One of the biggest challenges of baking cakes is learning How to Stop a Cake from Doming. I'm going to share three easy ways to solve this common cake problem and hopefully, you'll be baking beautiful level cakes (without a domed top!) before you know it!
Originally posted January 2015, updated November 2023
Several years ago I wrote a post titled How to Bake a Level Cake for Cheap! That post has been super popular for anyone wanting to bake flat cakes. But the other day when someone asked on my Facebook page about how to avoid "the dreaded dome" when baking a cake, I thought I'd do a little updated post on this topic and add some extra tips for how to get the top of your cake level or flat.
First thing, I should note that I'm talking about cakes baked in traditional round or square cake pans - not special shapes like a bundt cake. Having level cakes is really important when you're stacking a layer cake or tiered cakes. If you're not careful, domes lead to lopsided cakes or a cake that is leaning or may fall over.
Without too much rambling today, let's get to it!
How to Stop a Cake from Doming:
1. Bake lower and slower!
What do I mean? The baking temperature I use for all of my cakes is 325°F (a lower temperature) and I adjust the baking time to bake them for 40 minutes to an hour or longer (slower).
If your oven is hotter, that will make the batter rise more quickly. That's how you end up with a domed cake. Instead, I always set my timer for 40 minutes and check them for the first time!
Note: pan size matters when you're changing the time and temperature of your baking. Smaller pans are usually done or very close to done at around 40 minutes for my recipes. Bigger cakes will require a longer baking time. When I make a larger cake (up to 16 inches for weddings) - I bake them for as long as an hour and fifteen minutes.
For this tip to work, your oven temperature needs to be accurate. This is easy to verify with an oven thermometer. I love all of the thermometers made by Thermoworks. I'd recommend the ThermoWorks Square Dot to check the temperature of your oven.
You may also have to adjust my temperature and cooking time recommendations based on your cake recipes and the amount of batter you put in your cake pans. But overall, this lower/slower method allows the cakes to be baked more evenly.
2. Wrap cake strips around the outside of your pans when you bake cakes.
Cake strips are thick fabric strips that are soaked in water and wrapped around the edges of the cake pans to bake more level cakes. These are usually secured with safety pins, velcro, or other clips that come with the strips. If budget is an issue, you can easily make homemade cake strips.
This is the method that I dedicated an entire post to... If you don't have the budget to buy cake strips, I have good news for you! You can read this post for instructions on cutting a wet towel into strips and you get the same result as using store-bought cake strips! Using strips of a damp towel around the outside of the cake pan works really well and you probably have everything you need already in your house!
How does this work to prevent the top of the cake from doming? The wet cake strips or wet towels lower the temperature on the outside edges of the pan, causing the outside of the pan to stay cooler and cook slower. As the cake rises, the heat is more evenly distributed and this gives the middle of the cake time to catch up with the edges and you end up with a flat top for your cake. Or at least smaller cake domes.
3. Use Heating Cores.
You have a couple of options here... you can use real heating cores (as seen above) - or you can use flower nails as heating cores. I've done both!
Here are some that I have: Wilton Flower Nails, Ateco Heating Cores (these are called heating cores, but they look like flower nails...love them!!), and a Wilton Heating Core. Any or all of these products will help you prevent a cake from doming.
Standard Heating Cores
When I first started doing cake, I bought a standard heating core - as seen above. Someone also gave me one they weren't using anymore, so I have two. To use these, I spray my pans with Baker's Joy or paint them with my homemade cake release, and then I spray/paint the heating core also (on the outside and inside - anywhere it's going to touch the cake).
I got good results with the regular heating core I didn't love them.
Then I found out I could use flower nails. I still spray the flower nails (or Ateco Heating Cores) with cooking spray and put them in the center of the pan (upside-down). These work great to prevent cake doming without having to patch up the center of the cake when you're done.
These heating cores that look like flower nails (turned upside down) or standard heating cores basically do the same thing. They heat up in the middle of the cake batter and distribute heat from the center toward the outside at the same time that heat is baking the cake from the outside edges toward the center.
This way the sides of the cake and the center are baking more evenly and you end up with a flat surface instead of a dome shape. After the pans and heating cores are prepped, fill the pans with batter as usual. Be sure to put batter inside the 'real' heating core at the same level as in the pan).
Then bake them (lower and slower!!) until a toothpick comes out clean. You can see in the photo above that the one on the left has a flower nail and the one on the right has a heating core. Both cakes are baked perfectly level. For the one with the heating core, you just have to pop out that little plug of cake and put it back in the center:
Anywho... that's it!! 3 Ways to Avoid Domed Cakes!
More is better (sometimes) - Use Cake Strips and Heating Cores
Oh - one more thing!! Sometimes, if I'm baking a really large cake or a giant sheet cake, I'll use 2 flower nails. Or I'll use a heating core and wet towels on the outside for extra assurance that the cake will come out level!
How to level a cake?
If after your best efforts, you still end up with a dome in the middle of your cake, you will want to fix that before stacking a layer cake. To do that, you'll either need a cake leveler or a long serrated knife to cut the dome off.
Either of these tools works very well for removing the dome and leveling your cake. And bonus, you can use the scraps to make cake pops!
What do you think? Have you ever used any of these methods? Do you have other secrets for baking a level cake?? I'd love to hear them in the comments!