I’m sharing my best tips for how to get moist cakes. It’s a question I get asked often. How do I make cakes moist. Well, it really is possible to make scratch cakes that actually come out moist.
This question seems to come up quite often. It’s an ongoing battle to get your cakes to come out moist and actually stay that way.
There are a multitude of ways you can make sure you’ve got a moist cake and a lot of ways to ensure you’ll end up with a dry one. Let’s get to the tips on how to get moist cakes.
First I’ll acknowledge the elephant in the room: I know there are people out there who hate the word ‘moist’. Seriously, they hate it and the word grosses them out. I don’t really hate it, but it’s not my favorite word. I get it though. I have other words that I can’t stand.
Really I don’t have a single word I hate, but it’s more like I just hate cliches in general. I say I hate cliches, but I still somehow end up saying them and then I hate myself for it 😉 Anyway, I think we’re all kind of weird in our own way.
My point is I’m sorry, but I’m going to say the word ‘moist’ in the this blog post a whole bunch. I’m just preparing you. I’m using it because that is the word most people use when they ask this question and frankly I’m not sure of an alternate word I could use. If you think of one, I’m all ears 😉
Also…there’s a video toward the bottom of this post if you’re more of a video learner.
Mix vs. Scratch Cakes:
If you’ve been in the caking world longer than five minutes, you know the battle of mix cakes vs scratch cakes is a contentious topic. I’m not going to delve too deeply into it.
I think we are all grown-ups and can decide for ourselves what we are comfortable using and what our family, friends or customers enjoy. I say to each their own…live and let live (and all that jazz).
The reason I bring it up though is because frankly it’s more difficult to get a moist scratch cake than a moist cake mix cake. Obviously that’s because there’s stuff added to the box cake mix to help achieve that. I don’t think many people have a problem with cake mix cakes coming out dry.
If you do, more than likely, you’re just over-baking it, or maybe it’s just a bad brand. The whole purpose of the box mix is to get a consistent end product that’s moist and fluffy.
I’m thinking that the problem rears its ugly head when people start making scratch cakes. I’m just gonna say right now that I LOVE scratch cakes. If you’ve read my About Page, you know my Mom and her business partner catered weddings when I was growing up.
I have eaten so much scratch cake, it’s insane. I can tell the difference between a scratch cake and a mix cake, no matter what you do to that box mix.
Now, I know most people can’t tell and haven’t been exposed to scratch cake very much and that is totally fine and there’s no judgement here. I’m also not a snob about it and I DO use box mixes on occasion…my preference is just for a scratch cake.
My point is that it IS possible to get a moist scratch cake. Will it taste like a box mix cake? No. Do you want it to? No. If your family or customers like mixes and they are working for you, use them! Stop worrying about it.
If you really want to learn to bake cakes from scratch and are just frustrated with what you’ve tried so far, I hear you. There are a lot of scratch cake recipes that come out dry and there are even more times when we ourselves are actually the culprit.
Okay, now we’ll get real about it. These tips can go for either a box mix or a scratch cake, but honestly, I’m talking more about the scratch cakes because that’s where people seem to be having the most issues. By the way, these are really in no particular order as they’re all really important.
Check your butter…is it actually real butter?
If your recipe calls for butter, make sure it’s room temperature and not too warm. Also, I ask the question ‘is it real butter’ because a lot of people buy the margarine sticks thinking its butter because it says ‘great for baking’ on the box. No, no, no…just pay a few extra dollars and get real butter.
Margarine has too much water content in it and it’s just going to throw off the texture of your cake. Use real butter, I promise it’s worth it.
Are you using too much flour? How are you measuring your flour?
Don’t take your measuring cup, dunk it into your flour bag and measure it that way. You’re essentially packing down the flour and that’s going to make your measuring off.
Take one smaller measuring cup, and use that as a scoop, then transfer to the larger measuring cup by spooning it in. Or just use a large tablespoon and spoon out the flour into the measuring cup. Then level off the top if you need to. Doing it this way assures that you won’t be adding unnecessary flour to your cake batter.
If you want more tips on how to measure cake ingredients properly, see my post on that here.
Sometimes a recipe using only egg whites may be dryer. Ok, don’t yell at me…I didn’t say ALL of them, but egg whites are drying and so some recipes using only egg whites might not be as moist as those incorporating egg yolks.
Now, using the egg yolks will keep the cake from being a completely white cake, so you just kind of have to weigh your pros and cons there. If you’ve got a recipe that calls for egg whites only, you can halve the amount and use whole eggs. Basically if it calls for six egg whites, use three whole eggs and vice versa.
Now, that won’t work in all cake recipes. For example a recipe that calls for you to whip the egg whites until stiff and then fold them into the batter…well, it’s not going to work to use the whole eggs instead. Use your best judgement on this.
