Oh man, I struggled so much with the title of this post. I have this issue with the word “moist”. It weirds me out. I tried to find another word to use, I really did. I used a thesaurus (I say that like it was a real book, but nah, I used thesaurus.com) and tried to find another word I could use. But these options didn’t really sound that great either:
5 Tips To Help Keep Your Cake Damp
5 Tips To Help Keep Your Cake Soggy
5 Tips To Help Keep Your Cake Clammy
5 Tips To Help Keep Your Cake Humid
5 Tips To Help Keep Your Cake Not Dry
It was tempting to use “Not Dry” because it sounds hilarious, but then I slapped myself, told myself I was overthinking it – not everyone is as weird about things as I am, and decided to stick with 5 tips to help keep your cakes moist. But now maybe I’ve ruined the word for you too. Sorry. Should we just talk about cake now?
There are few things in this world that are less appetising than a dry cake. Not even the nicest cake flavour in the world can make up for a dry texture in your mouth. You wouldn’t enjoy eating sawdust just because it was flavoured with the finest Madagascan vanilla beans. But what can you do to make sure you don’t end up with sawdust?
The most obvious is that you should start with a good recipe. It’s so obvious that I’m not even counting it as one of my tips (but if you’d like to give me credit for a bonus tip, then that’s ok with me). Recipes containing ingredients like oil, sour cream and buttermilk are usually particularly moist.
If you’re looking at recipes online, check out the comments section. You can pretty much guarantee that if someone tried the recipe and it was dry, then they’ll have popped online to comment on it. But bear in mind that possibly many people liked the recipe, and just haven’t said so. People will be sure to comment if they don’t like something, but many are happy to keep their mouths/fingers shut if they do like it because frankly, they’re too busy shoving delicious cake into their faces. Long story short, if you’re looking at recipes online, check out the reviews, but the only way to know for sure is to try it yourself.
If you happen to have a trusty recipe given to you by a friend, a grandmother, or your favourite neighbour, then that’s even better.
Let’s rip into the tips, shall we?
5 Tips to Help Keep Your Cakes Moist
1. Don’t Over-Bake Your Cake.
This one is probably pretty obvious, right? An over-baked cake is clearly going to be dry. And crumbly. And probably a bit burnt and crusty on the outside. Over-baking a cake means that the moisture from the cake batter will evaporate rather than staying inside the cake, where we want it.
But how do you go about making sure your cake doesn’t get over-baked – apart from the obvious don’t-totally-forget-your-cake-is-in-the-oven?
First, I’d suggest buying an oven thermometer. Home ovens can often run a lot hotter or colder than the temperature dial would have you believe. They can also have hot spots and cold spots, which will change the baking time of anything you put in there.
If you have a suspicion that your oven temperature may be off or that perhaps you have hot spots, then I suggest doing a bit of a test sometime (when you’re not about to bake a cake). Turn your oven on to the temperature you usually bake at, with your thermometer in the centre of the oven. Every ten minutes or so, move the thermometer around in the oven, then leave it for a bit, and check the reading (keep in mind that most thermometers take a little while to adjust, so give it time). Try the oven at different temperatures, and if it is actually running hot or cold, make a note of the temperature difference, so you can factor that in then next time you bake, and crank the temperature dial up or down to compensate.
Once you know the oven is at the right temperature for the cake you’re making and the recipe you’re using, start checking your cake at the minimum baking time specified in the recipe. Don’t be tempted to start checking before that time – if your cake isn’t sufficiently set when you open the oven door, then the temperature drop will make the cake sink, and there will be no saving it if that happens.
So start checking at the minimum time and then if the cake isn’t done yet, use your best judgement as to how much longer to leave it before checking again. Once it is baked, take note of how long it took to bake, so you’ll know for next time.
On the subject of checking your cake is done, have a look at this post I wrote a while back about checking when your cake is done. If you use those testing methods, then you will know for sure that your cake is done and you won’t be tempted to leave it in the oven “just a wee bit longer, to make sure”.
