I am doing some work in a volunteer kitchen and as part of our meals we provide cake that we bake in a big tray, we can only fit two on a rack in a commercial gas oven at a time. Full gastronorm trays I think they are called.

All our recipes call for a temperature of 180 degrees C (356 F) 40 mins - we rotate them in the oven after 20 mins.

The depth of the cake mixture prior to baking is about 5cm (2 inches) - not unusual.

The cakes are vegan - no egg or butter, we use oil. The lack of egg would affect binding which may be relevant. Essentially the recipes are vegan variations of a pound cake. (roughly by volume: 2 parts flour, 1 part each of oil, sugar, soy milk. Add in flavor, fruit etc. )

The problem is that by the time the cakes are cooked in the center, the outside is always burned. This seems to occur regardless of recipe to the point that our floor staff consider it normal to have to carve the burnt bits off the cake before serving. It works - just not a good solution...

Things I have thought of:

1) Use a lower temperature - but longer time. I don't want to go below 160 degrees or no maillard reaction (browning). But can't work out how much extra time I would need if I dropped the temperature by 10 or 20 degrees.

2) Chaining up the nameless idiot who keeps opening the oven door to see if the cakes are cooked yet. Said idiot swears that if he had an answer for number 1) then he would be able to restrain himself...

The tray size must have something to do with the problem, but I can't figure out what. I looked at the diffusion of heat - but it seems that the heat would be dominated by energy coming in from the top and bottom.

Possibly diffusion of steam?

Any other ideas?

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    When was your oven calibration last checked? – Chris H Jan 4 '18 at 10:27
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    You have at least two incorrect assumptions here. 5 cm before baking is not at all usual. At least home recipes are usually baked much thinner, around 1-2 cm before baking. I have not been in a commercial bakery and don't know how they do it. Also, no egg and no butter has a lot of effect not just on binding, but also on leavening, and adding soy milk and fruit makes it worse. So what you are trying to achieve is quite difficult, no wonder you are running into problems. – rumtscho Jan 4 '18 at 13:46
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    @rumtscho that heavily depends on the recipe. Christmas cake is an extreme example but many cake mixes go into the tin in quite a thick layer. – Chris H Jan 4 '18 at 14:32
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    How much room is left around the trays to circulate heat? If it is a good few cm then tenting the cakes in foil the first half evens out the browning somewhat. If very tight, one smaller tray may help. – Pat Sommer Jan 5 '18 at 5:02
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    For a vegan cake, try the Depression Cake, from an era when eggs and butter were hard to come by. The leavening is done by the baking soda and vinegar. I've never seen or made it other than chocolate (with cocoa). It's a fantastic recipe; great texture. You can google the exact recipe. – Arlo Jan 9 '18 at 23:43

This might have something to do with the amount of oil in your recipe. There is a lot of liquid - traditional pound cakes are traditional, but that doesn't mean that they're a good ratio.

Reduce ratio of oil to at least 1/4 and experiment from there - another factor is the type of oil that is being used. Certain types and qualities of oil have lower smoking points, and so burn at a lower temperature. I have tried recipes that use no oil (fat) whatsoever and remain successful.

Do you use any leavening agents? Baking powder/baking soda? If not, I would add 2tsp baking powder and 1/2tsp baking soda. As well as a pinch of salt.

Experiment by reducing the oven temperature to 160C or 325F, cook for an additional 15 - 20 minutes. To test done-ness, the traditional toothpick method is good (putting a toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and removing to check for crumb - crumbs mean more cooking) otherwise; if you press lightly on the surface of the dough and it 'springs' back, as well the cake should have pulled away from the outsides of the pan (I am a pastry chef and find this method most helpful).

If you continue to have difficulty, get that oven checked out.

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    Traditional pound cake has that 1:1:1:1 equivalence of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour but it is EXTREMELY important to note that it specifically calls for butter. You cannot do a direct substitution for any other type of fat and not get bad results. The reason is simple: butter is only about 80% fat. The other 20% is split between water and other random milk solids. So by using butter, you're actually adding water and random solids, and less fat. On top of that, eggs are a "drier" binder than the soy milk. I definitely think it's the oil. – Satanicpuppy Feb 6 '18 at 6:57

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