I Follow the Recipe Exactly . . . But My Cake Is Always Dry

Categories: Chow Bella

​I have one parlor trick. Actually, it's more like having a good read on someone in a poker game. Whether it's about an old family recipe or a new one discovered online, most of the baking questions I get fall into two categories:

1. My cake is never moist (the vast majority) and

2. My dough is too wet.

My trick? I always know why. 

Andy shares his tricks after the jump.

measure flour.jpg
When I hear "too dry" I say, "I'll bet that when you get the flour you scoop it into the measuring cup and then shake it to level it off."  Almost everyone says "yes" - wondering how I could know that.   I know because the dry-cake people all jiggle the cup

Knowing how to measure ingredients is essential for baking success.
Imagine a jar of quarters. It's full, but you have more quarters you want to add to the jar. What do you do? You shake the jar, the quarters settle, and you can get more in. 

The same thing happens with flour. Overfill and jiggle a one-cup measure and you easily get an extra two tablespoons. In a 4-cup recipe that's half a cup of extra flour and a dry cake.

What's a baker to do? Conveniently, I was weaned on cookbooks. The old Betty Crocker Cookbook tells the reader to 1. dip, 2. level, and 3. pour. Dip the measuring cup into the flour and overfill. Use a chopstick, or the flat side of a knife to level the flour without packing it down. Pour your perfectly measured cup into the mixing bowl and repeat until you have all the flour you need.

There's an alternative method that's more exact, but I never use it. Professional baker  like Anne-Marie Blanco weigh their ingredients. 8 ounces of flour is always 8 ounces. If I had to weigh I'd just go to a good bakery.


With regard to the "too wet" recipes my intuition is less accurate, but I take my best shot and lead with an egg question. 
"Tell me about your eggs ... do you get the nice extra large or jumbo eggs?" 

If so, that's your problem. Like so many things on the market, eggs just keep getting bigger. Standards for recipe writing (there are lots) dictate the use of large eggs, which contain 2 fluid ounces each. A jumbo egg has 2.5 ounces. 4 large eggs = 8 ounces and 4 jumbos = 10 ounces. If you're a smallish batch of cookies those extra two ounces might very well make you a bit soft around the middle.

There are three good things about downsizing your eggs. First, large cost less than jumbo. Second, your recipes will come out better. Third, you'll be getting a little less cholesterol. That means you can justify the butter in the cookie.

Now, if you're in the mood for Almond Scones with Chocolate Butter you're ready to bake.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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Jennifer Woods
Jennifer Woods

I'm a fan of using my scale, too.  But if the recipe isn't written in grams/oz, I skip it.  Lately, I've been shaking my container of flour to aerate it before dipping my measuring cup.

The Food Hunter
The Food Hunter

I agree with JK Grence.  Weighing is not a big deal at all. At least you know you're going to be consistent.  And after awhile you have all the measurements in your head it's a snap.


Weighing is a snap. You put the bowl on the scale, pour in enough flour, and you're done. No rinsing out the measuring cup afterward. Flour is 5 ounces a cup, sugar 7. If you bake on a regular basis, a small kitchen scale is a godsend.

Erica O.
Erica O.

My trick for a perfect flour measurement every time is to stick a whisk into the bag of flour (or confectioner's sugar) to aerate it before dipping and leveling. It does double duty by also mimicking the effect of that pesky "sift your dry ingredients" prompt.

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