seems likely I overbaked as well. Is measure the internal temp really important or can I just use the toothpick method to determine when it is done? Or should I just learn to press down and look for the bounce back to determine when it is done?
    – ericg
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 19:01
  • @ericgorr, I personally rarely use a thermometer for cakes - amongst the reasons I don't is that many recipes don't state a core temperature. Note that desired toothpick results (clean, with a few crumbs, ...) differ between recipes or recipe types, so read the instructions carefully. For the steepest learning curve I suggest making one recipe multiple times and measure by all three methods.
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 19:19
  • Yeah, I was thinking mixing too much might be the problem. Flour contains gluten, and mixing activates the gluten to make the flour elastic and firmer. That's what happens when you knead bread. So if the cake is bready, that might be it. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 20:17
  • I had an opportunity to try again and it worked much better. I am guessing the primary cause was over mixing.
    – ericg
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 2:34

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