Striving for your cake to crack may sound counterintuitive. Everything we know about cheesecake and roll cakes revolves around the idea of preventing cracking. Our baking instincts lead us to try and cover the “mistake” with frosting, fruit, or other eye-catching decorations. But pound cakes and quick breads break the rules — they look better with a craggy crack running symmetrically down the center.
First, why the crack occurs: Since quick breads and pound cake batters tend to be thick and dense, the exterior bakes first. But as the center of the cake continues to bake, releasing moisture, it rises, pushing through the top crust, and creating a crack. So given that a crack is going to happen, is there a way to make it more intentional, and less haphazard?
The answer is yes! The solution to controlling it lies in a missing step that's not usually written into a recipe: creating a divot down the center of the batter before you bake the cake. Similar to scoring a bread loaf, this creates a designated place for the loaf to crack.
Here are a few ways to get your loaf to crack evenly across the center:
1) Make a shallow cut with a knife or offset spatula
Starting off with the most straightforward method: Use an offset spatula or butter knife to “draw” a line lengthwise down the center of your batter before baking. Aim for a cut that runs nearly the entire length of the pan (leaving about 1/2" on each side) and is about 1" deep.
2) Make a shallow cut with a buttered knife
Following the same method above, you can add the step of melting butter and brushing it onto a knife before it gets dipped into the batter for a more dramatic crack in the loaf. For especially thick batters and high-rising loaves, the addition of butter helps “define” the crack more.
3) Pipe a line of softened butter down the center
Using a piping bag or small zip-top bag, pipe a thin line, about 1/8" thick, of softened butter (a tablespoon will do) down the center of the batter. As blogger Erin Clarkson of Cloudy Kitchen illustrates in this video, this line of softened butter coaxes the batter to a crack right where you want it.
Ready to put the technique to the test? Try it in these loaf cakes and quick breads: King Arthur’s Original Pound Cake, Tahini Poppy Seed Pound Cake, Chocolate Pound Cake, Whole Grain Banana Bread, Cranberry-Apricot Quick Bread.
Cover photo (Tahini Poppy Seed Pound Cake) by Danielle Sykes, food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.