How to prevent dense, gluey streaks in your cake: Quick tip

cake

See the two slices of lemon cake above?

The one on the right has a typical texture: an even, fairly close grain.

But the one on the left shows streaks – areas of dense, sodden cake. Taking a bite, you’d think it was under-baked – even though it’s actually completely baked.

One of my fellow King Arthur Flour test bakers, Frank Tegethoff, recently called me into the test kitchen for show & tell.

We bakers often do this with one another – “Hey, wanna see something interesting?” someone will say, pulling a deflated loaf of bread, ultra-flat cookie – or perfectly shaped muffin – out of the oven.

We then gather around for a quick lesson in the particular area of baking science demonstrated by said unsuccessful (or super-successful) baked good.

Frank said, “Both of these slices of cake are from the same recipe. Same ingredients; same pan. Same baking time and temperature. Why do you think this one has this pasty middle, and the other one looks fine?”

I considered the question. Preparation method must be the variable. “Ummm… something about how you put together the batter?” (The girl’s a genius!)

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Frank proceeded to share his secret. The cake with the pasty center was “over-creamed.”

“How do you over-cream cake batter?” I asked. “I thought the more air you beat in, the better.”

Frank explained that’s true, but creaming (beating together sugar, butter, and eggs) has to be done slowly; “no higher than medium speed.”

And once any flour is added, the mixing has to be slower still. Developing the flour’s gluten too much means the cake will rise beautifully in the oven – then sink (a little, or a lot) as soon as you pull it out.

And the sinking cake is what makes dense, moist, gluey streaks.

Lesson learned: beat butter and sugar and eggs at medium speed. Once you add flour, mix gently.

Thanks, Frank!

Since you can’t be right here in the test kitchen with us, we offer you the next best thing: our toll-free baker’s hotline, staffed by test kitchen bakers. Next time your cake collapses, your cookies crumble, or your bread behaves badly, call us: 855-371-BAKE (2253). We’re here to help.

By the way, since I know you’ll ask – that’s Lemon Bliss Cake Frank used in his experiment.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      On my 10-speed KitchenAid, I consider medium speed 4-5, either one. Hope this helps – PJH

  1. Lea

    But what if those dense streaks make you all nostalgic because they are the best tasting part of a homemade cream cheese pound cake?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Then by all means, Lea, long live the dense streaks in your cream cheese pound cake! Happy baking! Elisabeth@KAF

    2. hddonna

      Yay for dense poundcakes! Although I wanted a lighter white cake (see my comment below), for years I have enjoyed Martha Adams’ Amish Half a Pound Cake. You put everything in the bowl, beat it for 20 minutes, put it in a cold oven, turn it to 350 degrees, bake, turn out immediately, and let cool. It breaks a lot of rules, but it is fast, easy and delicious. It comes out with the dense streaks about two times out of three, and we prefer it that way!

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Those old-fashioned recipes that often defy all the rules of modern baking convention often turn out to be some of my favorite! Thanks for sharing and happy, rule-breaking baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  2. hddonna

    I am so glad you wrote about this, PJ! Just a few days ago, I made your Tender White Cake for the third time, and each time I make it, I get the result you refer to. I have always had great success with cakes, but this is the first recipe I have made a recipe using the paste method. I used medium speed throughout, including after adding the milk at the end, and must have beaten the batter too long. I was thinking I’d have to start hunting for a different easy white cake recipe–I wanted one that didn’t require the whites to be beaten separately in order to streamline preparation and cleanup. I can’t wait to try this recipe again, using a slower speed at the end and a shorter beating time.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Donna, let us know if your next cake turns out to be exactly what you’re looking for – good luck! PJH

    2. Heather

      hddonna – I had problems with the KAF white cake recipe too. I also wanted one that didn’t require the whites to be beaten separately. I follow another blog – Joe Pastry – and early this year he was taking requests for recipes. I asked him for a white cake recipe. His recipe is similar in ingredients and preparation. One big difference is how you add the liquid. You combine the milk, egg whites and extract then add half, beat, scrape, half, beat, scrape then add balance of liquid and beat a little longer. I love KAF and go to them first for all things baking but I do use Joe’s white cake recipe – using KAF cake flour of course : )

    3. hddonna

      PJ–thanks–I’ll report back here when I do get a chance to try again. It may be a while. Heather–thanks for the tip. Maybe I’ll have to do a comparison between methods/recipes.