Are you over-baking it? Vanilla cakes seem the hardest to keep moist and you’ve got to really watch the baking time on those. I tend to pull them out of the oven, a couple minutes before I think will be just right.
I’ve got an entire post that goes into all the different ways to tell if your cake is done. You can find that here.
Did you over-mix the batter, or did you mix it a different way than the instructions called for?
Scratch cakes aren’t like cake mix cakes. You can’t dump it all in a bowl and it come out fine. It won’t work that way.
Cake recipes have different mixing methods for a reason. There’s actually some science behind it and you get different results with different ingredients that you mix up in different ways. (Okay, maybe that sounded a bit confusing.)
The next thing is that you don’t want to mix scratch cake batter until it’s completely smooth. If you over-mix the batter, it will change the consistency. You could get a flat cake, a gummy cake, a cake that’s got glue-like streaks in it or a cake that’s compact and too dense.
All of those things will mess with the moisture and texture of the cake. Do you want to see how long to actually mix cake batter in real time? I’ve got an post about that with a ‘real time’ video on how to mix cake batter, which you can find here.
It’s not always something you’ve done. It could actually be the recipe. I caution you not to blame it on the recipe straight off though. Scratch cakes can be finicky, so really look into how you measured, if you forgot any ingredients, do you think you might have over-mixed it, or mixed it differently than the recipe called for?
Don’t just automatically assume it’s the recipe right off the bat. If you think back and you know you were extra careful to follow the instructions to a ‘t’ and you didn’t substitute anything, then you might have a recipe that just doesn’t work for you.
Say yes to sour cream. If you’ve seen any of my recipes, you know I love some sour cream. It just does something amazing to the cake texture. I think it makes a world of difference and really helps with the moistness of a cake.
Now don’t just go adding in some sour cream to a cake recipe. That could go wrong because you could throw off the ingredients. You’ll want to either find recipes that call for sour cream, or perhaps substitute sour cream for part of the liquid called for in the recipe. This is tricky to do because ratios in cake recipes are very particular, so just know that going in.
Here is my favorite scratch cake recipe using sour cream: Favorite Vanilla Bean Cake
Oil cakes seem to be more moist. The Hershey’s Cocoa cake is an example. It’s made with oil and it is VERY moist.
A lot of the cakes made with fruit like banana cake, apple cake and even zucchini and carrot cakes are usually made with oil and are very moist. But…(you knew there’d be a but didn’t you?) those cakes that use a lot of oil like that have either strong flavors like chocolate, or fruit in them like apple, zucchini and carrot. Using all oil instead of butter in a vanilla cake, just doesn’t work as well in my opinion.
My point is while oil cakes are very moist, just be careful about subbing out ingredients. Oil can’t be subbed equally with butter and vice versa. If you’ve tried the recipe a couple of times and it keeps turning out bad, maybe that’s just not the recipe for you.
Try another one, but you can go down a black hole of subbing out ingredients until you drive yourself crazy. Also, for the love of Betsy, don’t sub in oil for butter in a vanilla cake.
Maybe you already have a wonderful vanilla cake recipe that calls for oil, but I personally have never tasted an all oil vanilla cake that could beat a butter vanilla one. That’s just my two cents.
Some people use simple syrup on their cake layers. I don’t. Not because I’m against it, I just haven’t found a need for it. Some swear by it though. I think the queen of simple syrup would be Yolanda with How to Cake It. You can go here to see her recipe for it and how to use it. Simple Syrup by Yolanda Gampp
Is your cake really dry, or is it just cold? I know…I’m not really trying to be a smart-@$$, but I have actually heard of this happening. I read cake forums at times and clients really do take the cake right out of the fridge and go at it. They think the cake is dry, but in reality, it just needs to come closer to room temperature.
Cakes made with butter are notorious for hardening up a bit in the fridge. Most of them, when they come back to room temperature, are just as moist as when they were baked. (Obviously you want to cover your cake in the fridge though.)
Personally, I don’t refrigerate my cakes. Now, if your cake has perishable frosting or filling, you’ll have to refrigerate it, but just using regular American buttercream does not require refrigeration. You can read more about why I ‘usually’ don’t chill my cakes here.
A Quick Note about Dry Cupcakes:
A lot of the same principals we talked about above, apply to cupcakes as well. Being so small though, cupcakes tend to dry out so much quicker than cake. If you’re having trouble with cupcakes drying out on you, check out this blog post where I give you my tips: Keep Cupcakes from Drying Out
Alright, you’ve made it through all of my suggestions (plus a little ranting here and there), so now I’m going to throw you a challenge. If you’re new to scratch cakes, your challenge is to try one.
I always tell people that it’s really not much different…you’re still just following directions.
