Baking SOS: How to fix 10 common cake problems by Jo Wheatley

As part of our new series of troubleshooting articles, we called upon some of our famous baking friends to solve your common kitchen disasters. From sunken sponge to curdled cake mix, we have the answers to every flour-based problem. Read on to discover Jo Wheatley's 10 tips for rescuing cake...

Jo Wheatley: How to fix common cake problems

Problem one: My oven is ferocious – I’ve tried turning it down but my cakes still catch around the edge. 

Jo's solution: You could try soaking an old tea towel, then wrap it around the cake tin and secure it with a safety pin. Stand the cake tin on a baking tray and stay in the kitchen whilst baking for safety reasons. This helps protect the tin from the heat giving you a much more even bake.

Problem two: My cake always sinks in the middle

Jo's solution: It sounds like you could be over-working the batter if you use a stand mixer. Or it might be because you've under-baked your cakes because your oven is running slowly. A simple way to solve this is to buy an oven thermometer.

Triple-layered rose cake topped with pink icing and rose petals

Problem three: My cake recipe requires self-raising flour but I only have plain. 

Jo's solution: You can convert it by using baking powder. Try 2 tsp baking powder per 150g of flour. 

Problem four: I’ve over-mixed my cake batter 

Jo's solution: I'd start again, as even if you do manage to rescue it, it will be heavy and not as nice. 

Problem five: My cake is flat like a cushion 

Jo's solution: It sounds like your self-raising flour or baking powder could be out of date, check the dates. 

Problem six: My sponge cake is uneven in height

Jo's solution: Try the teatowel trick again - the damp fabric swaddling the tin will encourage even heat distribution. 

Chocolate layered cake topped with chocolate icing piping

Problem seven: I find it hard to line a cake tin

Jo's solution: I use a cake release spray instead. You use it in place of greaseproof paper or baking parchment - you just need to brush the spray over the tin and the cake should come out easily. 

Problem eight: My banana bread comes out of the oven standing tall – then it sinks as it cools

Jo's solution: It sounds like you’re using too much raising agent. If the recipe calls for a teaspoon, it should be level, not heaped. 

Pistachio cupcakes topped with icing piping on a wired rack

Problem nine: My cupcakes always separate from the cases when cooking 

Jo's solution: You're overworking the batter. Do you find the bottom of the cases oily? If so, you can add some dried rice into each of the muffin tin holes. This will absorb the oil and help the cases stay around the cakes. 

Problem ten: My scones are hard

Jo's solution: Once you’ve added the wet ingredients to the dry ones, you activate the raising ingredient. From this point the more you work the dough the heavier the scone will become. I find patting the dough into an oblong and cutting the scones with a knife works better than using a cutter, as you won’t need to keep rerolling the dough to cut out the scones.

More from Jo Wheatley...

Raspberry red velvet cake
Chocolate layer cake with passion fruit icing

More baking guidance... 

How to make a sponge cake video
How to make decorate a cake
10 tips for cake making success
How to cream butter and sugar
How to decorate cakes
Chocolate cake recipes
Classic cake recipes
Cupcake recipes
Fruity cake recipes
All our top cake recipes
Visit our cakes & baking hub

Are you prone to cake catastrophes? Post your common complaints below... 

Comments, questions and tips

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Be the first to comment...We'd love to hear how you got on with this recipe. Did you like it? Would you recommend others give it a try?
10th May, 2019
My cakes disintegrate on being cut! Why is this?
goodfoodteam's picture
11th May, 2019
We're sorry to hear this. There could be a few things going on here. If the cakes are turning out very dry then perhaps your oven is running hot and we'd suggest cooking the cakes for 5 - 10 mins less than suggested depending on the overall cooking time/ turning the oven down a little. If the cakes are perfectly moist, then perhaps you're cutting them while they're still too hot. It's good to give a cake a good 10 mins or so once it's out of the oven to firm up. You can also try sawing it carefully with a serrated bread knife. We hope this helps.
31st Jan, 2019
How do I convert a cake mix into a cupcake mix or vice versa. I have found the most beautiful vanilla cupcake mix but would like to make it into a cake. I have tried several times to make the cupcakes to a cake but it's just been disaster. Thank you
goodfoodteam's picture
4th Feb, 2019
Thanks for your question. There's no formula for this I'm afraid. It will really depend on quantities. We'd suggest looking at the weight and content of the main ingredients, finding a similar cake recipe and then using that to gauge timings and tin size. We hope that helps.
CJ Ted fred
1st Dec, 2017
Why do my cupcakes always turn out sticky on the top even when I allow them to cool completely before storing them in an airtight container. Please help as I don't know where I'm going wrong.
goodfoodteam's picture
8th Dec, 2017
Thanks for your question. This does depend a bit on the type of cakes you've made. Some do get a bit 'sweaty' the longer they are kept especially if they're in a totally airtight plastic container. We'd suggest making and eating as close to the day of making unless otherwise stated.
12th Nov, 2017
A chocolate cake recipe that I've been making for years BUT for reasons I can't fathom, the last 3 times it has sunk while still in the oven. PLease help - it's my husbands favourite and it's driving me MADDDDDDDDDDDD
goodfoodteam's picture
16th Nov, 2017
Thanks for your question. It could be a case of opening the oven door before the cake has properly set or using too much raising agent. We hope this helps.
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