  3. Heather

    I always wondered what made those dense streaks! I just assumed I undercooked the batter :) Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. PAUL from Ohio

    Way to go FRANK, and PJ for sharing. Absolutely one of the finer points of baking but something many of us, myself included, have oft wondered about…ps – Lemon Bliss cake is THE BEST!

    Reply
  5. Laurie

    In pound cakes, I have heard that doughy bit called a “sad streak”, and I like it! But I will certainly try creaming at a lower speed to get a more even texture.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Laurie- Who knew there was actually a name for those things? Thanks so much for sharing and teaching me something new today and best of luck on your pound cake adventure! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

    2. NS

      My grandfather – a baker – also called this a “sad streak.” But he was never ashamed of a cake that exhibited that trait. (But he probably would not have sold it)

  6. Joe

    So, if over beating the gluten causes dense streaks, what happens if using gluten free flour? Is it immune, or does this have the same effect on potato starch and xanthum gum additives.
    (Unfortunately, my wife also seems to have a reaction to tapioca as well, otherwise I would just ask you about your gluten-free all purpose flour).

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Joe- Using gluten-free flour would have its own set of issues. Although the final result may present the same way in your cake (gummy or greasy steaks), it would not be because of the same reasons, as the hydration, incorporation, and stabilization of ingredients in gluten-free baking is a different can of worms entirely. If you have a particular recipe you were interested in trouble shooting, please feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-2253 and we’d be happy to help you out over the phone. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  7. Carol Ashworth

    For me what works even with box cake mix it to beat the eggs by themselves till nice and foamy. Then proceed with the recipe!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion Carol! It always helps to have new ideas on what might work for different recipes when your first try doesn’t succeed. Happy Baking and thanks again for sharing! Jocelyn@KAF

  8. Karen

    Really? Thanks! I do beat on high speed, oops. I thought my cakes had streaks because I use egg substitute instead of real eggs ( we have cholesterol issues). Thanks for the great information.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s always hard to tell what can cause the millions of issues we have all run into with our baked goods at one time or another, but hopefully we’ve helped you at least solve this one mystery. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  9. Mike Patterson

    Recently had this happen. A beautiful pound cake so big and fluffy, then as it started to cool, it deflated. When it was cut there were greasy looking bands inside.Now I know why! Thanks for the tip. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s great to hear you found this tutorial so useful! Hope your next one come out streak-free and beautiful risen! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  10. kathyd

    I am so glad to read this. I spent about a month making cream cheese pound cakes that came out this way. Nobody at work complained but I was annoyed. Everytime I would take it out of the oven it fell. Even friends on the Baking Circle thought it was under baked. I can’t tell you how much butter/sugar/flour/cream cheese I went through testing. And how much I whipped those eggs, butter, and sugar! Lesson learned! I can’t wait to make another cream cheese pound cake now.
    Thanx again for sharing,
    KathyD

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi KathyD- I know how you feel when you can’t figure out the one little thing in your recipe that just isn’t right- it can be terribly frustrating. I am thrilled to hear we helped you figure that out! Best of luck with the next cream cheese pound cake and happy baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  11. Lori

    Interesting! What about when this happens with a Portuguese sweet bread that was mixed and risen in a breadmaker but baked in the oven? Would this mean that the sweet bread batter was over-creamed too and should be kneaded in the KA or by hand before baking? I was just wondering if this only applied to cake, or to bread too. I haven’t had this problem with any other bread recipe other than sweet bread. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lori-
      The issues that arise in bread doughs will be different than those you see in cakes as the ingredients will interact differently. If you’d like to talk about the issues you are having with your Portuguese Sweet Breads, please feel free to contact our Baker’s Hotline at 1-855-371-2253 and we’d be happy to help you figure out whats going on over the phone. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  12. Robin

    Thank you so much for this useful and enlightening lesson! This just happened to me last week because I gave both children time to help mix the cake. The cake was delicious as always but had fallen in the middle. Now I know why! :)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re so glad to hear that you could put this advice to good use! I guess next time you’ll have to try one round of team mixing with the kiddos, but in the end, sometimes a little bit of sunken cake (still as delicious as a pretty one) is worth a great memory with your family. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  13. ML Chow

