(images: Katelyn Allegra)
I want to be upfront here, I have nothing against cakes with domed tops. The top of the cake can be easily trimmed off which leaves you with a flat cake – and a treat! But if you’re a perfectionist and looking to up your skills, getting a flat top on your sponge cake layers is something you’ve probably only been dreaming of. Until now!
First, let’s get to the sciency stuff about why a cake makes a dome in the first place. Cakes dome because the outer edges of the cake cook quicker than the center of the cake. The cake forms an outer crust and sets so when the inside carries on cooking, it rises and pushes the crust up.
So how can we avoid that? Some bakers swear by baking the cake low and slow. This is fine if you bake a lot of cakes and have managed to find the ‘sweet spot’ temperature and cooking time of your oven, but if you’re a home baker, that’s not really an option.
There have been a few so-called hacks along the way that supposedly result in flat-topped sponges:
1. Create an indent in the centre of the batter to counteract the rising – in my experience, this doesn’t work all the time because the batter liquefies in the oven anyway which makes that process a waste of time!
2. Turning the cakes upside down on a board as soon as the cake comes out the oven. This doesn’t work for me – all it does is compress the cake, which makes it heavier and dense and defeats the point of trying to create a light cake.
3. Cake tin quality – a thicker, sturdier cake tin will regulate the heat better than a thin flimsy cake tin, but we can’t all afford to buy expensive cake tins!
So, what’s the trick then? A damp towel. That’s all! Wrap a strip of the damp towel around your cake tin and bake as normal and you’ll get a flat-topped cake.
But how does it work? Well, remember the sciency stuff earlier? The damp tea towel keeps the edges of the cake tin cooler for longer, preventing the sides from baking before the centre of the cake is cooked. It has to do with evening out heat distribution. Clever, right?
Here’s how to do it:
Cut an old bath towel into strips that fit around your cake tin (make sure there are no threads hanging that could catch alight!) then submerge the towel in cold water for 5 minutes. Wrap the strip around the cake tin and secure it with safety pins. Pour in your cake batter and bake as normal. If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, you can get out your sewing machine.