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I made a vanilla cake from scratch using this recipe and when I removed it from the pan, I noticed little brown lumps along the bottom and edges the size of BB pellets.

I tasted one of the spots, thinking it was burnt sugar, but it was very hard and very very bitter. I think it tasted like baking powder but also lemony. This is the second time this has happened to me using different recipes. It never happens when I make a chocolate cake.

All the ingredients today were fresh, everything was at room temperature, and the pan was clean. I greased it with Pam and then placed parchment paper circles. I did not have cake flour, so I used AP flour. The batter looked fine and had no lumps in it, I scraped down the sides of the mixing bowl, and nothing tasted off when I licked the spoon. I think it has something to do with adding the baking powder.

What would cause this?

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    Can you give us the recipe and method? It's difficult to know what's wrong if we don't know what you did... for example, did you coat the pans with flour? - is there any odd chance you accidentally used something other than flour for that? – Catija Mar 20 '17 at 23:50
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    Baking powder can indeed grow hard lumps that low-agitation mixing methods, as are typical for muffin method cakes, will not dissolve... have you made sure your baking powder is indeed, excuse the pun, fine? If in doubt, sieve it or even use a spice grinder/mortar/... to make sure it is well pulverized... – rackandboneman Mar 21 '17 at 10:01
  • @Catija- Vanilla cake recipes do not vary much and the method is implied in the dish. "vanilla cake" universally uses the creaming method. If it had been a different method the name would imply that, eg "Angel food cake", "sponge cake" etc. – Sobachatina Mar 21 '17 at 19:31
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    @Sobachatina that may be true given more context than we have here. The OP hasn't told us which country they're from and recipes for similarly-named cakes vary from country to country, even without a possible omission of "quick" or "easy" from a recipe name which completely changes the recipe. – Chris H Mar 21 '17 at 20:04
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    @karen - Don't give up! That would be a tragedy! Baking requires more precision than other kinds of cooking but it can be mastered. It does take practice sometimes. While not necessary, a book I found helpful is Bakewise by Shirley Corriher. She does a good job explaining the chemistry. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '17 at 14:26
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I have been having this problem on and off. I do think it must have something to do with the baking powder, but it doesnt happen everytime. I keep trying to find an answer but, unless it has happened to you, people think you are crazy.

  • I changed to an aluminum free baking powder and the problem seems to be fixed! Yay! – Karen Apr 5 at 22:06
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It may have been baking powder but it doesn't matter what it was.
Cake methods produce a homogeneous batter. There shouldn't be lumps of anything.

The sugar is creamed with the butter until it is smooth. The dry ingredients are mixed together and most recipes call for sifting them into the wet to prevent exactly these kind of lumps. I will admit that, unless my dry ingredients are obviously clumpy, I will often skip the sifting step to save another utensil to clean.

Make sure that you scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure there are no unincorporated ingredients.

Some baked goods, like pancakes or biscuits, intentionally under mix to keep things tender. Cake instead relies on low protein flour and lots of fat to keep things tender and the batter should be completely blended.

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