    Thanks for the tips. But I still don’t quite understand how the speed of mixing would give you the steaks? Would it be the heat generated by the high speed melts the butter? Or is the gluten got developed by over mixing? If gluten is the culprit, then why not the whole cake becomes pasty but only streaks?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi ML- The details of everything that is happening is quite complex and not dependent on any singular factor in the recipe. The important thing to note is that the general act of over-mixing, particularly at high speeds, whether at the creaming or flour addition stage, will cause interactions between ingredients that lead ultimately to a breakdown of the proper structure of the cake, which is what you spent so much effort developing before we beat it back down. So just stick to slightly lower speeds and watch your batter to be sure you stop it as soon as it is fully incorporated and fluffy and you should be all set to go with a beautifully-crumbed cake. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact our Baker’s Hotline at 1-855-371-2253. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  14. carol gronli

    So if I mix it by hand with a whisk/wooden spoon/fork, what speed do I put my arm on? *giggle*
    Actually I grew up mixing by hand and that’s how I was taught. Want a challenge? Make an angel food cake from scratch by hand. I promise your muscles will hate you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Carol- Just an average speed by hand should be fine for bringing everything together, with maybe a little quick mixing just to fluff up the batter a bit at the end to ensure a full creaming and incorporation of all the ingredients. No need to kill yourself with a super-fast whipping throughout, but I hold a great deal of respect for anyone who dares to take on an angel food cake from scratch. You are a braver woman than I and this cake should be a walk in the park for you! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  15. rltracy

    I have also had that problem. I assumed I under baked it. But it is interesting that the toothpick came out clean which stumped me. Been leery of trying that recipe again but I will now.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Best of luck with your next attempt and feel free to be in touch with our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253 if you have any other question we can help with to get you on track to a lovely pound cake in no time! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  16. Elaine

    Thanks! I could not figure out what happened to my black walnut cake, it looked just like this the last time I made it. I will pay much more attention to the settings and timing for the next one.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Best of luck Elaine! I’m sure you’re increased attentiveness will lead you too a wonderful, streak-free black walnut cake this time around…happy baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  17. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez -SENAC R.J. -Petrópolis R.J.- BRAZIL-

    Excelent post.
    One of the best acts we professionals must encourage is to share all our own experiences among partners at kitchen.
    Can i share something i discovered about baking breads adding acid fruits such Kiwi and even papaya in great amounts at the dough?
    One evening i decided to bake some kiwi fruit bread and after i´ve added an amount of fruit to the dough at begining of mixing time, at first speed, i set the mix velocity at second speed and started developing faster. The dough was a soft one with little addition of eggs and butter. After 4 minutes beating i stopped the mixer and checked all the work done! And what happened to the dough?
    It turned heavy a lot and very dense, something new to me who always worked with well developed gluten dough with softly results at the end of developing work. That dough turned bad and completely unapropriated to growth and turn on a nice bread. I threw it out and started to think what could be happened to that dough. Something really bad occured. The dough turned so heavy that was difficult to turn it out from the bowl. And the elasticity was losted definitely with no way back to normal condition. After study a lot about that situation and after consulted to my biology teacher he noticed and cleared my mind about what really occured. what happened was a denaturation of protein bonds due to high acidification caused by the fruit addition at dough!
    It was right. But one another question occupied my mind!
    I would never be able to make Kiwi breads, anymore?? How can i do to face that challenge?
    I started to think and after several times of study that bread question, i´d got the answer.
    What i needed to do is to develop the dough first with none addition of fruit. After the dough achieved the full development of gluten, then i turned the mixer velocity to low speed and added Kiwi acid fruit at finalof the process. It works great and i obtained the best Kiwi bread i was looking for so long time!
    Another conditions that could cause denaturation on bread doughs are high temperature exposition of dough by long time and heavy and prolongated mechanical work of dough, damaging the gluten chains permanently!

