How To Moisten Cake – The Complete Guide

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There is nothing worse than dry cake. It’s unappetizing and unpleasing to the palate, not to mention it completely overshadows the flavor and filling. Most recipes always claim to be moist but somehow they still come out dry.

But don’t worry, because we’re here to help you spare your cake of the same crusty, crumbly fate and give you some extra tips and tricks to pull it back from the brink when it dries out in the oven.

So, how can you moisten cake? The best ways to save a dry cake and moisten it are to add a moist filling, coat the layers in sugar syrup, or revive it by steaming it before decorating. Dried-out cake can also be avoided in most circumstances by using the right ingredients and checking your cake throughout the cooking process.

These preventative and saving methods are foolproof and very easy – they mostly require patience and focus.

In today’s’ article, we will be discussing the biggest reasons your cake may turn out dry so you can easily identify what went wrong and know how to prevent it.

We will also be looking at other methods to revive cake that has come out dry by either using additional ingredients or even just serving it with something else.

Why Is My Cake Dry?

There are many, many reasons that your cake can come out dry. It can be anything from the recipe itself to using an incorrect filling.

Here are some of the most common reasons and how you can identify them. By being able to identify the problem, you can more easily find the correct solution.

1. Incorrect Ratios

Nobody ever said making food is easy, and baking is definitely one of the most difficult categories to master. Baking cakes (and other goods) is a science and requires very specific amounts and methods to achieve perfect results.

With baking, unfortunately, there is a correct and incorrect way, and it also isn’t as easy to fix once done. Luckily, over the years we have learned a trick or two when it comes to cakes.

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to dry cakes is the recipe itself. Sad to say, but unfortunately not every cake recipe will be moist (or even delicious). 

Also, we’re willing to bet the recipe you found online didn’t take into account things like your particular oven’s temperature deviation, the moisture content in the air in your area, or your altitude.

These are all things which can affect baking significantly.

The ratio of dry ingredients and wet ingredients is what will ultimately determine the texture (density) and moisture of the cake.

Usually, dense cakes very rarely are moist, unless of course something else was done with it, a sugar syrup for instance (we’ll get to this later).

If you want to know whether or not your recipe will give you a moist or dry cake, the best way to do so is to check whether or not the dry and wet ingredients are close to equal in amount.

By this, we mean check to see if there more wet or dry ingredients. This ratio should be at least very close to equal and the dry ingredients should be slightly more (considering it should be a batter).

To determine the amount of wet and dry ingredients, simply add together all the quantities of each category separately.

Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • You don’t have to include small amounts like a teaspoon, tablespoon, pinch, or dash – these are too little to be significant. 
  • Every egg makes up about a third cup in volume.
  • All of your ingredients should be in cups (volume). Adding together the weight of the ingredients won’t be as accurate as different ingredients have different densities and therefore weights.

If it turns out that the dried ingredients far outweigh the wet ingredients, you may end up with a dry cake on your hands, especially if you live somewhere with low humidity.

However, be careful how much you change the recipe, as you may just end up with the opposite problem. In that case, we have another article that will tell you what to do if your cake turns out too moist.

2. Incorrect Substitutions

This is another big flaw when it comes to baking. Too often, we find out that people complain about dry cakes after using butter instead of milk, or water instead of buttermilk.

Certain ingredients have very specific functions and cannot just be substituted with something similar.

For example, if a recipe calls for melted butter, milk isn’t a correct substitution just because they’re both dairy and both in liquid form. Butter has many qualities that milk does not.

For instance, butter is a fat (milk only contains fat). Fat in a cake recipe functions as a tenderizer.

It adds richness, helps prevent gluten formation, adds color and flavor, and, when in solid form, helps aid the formation of air pockets which create an airy, fluffy cake.

Another example that happens all too often is home bakers substituting cake or all-purpose flour with bread flour. This is a baking no-no.

Bread and cake flour have very different characteristics. The biggest difference is the gluten content. Bread flour has a high gluten content and is, therefore, best for items that require gluten formation, like bread and pasta.

If you absolutely must substitute your cake flour, we have another article on how to do so correctly.

3. Incorrect Mixing Method

Again, baking is a science, and therefore the method of mixing is just as important as the actual measurements. This is because of how the ingredients react to each other.

The best example that we can think of is yeast (not really used in cakes but a great way to explain the importance of following the correct method).

Yeast needs to be activated before being added to a recipe. If yeast is added to cold ingredients, it won’t activate and make the dough rise. But, if it is added to too hot ingredients, it will be killed and also not help the dough rise.

Also, if the recipe contains too much salt, it will inhibit the yeast and not allow it to function as well as it should. The amount of sugar (the food that helps the yeast function) can also inhibit the yeast if there is too much or too little.

See? Science!

This principle also applies to all of the other ingredients. You need to follow the recipe to achieve the best results. Rushing a method, skipping steps, or combining steps simply won’t do.

If you are unsure about the method, this is usually the best one to follow:

  1. Combine the softened, room temperature butter and sugar. Cream until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
  2. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add the flavoring (vanilla extract) and combine well.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well. Add the dried mixture into the wet and incorporate with a wooden spoon.
  5. Lastly, add the milk (or buttermilk) and mix well.
  6. If there are any chopped nuts, chocolate, sprinkles, etc., fold them in now.

If any of these ingredients aren’t present, simply leave it out and continue the process.

4. Over-Baking

Even if you follow all of the steps perfectly, your cake can still become dry when baked for too long.

Most cakes bake between 320-350˚F (160-180˚C) for anywhere between 12 minutes (cupcakes and smaller cakes) and up to 40-60 minutes for larger cakes.

A good rule of thumb is that the larger the cake is, the lower the temperature should be so that it can bake for a longer period of time without its edges drying out or burning.