2. Use Baking Strips.
If you’re baking a dense cake, like a mud cake or a fruitcake, and it needs a long slow baking time, then using baking strips will protect the outside of the cake and slow down the browning of the crust so it doesn’t dry out before the centre of the cake is done. You can use old towels soaked in water to wrap your cake pans or make foil baking strips, which you can find my tutorial for >here<.
3. Don’t Underestimate The Importance Of Sugar.
I know in these days of “sugar is bad”, it can be tempting to look at a recipe and think “surely it doesn’t need that much sugar?!” But before you go reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe, remember, sugar isn’t only in baking for sweetness.
Sugar is hygroscopic, which means it attracts water and has the ability to hold it. This keeps the moisture in your cake, rather than having it evaporate while the cake is baking, or when the cake is being stored. In fact, sugar can absorb moisture from the air (that’s the reason why your crunchy cookies can go soft if you don’t store them correctly, especially in humid environments).
If you reduce the sugar in a recipe, you are reducing the cake’s ability to hold onto that moisture, which will likely result in a drier cake.
Also keep in mind that brown sugar is even more hygroscopic than white sugar, so if you have a recipe where keeping a light colour isn’t important you could consider replacing some of the white sugar with brown. My devil’s food cake uses both caster sugar and brown sugar, and this is part of the reason why the cake stays so moist.
4. If In Doubt, Syrup It.
If, for whatever reason, your cake is looking a bit dry when you’re splitting it into layers for filling, or even if you just want to make sure your cake stays moist during the decorating process, you can brush each layer with a simple sugar syrup.
Just boil together equal parts granulated (or caster) sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, then leave it to cool before brushing it onto your cake layers with a pastry brush.
You can also use the syrup to add even more flavour to your cake. Flavourings for simple syrup are limited only by your imagination, from the obvious and easy choice of adding some vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla bean, to citrus zest, instant coffee, any kind of liqueur (Amaretto and Frangelico are my personal favourites, they’re amazing with a good chocolate cake).
Edit: I now have a whole post allll about syrup. I dubbed it “The Ultimate Guide to Sugar Syrup for Cakes“, so hopefully you’ll find out everything you ever wanted to know about syrup there.
5. Store It Correctly
This is also a bit of a no-brainer, but if you don’t store your cake properly, then it can lose moisture very quickly.
After baking, depending on your recipe you’ll either need to cool the cake in the cake pan (I do this with my chocolate mud cakes, they’re cooled completely in the pan overnight, with the pan covered in foil once the cake is no longer hot to the touch) or turn the cake out onto a cooling rack after a specified time, and leave it until cool.
Then, if you’re not decorating immediately, the cake should be well wrapped in plastic wrap (clingfilm) and stored in an airtight container. You can also freeze it stored like this. Some people say that freezing your cake layers for a few days will make them moister. I haven’t tested it so I can’t say for sure, but I prefer not to freeze cakes that I make for others, as I like them to have the option of freezing any leftovers.
How you choose to cover and decorate your cake will also affect the moisture. The best way to seal it is to cover the cake in chocolate ganache and then fondant. Buttercream and fondant will also have a similar effect. That’ll stop the cake drying out while you’re decorating it into a state of fabulousness.
Once the cake is cut and served, any remaining cake should be stored in an airtight container. If you have used fondant then that will likely go soft (because it’s sugar, and as we know, sugar absorbs moisture) but storing the cake airtight is the best way to keep the moisture in the actual cake. And that’s the bit we care about.
Do you have any genius tips on how to keep your cakes moist? (or, not dry?) I’d love it if you let me know what they are!
PS: This helpful tip was just offered up by my father: “Don’t let me eat the leftover cake, because I never put the lid back on the container properly so the cake dries out”.
And that’s a good tip, because he never, ever puts it back on properly. Not that that is something I complain about often. Really, it’s not.