    So, we need to be in tune with the others who may have some answers to our technical questions.It´s fantastic and must be incentivated!
    Nice and opportune post!!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Ricardo- Thank you so much for sharing all your experiences and for emphasizing the importance of everyone in the baking community working together to share their experiences and solve their problems. That camaraderie is what makes this such a wonderful community to be a part of. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  18. valerie46

    I never add the dry ingredients with mixer – always gently fold in by hand, using a METAL spoon for lightness – wood, plastic or silicon are too heavy, although they may feel lighter in the hand. Metal has a much cleaner edge, which is what you use when “folding”.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences with this common issue. It’s wonderful that you have found a solution that works so well for you and we wish you the best of luck in your pound cake endeavors! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  19. Sherry Boyd

    So glad to see this article! I’ve made a lemon sour cream pound cake from a recipe I found last year and up until recently I had not experienced this happening to my cake. I knew the moment the cake cooled that something was amiss but I had promised it for a cookout and didn’t have a back up! I do remember creaming the butter, sugar, flour (King Arthur of course) and egg yolks on higher than medium speed for a longer time in my lift stand kitchen aid mixer. Thankfully my friend and her family know that I’m a great baker so I took my licks for the bad cake gracefully. I can tell you that shook my confidence a bit and I have yet to attempt the cake again since. I just thought I hadn’t baked it enough. Now thanks to understanding the science behind this particular problem, I will happily get back to baking this awesome cake!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Way to get back in there Sherry! Hopefully armed with your new found knowledge you can conquer that cake without any fear and all those who were giving you grief will be forced to bite there tongues when they taste your next, sure to be delicious, attempt! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  20. Carolyn

    Post like this are why I love this blog so much. Thank you for sharing information about technique and science.

    Reply
  21. marietta

    Thanks for the info. I made a coconut pound cake last month and used a Bundt pan instead of a loaf. I had the streak effect and basically assumed I shouldn’t have switched pans. I did test with a toothpick and thought it was done. I will remember from this day forward to use medium speed and even less when adding the flour. Feeling much better now.

    Reply
  22. Tomoko

    I really enjoy the posts here, but this was a real help. I always wondered what happened and why? Thanks for the education. Very appreciated.

    Reply
  23. Lorraine Stevenski

    Thank you KA for another great baking tip! My baking mentor, Nick Malgieri, wrote a fabulous cookbook called PERFECT CAKES. There are a few recipes in this book called “High Ratio Cakes”. He explains “a high-ratio cake is one in which the weight of the sugar equals or exceeds the weight of the flour”. Basically you mix all the dry ingredients with the butter on LOW speed. Then the liquids are whisked together and added in a few increments on MEDIUM speed for about 2 minutes each increment. Finally a “vigorous” stir by hand with a rubber spatula just to insure the batter is properly mixed and smooth. Would you think this method would work for all pound cakes and insure a smooth crumb? The lemon bliss cake is not a high-ratio cake in measure, but is almost borderline so. Love this baking class!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you want the best cake or baked results, use the method described in the recipe (we trust it’s been tried and tested!). If you are an experimental baker, bake one cake according to the recipe directions and the next cake using the method you described. You’ll be able to see (and taste) your results, knowing which method works best for you in your kitchen. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  24. Ria Koper

    Well, what do you know ? I made the lemon bliss cake and had exactly the same cake as the one on the left. With the dense streak in it. And indeed I was wondering how that happened. Because it did taste done ! so next time I will follow the instructions regarding beating Thanks everybody !!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Try, try again, Ria – I’m sure it was delicious anyway, love that recipe! :) PJH

  25. Laura Fischer

    The cakes with a ‘sad streak’ are considered the BEST, according to all my Virginia friends! They all have fond memories of their grandmother’s, or mother’s cakes being that way sometimes. The term ‘sad’ refers to the heaviness…or solidity…like a ‘sad iron’, the extremely heavy irons women used to have to use. Or, even the heavy physical feeling, we have when we experience sadness, like a weight on your chest.

    Thanks for tips/technique tune ups! You guys are wonderful!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I love the image of the “sad iron” and how much history and emotion is wrapped up it. Thanks so much for sharing. Barb@KAF

  26. Craig

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful method tip. I’ve always been one the beat the daylights out of the ‘creamed’ ingredients for virtually all recipes. And to think that I’ve been doing it wrong for nearly 50 years! I made my own test yesterday; the proof is in the cake! -Craig

    Reply
  27. "Midnite Baker"

    I, too, think this is a “aha” blog. Would you be so kind as to add a link from the recipe to this very informative blog? Thanks so much. Mary

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Mary, it doesn’t apply to only this recipe, but to many cake recipes, so I’d prefer not to appear to single this one out as requiring any “special” help. We’re currently working on a new baking guide section, and this blog will definitely link from our cake-baking guide. Thanks for the suggestion – PJH

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