I challenge you to follow the directions without subbing anything or changing the mixing method. If the recipe says to have all the ingredients at room temp, do it. Don’t throw them in the microwave and melt them all down either. (Sorry, I just had to say that.)
Here are three recipes to try (I mentioned them earlier, but they’re worth mentioning again.): Favorite Vanilla Bean Cake, Moist White Cake & Chocolate Butter Cake
These are scratch cakes. Now, the vanilla cake has a sort of unconventional mixing method, but don’t let that throw you. Just straight up follow the directions and don’t over-beat your batter. That recipe is tried and true, so if it’s not turning out for you, something is wrong. If that happens, I want you to email me and we’re gonna brainstorm on what isn’t going right. You got this!
Once you’ve got the cake part down, next is the buttercream. Maybe you’ve mastered the cake already, but buttercream is giving you trouble. I’ve got an entire post dedicated to getting smooth buttercream. You can find it here: How to Get Smooth Buttercream
You can also find my recipe for vanilla buttercream here: Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Want to see my tips in video format? Here ya go:
good information to know about cakes…….will have to try to bake one soon.
Great! Let me know how it goes!
I freeze my cakes while still warm. This really helps to make a cake moist. After removing the cake from the oven, I let it sit for 10 minutes, turn it out and allow to cool for another 10 minutes. I then wrap the cake in double layers of plastic wrap, put it into a freezer bag and freeze it. When you thaw the cake, take it out of the freezer bag, but leave it in the plastic wrap to thaw. It’s amazing, but the condensation will develop on the outside of the plastic wrap and not on the cake. Results will be a moist cake.
Yes! Glad you added this tip. That’s very similar to how I freeze and defrost my cakes as well. Works perfectly and I swear that freezing cakes makes them more moist. Thanks for adding this 🙂
I love adding buttermilk to scratch cakes ,that makes a moist cake too! Love the idea of freezing as well.
How would you modify the temperature and/or time if using 9-inch pans? I have 9-inch stainless steel cake pans that I really like. I don’t like aluminum. They only come in 9-inch. Thanks!
Hi, I’ll be honest and say I don’t think I’ve ever baked with stainless steel before. I’m not really sure how it would be different than aluminum pans. Since the pans are a little bigger, I would start checking the cakes probably 10 minutes earlier than called for…just to make sure they don’t over bake.
Thank you so much for this information. I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out why my butter pecan cake was dry. Going through all your explanations it wasn’t until the very last one that I got my answer. I frosted the cake with cream cheese frosting and because it was a very hot day and we wouldn’t be having dinner and dessert until the end of the day I thought it best to keep the cake in the refrigerator. I didn’t take it out until I was ready to serve it. I was so disappointed that it was dry.
Thank you for all these great tips. At least I now know what the problem truly was.
You’re so welcome! I will say though that if you have cream cheese frosting on your cake, you really do need to keep it refrigerated. Just make sure it’s in an airtight container and you can set it out about half an hour before you serve it so it’ll get closer to room temperature. Sometimes when it softens up a bit, it doesn’t seem as dry.
Hello, I have a recipe for a gluten free spice cake, the flavor is wonderful but it is always a bit dry. Do you think adding sour cream to the batter might be a good idea. If so how much would you recommend for a recipe that fills two 8” round pans that are 2” deep? Hopefully, I included enough information 🙂
Hi Hannah, I must say I’m not an expert on gluten free baking. Also the ingredients for baking cakes need to be in the correct ratio to each other, so adding in something without adjusting the other ingredients, might not work. Without actually seeing the recipe and since I’m not really a gluten free baker, I just can’t be sure. You could always try it though! I normally use about a cup of sour cream in my recipes. If you try it, let me know how it goes!
So I’m making Paula Deans almond pound cake and have had it turn out a bit dry in the past. Would adding sour cream to an almond flavored cake change that up too much? It’ has raspberry filling. Thanks 🙂
Adding sour cream wouldn’t change the flavor too much, but you want to be careful with just adding in ingredients like that. Sometimes it works out, but cake recipes have certain ratios of liquids and fats to flour and sugar etc. so adding in a liquid or fat could throw the ratio off and mess with the texture. Not seeing the recipe, I’m not sure if just adding the sour cream to it would work or possibly throw off the ratios. You could just try and see how it goes though. I’m sorry I’m not more help than that!
Thanks much! I’ve made 1000s of choc chip loaves(with sour cream). Sometimes I think they are dry, hence why the search. I’ve never heard of the flour dunk. lol Curious to see if it makes a difference. No one else thinks they are, usually just me – I’m a perfectionist. Have a great holiday
Oh I am the same way. I can get very particular when I’m baking. And I hope the flour dunk works for you!
