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Do I need to rotate cakes while baking?

empty pansOccasionally when baking, you may find yourself with a lack of oven space. Smaller than standard ovens pose little problem for most breads and cookies - assuming that they give you the full temperature range of a regular oven - but can pose a challenge for cake-bakers, especially if you want to bake a layer cake. Most standard sized ovens give you enough shelf space that you can fit two cake pans (8″, 9″ or even 10″) on a shelf, ensuring that your cakes bake at the same time, but when the shelf has room for only on pan, you may find yourself with limited options.

One option is to use two racks and switch the cakes halfway through baking. The other is to leave one cake pan sitting on the counter while the other bakes.

The second option, in this instance, is less preferable. Chemical leaveners are typically used in cakes. Baking soda reacts with moisture, meaning that some of its potency would be lost before the cake has time to “set” in the oven. Baking powder is double acting, so it reacts with both moisture and heat. A baking powder cake will fare better than a baking soda-only cake, but it is likely that it, too, will not rise quite as high as the cake that made it to the oven without a wait period. I should note that if you are baking a three layer cake, this might be your only option. Fortunately, those layers are often thinner than “regular” cake and, when the wait is only 20 or 30 minutes, it will still rise well, just a bit less than if there were no wait time.

The better solution is to use two racks. Switching the cakes ensures that each pan will get even exposure to the oven’s heating elements, so you will end up with evenly baked and well-risen cake layers. In spite of the various old wives’ tales that float around, the vast majority of cakes will be able to handle switching from one rack to another without collapsing.

Layer Cake Recipes
Classic White Cake with Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Layer Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting
Devil’s Food White Out Layer Cake
German Chocolate Cake

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  • Christina
    May 23, 2007

    That is my number one concern: the cakes collapsing when I rotate them. Perhaps it’s because, although I’m successful with cakes, I haven’t gotten it down completely, but it seems that whenever I open the oven the cakes inevitably collapse. What is the cause of this? In most recipes it says to rotate and I always wonder how they do it.

    Oh, funny that about this topic! I’m making a cake for my dad’s birthday this weekend, and although I won’t monkey with how I make the cake now, I’d like to know for future cake baking.

  • Nicole
    May 23, 2007

    There are really only two reasons why a cake would collapse. First, if it is an egg white-heavy cake (angel food and chiffon), it might collapse due to temperature changes, just like a soufle.
    Second, if you are dropping the cake down onto the rack, even unintentionally, instead of gently sliding it back into place.

    When cakes rise, air bubbles form in the batter. As the cake bakes, the batter around the bubbles becomes solid and the cake stays “up.” Switching cake pans shouldn’t disturb the cakes enough to make them fall in only a few seconds, although if you seriously disturb the unset batter, it will cause the cake to fall.

    I hope this helps clear it up!

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