How To Get A Stuck Cake From A Pan
Step 1: Take a deep breath.
The phrase “it’s stuck” never indicates anything good. Especially when referring to cake. But despite our best efforts, and the most careful greasing of pans, cakes still sometimes stick.
When any baking project goes wrong, the key is to not panic. Like a lot of people, you might turn to the internet, searching for the magic hack that will release the cake, but after looking at the top results for how to get a stuck cake out of a pan, we found a lot of dubious advice. So we consulted our food experts and test kitchen professionals for their opinions on these ‘hacks,’ and how they would approach the problem instead.
If you are looking for advice specifically on Bundt cakes, which are uniquely challenging to remove from their pans, check out our advice for getting a Bundt cake out of the pan.
First Things First: Proper Cake Pan Preparation
You need to grease your pans, whether they are non-stick coated or not. Think of it like an insurance policy. Some people recommend butter and flour, others use cooking spray, baking spray, or even cake goop.
Lining a cake pan with parchment paper, whether it says to or not, is something test kitchen professional Ivy Odom swears by. Plus, with square cake pans, you can leave parchment overhang that can act like handles to easily lift the cake out of the pan.
If you prepare your pans right, you shouldn’t have to deal with the headache of trying to get them unstuck.
Related:The Right Way to Grease and Flour Cake Pans
When To Remove a Cake From its Pan
Timing is everything with baking. Remove a cake too soon from a pan and it might break, as hot cake is extremely delicate.
Allowing the cake to cool completely in the pan is also a problem though. This is especially important if you don’t use parchment paper or are using butter alone to grease the pan. As the cake cools, so does the butter, meaning it solidifies and doesn’t work quite as well as a lubricant to slide the cake out as it does when warm and still liquid.
Ideally, you should let the cake cool for 20 to 30 minutes in the pan, and then remove it while it's still warm.
How To Remove a Stuck Cake From a Pan
If you ask us, the best thing you can do is plan ahead and use parchment paper. "The only tried-and true tip I stick to is lining the bottom with parchment paper—which is not revolutionary at all. It's preemptive, I know, rather than a reactive solution to an already-stuck cake, but the extra layer ensures your bottom will release so all you need to do is loosen your sides," said test kitchen professional Tricia Manzanero Stuedeman.
If it's already too late for parchment, here are some popular tricks for removing a stuck cake from a pan and our unsolicited edits.
Common "Hacks" for Getting Stuck Cakes Out
Internet says: Run a butter knife around the edge of the pan.
We say: If the sticking is happening mainly on the sides of the pan, this can work well. Especially if you grease the pan and the sponge is only sticking in a few spots.
However, if your cake is stuck on the bottom of the pan, this isn’t going to do much. If your cake has already pulled cleanly away from the sides, but won’t come out of the pan, it's likely that the sticking is happening on the underside, where a knife won’t reach.
Internet says: Reheat the cake, so that the temperature shift can expand and contract the cake.
We say: Whether popping the cake back in a preheated oven, or placing it back in a cold oven with a pan of hot water underneath it, using heat is a commonly cited trick. Heat can help loosen the cake from the pan, and liquify the fats you greased the pan in, to help the cake slip out of the pan.
Be careful if putting the cake back in a hot oven though, as you can over brown the cake, dry it out, or potentially, if it's left for too long, scorch it in spots.
Internet says: Freeze the cake in the pan.
We say: The idea behind this hack is that a frozen cake layer is more sturdy, giving you leeway to more aggressively attempt to remove it from the pan. While a solid cake layer is less fragile, you can still break chunks off of it when frozen, so proceed with caution.
We can see how this hack would make it easier to pry it out of the pan, but you also run the risk of freezing the cake to the pan, which is both ineffective and a waste of time.
If attempting this method, make sure to wrap the cake in plastic before placing it in the freezer to avoid freezer burn and seal in the cake’s moisture.
Related:How To Freeze Cake Properly
Internet says: Use two forks on opposite ends of the pan to remove the cake.
We say: This popular internet hack uses forks inserted on either side of the pan as levers, squeezing and gently pushing the cake to loosen it before flipping it out. Not only is this a great way to scratch your cake pans with forks, but if not done extremely gently, you are likely to rip chunks out of your cake layer. If you can slide an offset spatula under the cake, that’s a better way to potentially lift it out of the pan.
Internet says: Let the cake cool upside down.
We say: This does often work, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes, the cake can break in the process, especially if half of the layer isn’t stuck and drops out of the pan first.
Sometimes you do get lucky, and after letting it sit upside down for about 30 minutes, you come back to a pan that cleanly pulls away from the cake. We would attempt this first, before resorting to the other hacks, but understand the risks involved.
When All Else Fails
If you can’t get the cake out in one piece, there are still options. Turn the cake chunks in cake pops or a trifle. You can also try putting it back together with frosting. Or if you simply give up on trying to get it out of the pan, frost the cake in the pan, and serve it just like a sheet cake. No one will mind!
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