Thank you! I have had very dry results from my mother’s toll house cake recipe. The flavor is great but the texture is not. I have been pouring the flour from the scoop to the measuring cup and leveling from there. I will sift before measuring in the future. Because of my son’s diet restrictions, I cannot use real butter. But I will use shortening instead of margarine, too. That should restore our delicious Christmas tradition.
Hi Bobbie, I actually scoop out of the flour bag and into my measuring cup like you do, but maybe sifting it will help a bit since essentially you’ll be adding in a bit less flour. Also I’m betting shortening would work for the butter and will give it some moisture. I hope it works! Let me know how it goes. 🙂
Mine turned out dry, not sure why. I went by the directions, used cake flour and my cake was done 4 minutes before the time.
Hi Denise, Can you tell me what recipe you used? Was it one on my website? If so, let me know and I maybe troubleshoot it for you.
Hi, thanks so much for this! I’ve been amateur baking for a long time and learned from my mom. I’m starting to do more layer/birthday cakes these days, but I’m quite finicky about the level of moisture. I’ve followed pretty much all your tips here (except for microwaving butter for 10-15 seconds!), but still feel like a lot of my cakes are just not quite moist enough for my liking. I’ll try taking it out of the oven a couple minutes earlier, and maybe the freeze-wrap method, but I was also wondering about sour cream. Many of the recipes I’ve used recently have similar measurements to the recipes you’ve provided here. In that case, would it be ok to just add a dollop of sour cream to the batter?
Hi Sarita, a small dollop of sour cream probably wouldn’t hurt anything (I’m not sure a small amount would help that much either though.) You wouldn’t want to add in any more than that, or it could throw of the ratios in the recipe. It’s a fine line between getting a really moist scratch cake because if you add in too much fat, then the cake texture might be too dense.
Another thing to make sure of is that you aren’t cutting down on the sugar. It sounds weird, but sugar actually helps with the moisture in a cake, so cutting down on that could have a negative impact. Another thing to note is that a cake recipe with only egg whites can sometimes tend to be on the dryer side. Not always, but they can be if the recipe writer didn’t account for that with other ingredients. I think you might try taking your cakes out just a bit sooner. Be careful though because if you take them out too soon, then they’ll fall. I like the toothpick trick, but instead of waiting until there are no crumbs on the toothpick, I like to actually see some crumbs on it…just not raw batter. 😉 I’ve found if I wait until there are absolutely no crumbs on the toothpick, then it’s a bit over baked. I have a post on that as well, if you’d like to read it. Here’s the link: https://iscreamforbuttercream.com/how-to-tell-when-a-cake-is-done-baking/
I hope this helps!
Now THIS looks like the recipe I’ve been searching for!! I don’t usually bake chocolate layers because my family is addicted to my yellow layers’ moist buttery flavor and texture. But my sister is requesting chocolate on chocolate for her birthday. So I baked a test cake last night that used oil in place of butter and although moist, it’s just not what I was hoping for. The crumb is all wrong and the taste is a bit flat (even though I added espresso powder to kick it up a notch). The good thing is the grandkids won’t notice and they will be happy to gobble up my experiment ;). I’ll be back after baking your BUTTER layers…which every cake should be made with!
I have an intolerance to milk and butter, I am using plant based butter and oat milk. What can I do to make my cakes moist?
It might be good to try cake recipes that use oil or shortening. Chocolate cake recipes with oil are pretty easy to find and you can use plant based milk for any milk it calls for. I have a recipe on my site for chocolate butter cake…it also calls for oil and you can sub out the milk and butter. Here is that recipe link: https://iscreamforbuttercream.com/chocolate-butter-cake/
Vanilla cake recipes may be harder to find without added milk etc. I normally use sour cream in mine, but I’m pretty sure if you have an intolerance to milk, then sour cream would do the same. I wonder if there is a dairy free type of yogurt? If so, you could use that in place of any sour cream and see how it works. I know there is something called coconut yogurt and perhaps that would work?
I have serious issues with layer cakes turning out with hard crusty edges. What am I doing wrong or how do I correct this?? I was so hoping I’d see this specific issue in your tips. They were all very helpful!
Hi Jennie, there are a few things it could be. Sometimes if the temp is up too high, it can brown the outside too much. So, if a recipe says 350 degrees F, you could try baking it at 325 degrees F for longer and see how that works out. Also, some recipes that have a lot of sugar, naturally get a little crispy on the outside when baked. The other thing that may cause it is what the pan is coated in. If it’s coated in butter, well butter burns and it can just over-brown in the oven and make things a little crispy on the outside. Also sometimes the baking sprays can do that. If you haven’t tried coating the pan in vegetable shortening and then with flour, try that and see if it makes a difference. I hope this helps!
I disagree with several recommendations. Based on being a
professional Baker for several years.
Hi Samantha, it’s totally fine to disagree. I’d love to get recommendations from a professional baker though. Feel free to share them. 🙂