There are a couple of things to do to prevent over-baking:

  • If you gently shake the pan and the batter still wobbles, your cake hasn’t finished baking. The mixture is still raw and you should continue baking the cake.
  • Your cake has been fully baked once the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the cake pan.
  • Another great indicator is when you knock on the bottom of the cake tin and it sounds hollow. If the pan also feels much lighter than it looks, the cake has undergone a good amount of baking and should be ready or ready soon.
  • Your cake is ready when you insert a toothpick or cake tester and it comes out clean or with a tiny bit of dry crumbs.
  • You can also touch the top of the cake; when the cake bounces back after being gently pushed, the cake is ready.

However, these methods are only helpful if you haven’t baked your cake yet. Let’s take a look at some methods for prevention as well as moistening cake that has already been baked dry.

How To Moisten Cake

Now that we have looked at some of the most common ways cakes end up dry, we can look at ways to solve it. We’ve already discussed some of the solutions, but let’s recap the ways to prevent dry cakes.

1. Choose the Correct Recipe

Before starting to bake, make sure the recipe you choose has the correct ratios. Almost all cake recipes claim to be “the best moist cake ever,” but they rarely are.

Make sure the ratios of wet and dry ingredients are close to equal, the dry ingredients being slightly more. If you have a recipe that has way too many dry ingredients, you can either choose a different recipe or experiment with this one.

The best way to start experimenting with a recipe is to reduce the dry ingredients and increase the wet ones in equal amounts.

We would recommend starting by reducing the flour by ½ cup and increasing the milk or eggs. This option is way more difficult and mostly for very skilled and experienced bakers, but you can give it a try nevertheless.

Be sure to make notes after every trial to remember and adjust the recipe until you get perfect results.

2. Use Proper Substitutions

Before substituting an ingredient, make sure that what you want to use is appropriate and won’t affect the recipe any differently. It should be able to perform the exact functions that the original ingredient did.

There are a ton of articles online that can assist you with substitutions in general or that adhere to specific dietary requirements.

Also, make sure you know how to substitute these ingredients. Many have different characteristics and will require slightly different amounts.

For example, vanilla pods are way more flavorful than vanilla essence, therefore you will require more vanilla essence.

3. Follow the Instructions

Because baking is a science, a lot of ingredients need to react with each other in specific ways.

This means that when you skip or combine steps, the batter might not do what it is supposed to (as the original recipe intended) and end up being dry.

Follow the steps exactly, (unless you are compensating for an overabundance of dry ingredients), especially if you are new to baking or don’t bake a lot.

4. Do Not Over-Bake

Over-baking is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to dry cakes. Some home bakers are so concerned with making sure that the center of their cake is baked all the way through that they neglect to make sure the outside doesn’t end up dry.

Your toothpick or testing needle might come out with a few crumbs of it, but as long as it isn’t raw batter or dough, your cake should be ready to go!

In fact, if you’re really trying to avoid dry cake, it may be better to take it out a little too early than too late. You can always put it back in the oven for a few extra minutes, but you can’t un-bake a cake.

5. Sugar Syrup

Here is one of the best baking tricks ever invented – literally every professional baker and bakery does this to moisten up their cakes.

This is not a difficult step by any means, and it also doesn’t take too long to do.

Here’s how to make sugar syrup:

  1. Combine equal parts sugar and water in a medium saucepan. The more cake you have or the larger the cake is, the more simple syrup you will require.
  2. On low to medium heat, allow the sugar to completely dissolve by mixing with a spoon. Once the sugar has dissolved, allow the mixture to simmer for 5-10 minutes without stirring or agitating.
  3. To prevent sugar crystals from forming, you can brush the sides of your pot with hot water to melt those crystals.

Once your sugar syrup is complete, you can slightly cool it before using it on your cake.

Your cake should preferably be lukewarm to absorb as much syrup as possible. Using a pastry brush, brush the syrup all over the cake layer (only one side is necessary) and cover with plastic wrap or a cake dome.

Allow the layers to stand for 2-3 hours so the syrup infuses with the cake crumb. Not only will this add some moisture back in, but it will also add some extra sweetness and perfectly compliment your cake.

6. Choose the Correct Filling

A filling can make or break a cake. Choosing a moist filling will distract from a dry cake and fill in for any moisture lost to the oven.

In fact, a drier cake can actually be the perfect complement to a moist filling, as it will soak up a bit of the wetness and dilute a bit of the sweetness to create a nice balance.

These types of filling include a cream-based filling, jelly like strawberry or raspberry, or a very moist and fluffy buttercream filling.

7. Microwave the Cake

This is a very unusual method that we have only tried once (it worked). 

Moisten a piece of paper towel and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Place the layer of cake on top and place it in the microwave on high for 20 seconds

This method works even better if your cake will fit under a plastic microwave-safe cover.

The moist paper towel creates steam. This method only works if you plan on serving cake immediately. You can also do this for pre-assembled and iced or frozen-thawed cake slices to revive them.

8. Steam the Cake

This works in the same way the microwave does. Place the cake layer in an oven-safe container that is slightly larger than the cake itself. Then place that container inside a larger one.

Fill the bottom container with boiling water and allow it to stand for 5-8 minutes. Remove the layer of cake and wrap it in plastic wrap to trap the moisture.

9. Serve It With Moisture

When all else fails, you can try serving the dry cake with something wet, like cream or ice cream. This will provide the moisture separately but will make the cake slightly less appetizing on its own.

Something like ice cream is also great in the summer with cake, as it provides that refreshing feel you crave on hot days. Ice cream also comes in various flavors which can be matched to that of the cake and filling.

Up Next: Does Cake Mix Go Bad?

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