The bakers of King Arthur are here to solve the kitchen conundrums you share with us, whether it’s on the phone, computer, or by the good old postal service. In Ask the Baker’s Hotline, Annabelle will pick the brains of the talented King Arthur Baker’s Hotline team to tackle some of your most-asked questions.
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At some point, we’ve all omitted an ingredient in a cake recipe. And the question is always the same: Can it be saved, and how? Before frantically pulling cakes out of the oven to try and sneak in that baking soda, sugar, vanilla, or eggs you forgot, Martina from our Baker’s Hotline is here to tell you if and when you can successfully backtrack.
How to save your cake batter if you forgot the sugar
Given that sugar is one of the most integral ingredients in a cake’s flavor, texture, appearance, and structure, it can be especially stressful if you finish mixing and realize it's still on the counter.
A lot of cake recipes call for creaming the butter and sugar before adding other ingredients. This step allows for the sugar and butter to create little air bubbles. With the heat of the oven and other structural ingredients (like eggs or chemical leaveners), the expansion of those air bubbles leads to a light, fluffy texture. But if you forgot the sugar in this step, all is not lost. Martina shares:
“You can add the sugar in at any point during mixing. The resulting cake will still taste great but be slightly dense from the lack of air bubbles.” That may not be a bad thing, though. A denser crumb structure creates a sturdier layer cake — which can be great for stacking and frosting.
How to save your cake batter if you forgot the eggs
Eggs serve multiple functions in cake: They can be used to leaven the cake (think Angel Food Cake), and add moisture, tenderness, and structure.
For chemically-leavened cakes — that is, cakes calling for baking powder or baking soda — it’s OK if you don’t remember to add the eggs until the end. Martina says, “Late in the mixing stage, eggs will incorporate better if you lightly beat them before adding to the batter. The finished cake may be slightly shorter than expected, but its flavor and tenderness shouldn’t be affected.”
For egg-leavened cakes, the eggs are crucial. These types of cakes rely solely on airy, whipped eggs for structure, so if you’ve forgotten them in this style of cake, you may be in trouble. But if you discover your mistake after you’ve poured the batter into the pan but before you’ve put it in the oven, all may not be lost: Return the batter to the mixing bowl, then fold in the beaten eggs or egg whites.
Gluten-free cake isn’t as forgiving. “The protein structure of eggs allows the fats, sugars, and flours to homogenize,” Martina shares. “In gluten-free cakes that call for eggs, where the flour itself is not binding, eggs are too important to leave out.” But as long as the cake isn’t baking yet, you can still add the eggs to the batter.
How to save your cake batter if you forgot salt, vanilla, or other flavorings
This one’s easy! If you catch it before the cake is in the oven, you can stir any of these in gently at the end. And if the cake is already baking, all will be OK: The cake won’t be as flavorful, but it will rise just the same and still be a perfectly fine cake. Just add an extra-flavorful frosting or topping (like this pineapple icing or salted caramel vanilla icing).
How to save your cake batter if you forgot baking powder or baking soda
Good news: You can easily add the chemical leavener — baking powder or baking soda — in at the end of mixing. “To make sure the leavener is fully incorporated, sift and sprinkle the powder(s) over the batter and gently stir them in,” says Martina. This should help prevent clumps of leavener in your cake, which can taste deeply unpleasant.
How to save your cake batter if you forgot mix-ins
Nuts, chips, fruits, or other mix-ins can be folded into the batter before baking. Do this with a gentle hand to avoid deflating the cake batter. Martina advises, “Sprinkles can be folded in, but can also be sprinkled on top if the batter is already in the pans. This is a good trick to add a little texture to the top of the cake layers.”
What's the point of no return?
If your batter is in the pan but hasn’t been baked yet, you can scrape it back into the bowl to add any missing ingredients. Once the cakes have begun baking, though, there’s no turning back. “At this point, the ingredients have started to set,” Martina explains. “It would not be beneficial to take the cake out and add ingredients.”
However, you may still be able to utilize your cake in a different way by getting creative. Suggests Martina, “If your cake seems fluffy and tender, cut it into cubes, layer them with fresh fruit and whipped cream, and boom! You have a beautiful trifle. Even if the cake is on the denser side, you could crumble it up and mix it with frosting to make cake pops.”
Got a question you'd like answered? Drop it in the comments below, and I’ll see you next time with more baking insights from the King Arthur Baker’s Hotline!
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook.