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How do I make a cake moist?

Read some tips and tricks that will help make a cake moist and delicious.

A little effort up front results in a cake that's moist. [© 2009, Jupiter Images.]
© 2009, Jupiter Images.
A little effort up front results in a cake that's moist.

Baking a cake is one of the fundamental skills of any home baker, but knowing how to make a cake moist takes a bit of practice.

Finding the Right Recipe

A moist cake begins with the right recipe. However, as any baker can tell you, finding the right recipe is easier said than done. Thousands of cake cookbooks clutter bookstore shelves, many of them promising "easy" recipes that will yield delicious, moist cakes. So how do you choose? Despite new cookware technology, you still have to rely on the same methods that bakers have used for thousands of years: Trial and error.

Because ingredients, as well as ovens, vary from kitchen to kitchen, the only way to learn how to make a moist cake is to simply make a lot of them. This will result in plenty of decidedly non-moist cakes, but eventually you'll hit upon the right recipe.

There are plenty of online resources to help you sift through the mountains of cake recipes at your disposal, such as Allrecipes.com, where thousands of users submit and rate cake recipes. You can also hop on to an Internet discussion board, such as the one at legendary cake expert's Rose Levy Beranbaum's Web site, to discuss moistness issues with other bakers and get suggestions for recipes and cookbooks.

Choosing Your Ingredients

Making a moist cake requires not only skill in the kitchen but also a basic understanding of the chemistry of baking. Choosing the right ingredients can go a long way to making a moist cake. For example, protein from flour and eggs provides the stiffening and drying agents for cake -- what makes a cake "set." Egg whites in particular dry out a cake, so baking experts recommend using just the egg yolks for a moister cake.

Unfortunately, the ingredients that make a cake soft and supple have similar effects on your belly -- sugar and fat. For a moister cake, try adding an extra quarter-cup of sugar to the recipe, a little extra butter, or a touch more oil (oil can slow down gluten production during the baking process, which can dry out a cake).

If tinkering with the protein/fat ratio doesn't provide the desired moistness, try adding an extra moistening agent to the batter before baking -- sour cream and mayonnaise are two popular choices.

Be careful with your ingredients, though. One mistake many novice bakers make is confusing "moist" with "wet." Beginners often try to undercook the cake, or dump in gobs of moistening agents (such as sour cream, mayonnaise, or applesauce). But going overboard with moistening ingredients often leads to little more than a soggy, wet mess.

Choosing the Correct Oven Temperature

No matter how carefully you measure your ingredients or ingeniously substitute moistening agents, your work will go for naught if you fail to bake the cake for the right time and at the right temperature. Understanding how your oven works is key in this step of the process -- electric ovens and gas ovens behave differently, as do ovens at different altitudes. Do not over-bake, at all costs -- the first few times you make a recipe, make liberal use of a cake tester and check on the cake regularly.

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