Science of baking- why is it doing this?

Joined Nov 27, 2001
I have a delicious cake recipe but it is rising to its correct height on the sides but sinks between 1/4"-1/2" in the middle. I reduced the cooking temp by 25* and that has helped a little but this is a PIA when you are trying to get wedding cake tiers to be uniform in size. Can anyone tell me from the recipe below why this is doing it and how I can correct it? Do these measurements make sense to you? Thanks!

2 1/3 c. flour
1 1/2 c. unsweetended cocoa
1 1/4t. salt
1 T. bs
1 T. bp
3 c. sugar
5 large eggs
1 T. vanilla
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
3/4c. butter, melted
1 1/2c. coffee
Joined Mar 28, 2002
Hi Anna W,

I am a newbie. This is my first post. I do read alot of the posts and felt that I could somewhat help in this one. I am no expert but I think it has to do with the amount of baking soda and/or baking powder you are using.

I was comparing your recipe with another recipe. This recipe came from the Chocolatier Magazine and I doubled it (except the salt) to compare with yours. They are both very similar to each other. This is called Devil's Food Cake.

2 1/4 c. ap flour
1 c. plus 1/4 c. non-alkalized unsweetened cocoa
3 t. baking soda
1 1/4 t. salt
2 sticks of butter -room temp.
2 c. sugar
1 c. packed brown sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
2 2/3 c. buttermilk

I would reduce the b. soda by 1 1/2 to 2 t. teaspoon and see what happens. I have seen chocolate recipes calling for less baking soda than the baking powder when both are being used for these recipes. Good luck. Let us know how your next batter comes out. HTH

Joined Apr 30, 2001
Guessing! Love to hear the experts but love to guess to!

Shirley Corhhier says that butter is dandy for flavor but awful for poof. I'm guessing that the butter is the culprit.

Joined Feb 21, 2001
The classic m fault is from overleavening. You don't need the baking soda in that recipe. People are going to say it's to neutralize the acid in the buttermilk, but what's actually happening is that it's making bubbles with the buttermilk. The middle of the cake is turning to froth, and collapsing. Try it without the soda.
Joined Nov 20, 2000
Personally I'm thinking, without thinking, that you should cut the coffee back by 1/4 cup (just make it a little stronger) and cut back the butter by 1/4 cup.
It sounds like there's too much liquid in the recipe to me.
Joined Jan 15, 2001
Anna, your recipe is very similar to one I tried off The recipe is way overleavened. I prefer using baking soda as the major leavener in chocolate cake because it produces a darker deeper color. From my notes in my recipe, I took out the baking powder and used 2 1/4 t. of baking soda, enough to react with the acid in the coffee and buttermilk to leaven the cake. If you do not want to neutralize the acid in the liquids, do as bighat says: use the whole amount of baking powder and omit baking soda. I had my doubts with the percentage of liquid in this recipe ---but that's the beauty of this cake, it's really dark and moist.
Good luck and let us know the outcome!
Joined Apr 20, 2002
try to bake that recipe in the mould of the pound cake and it will work for sure.
it cant work for the wedding cake.
good luck.
Joined Feb 21, 2001
I think you could do it with either the baking powder, which is baking soda and and acid with a buffer ingredient so they won't react in the can, or with the soda alone, but not both. I got into a beef with Marcy Goldman, who runs and who wrote a neat book on Jewish Holiday baking. I was making her honey cake and it kept collapsing. It has a lot of acid ingredients like orange juice, honey, brown sugar. So I took out the baking powder and it worked fine. I emailed her through her web site, but she was not too receptive. "It's supposed to be that way.." And sure enough, the picture on the cover of the book features a collapsed Moist and Majestic New Year's Honey Cake. One of the last things my instructor at J&W in baking formula technology told me was that baking powder in general was misused by a lot of people, and I wish I'd picked her brain about that.

And while we're here..this phrase about neutralizing the acid. I don't really get it. The acid in the ingredient is reacting with the baking soda and causing the formation of carbon dioxide. If it were truly neutralizing, as in bringing it to a ph of 7, wouldn't it take the edge off the tangy taste of the buttermilk? And isn't that taste what one uses buttermilk for anyway? I'm sure it's changing the overall ph of the batter, it has to, but I look at the reaction for the potential to yield gas, which means leavening. Where's Kokopuffs when you really need him?
Joined Feb 21, 2001
You talking to me? These kinds of cakes are your basic dumpeverythinginabowlandbeatsmooth. No technique. Can't be overcreamed.
Joined Nov 27, 2001
Thanks everybody, you are all so wonderful to help. First of all, this recipe came out of Margaret Braun's Cake Walk and was supposed to be for wedding cakes so I figured it must be a typo.

Here are my results- cut out all baking soda and it came out flat and dense. Cut back the baking soda to 1 teaspoon and it was fabulously perfect.

To be honest, I thought the leavening measurements were a little odd when I saw them but not being formally trained, I was not sure. Wish I knew 15 years ago that I wanted to be a pastry chef then I wouldn't have to do the "learn as you go" or "learn as you fail" method.

Again, THANK YOU!!!!!
Joined Feb 21, 2001
This was in the current issue of Chef Magazine in an article about muffins, coincidentally written by the very instructor, Paula Figone, that I referred to above. I took a gingerbread muffin recipe last week and made it two ways, once with soda, and once with powder. It collapsed with the soda, but got nice and dark. Next time, with just powder, it didn't get as dark, didn't collapse, and didn't taste as good. And this might be why....

"Why do some muffins contain both baking soda and baking powder?
Baking powder is the main chemical leavener in muffins. It contains both baking soda and acid, with cornstarch to absorb moisture.The baking soda and acid react in the presence of heat and water, producing carbon dioxide gas for leavening.

Some muffins contain an acid ingredient, like fruit
or fruit juice, cultured dairy products or honey.
Those that do typically contain added baking soda,
to react with the acid ingredient. This provides some leavening,
and if more is needed, which is typically the case,
baking powder is also added.

It's important to neutralize the acid in muffin batter
for more reasons than for leavening. Acid batters
bake white, which is fine for white cake, but too
stark for muffins. And acid batters bake up bland-tasting
because the same chemical reactions that
cause browning in baked goods provide flavor. So
for the most appealing muffin, add a small amount
of baking soda to neutralize the acid ingredients.

You might wonder what happens if too much baking
soda is added. Have you ever seen a green ring
around the berries in a muffin? Or too much browning
too quickly? How about a salty, chemical after-taste?
If you notice any of these problems, reduce
the amount of baking soda and try again." June Chef Magazine
Joined Jan 15, 2001
That's very true bighat. That's been my "leavening" approach with my cake recipes. I love using buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt in my butter cakes, muffins, cornbread, etc. I consider the leavening power of the soda with the acidic ingredients, then decide whether it's enough as it is or does it need further lightening with baking powder. Takes a lot of trial and error, but it is fun.
Joined Mar 6, 2001

Besides going thru the process of testing is there a general guideline based on some sort of quanities? Like for each oz. of acid ingredient you need this much soda or this much powder to balance?
Joined Jan 15, 2001
My method of madness uses 1/2 t. up to 3/4 t. of baking soda per 8 oz. of acidic ingredients. Once I know more or less what works in my recipes, I try to round off to even decimal numbers(1/2 oz., etc.) since I think I waste to much time measuring by teaspoons. An example of trial and errror is my muffin recipe which uses 10 oz. of buttermilk or yogurt to 1 t. baking soda plus additional baking powder.
Joined Nov 27, 2001
Big Hat and Angry Chef-

Thank you so much. This explains a lot. Appreciate all the info.
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