Juniper Lime Drizzle Cake (aka Why Did My Cake Fall?)
Warning: while there may be a recipe for a juniper lime drizzle cake included with this post, I can’t recommend that you make it. You see, I created this loaf cake with dried juniper berries for the reddit 52 week baking challenge (Week 31: unusual ingredients). But it has provided me more with lessons about why cakes fall in the oven than with a delicious cake for you to make.
Although I will admit I’ve happily eaten a piece of one of the three cake variations for breakfast for most of the last couple of weeks.
The fourth cake I gave away.
I can’t tell you why I purchased those dried juniper berries. But they were the “unusual ingredient” I immediately reached for.
I had the idea to make a cake with gin and tonic flavors using ground juniper berries and lime.
I mistakenly thought it would be simple. I would take my recipe for blackberry lemon bread, leave out the blackberries, substitute lime for lemon, and add some finely ground juniper berries for flavor.
Nope. My cake fell while it was still in the oven.
I had been baking in a rush and doing too many things at the same time. So I thought I had made a mistake in measuring or something. I had also made the mistake of opening the door of the oven to take a picture of the batter in the pans before it baked.
I immediately made a second cake, reducing a bit of the liquid. But it fell again in the exact same way.
Probably the most common reason for why cakes fall after baking is because they are underbaked. The moist cake/bread/etc can’t sustain the structure and collapses.
But why cakes fall during baking is less clear. Or at least it was less clear to me So I reached out for help. Below were all of the suggested explanations.
Reasons why a cake might fall during baking
Possible reason #1: Opening the door during baking. The rush of room temperature air into the oven could have contributed to why my first loaf collapsed. But not any others.
Possible reason #2: Inadequate chemical leavening. I initially wondered whether the change from lemon juice to lime juice could have varied the acidity enough to result in less reaction with the chemical leavening agents.
It turns out that limes are actually more acidic than lemons, so there was no reason to suspect less chemical reaction. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) reacts with acid to release carbon dioxide: NaHCO3 + H+ → Na+ + CO2 + H2O
Although baking soda is more potent than baking powder, it can also produce a metallic taste, so one recommendation was for me to increase the baking powder in the recipe.
But first I wanted to check to make sure both were active. To do this, you mix baking powder with boiling water – it should froth up immediately. Mixing baking soda with vinegar should do the same.
Possible reason #3: insufficient mechanical leavening. Someone suggested that perhaps I needed to adequately cream my butter and sugar in the first step, which I already do, or to beating it for longer at the end, which I generally try to avoid so I don’t build up the gluten too much and get holes in my cakes.
Possible reason #4: Change in altitude or barometric pressure.
Possible reason #5: cake pan the wrong size. I thought this was an interesting idea, that maybe I was baking the cake in the wrong pan. So for my third and fourth cakes, I baked in a 9″x5″ (what I had been baking in) and a 8.5″x4.5″ just to see if baking it in a smaller pan would be helpful.
As you can see in the pic below, the smaller pan actually resulted in a larger collapse than the 9″x5″, although the cake in the larger pan still did fall.
FAQs about juniper and this juniper lime drizzle cake
Juniper berries aren’t really berries, but they are the seed cone of juniper trees.
I’ve used juniper berries in small quantities when cooking meats or duck.
Juniper berries are left to soak in the alcohol, infusing their flavor to varying degree depending on the gin.
There is so much variation in how people measure that you are much more likely to get a reliable result if you weigh your ingredients. I always weigh out ingredients. I still have a deal that I’ll send a basic kitchen scale to the first ten U.S. readers who sign up for my newsletter and leave a comment to promise they will start weighing out all of their ingredients!
Juniper Lime Drizzle Cake
- Spice grinder
Juniper lime cake batter
- 1 ½ cup (195g/6.9oz) bleached all-purpose flour (195g/6.9oz) bleached all-purpose flour plus more for flouring the pan
- 1 tbsp finely ground dried juniper berries
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 stick (113g/4oz) unsalted butter, softened plus more for flouring the pan
- 1 ¼ cup (250g/8.8oz) granulated sugar
- zest of 2 limes
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbsp juniper berries
Lime drizzle glaze
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1-2 tbsp lime juice
Juniper lime cake batter
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Butter and flour a 9"x5" loaf pan.
- Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, juniper, baking powder, baking soda, salt) into a medium sized bowl.
- Cream the butter, sugar, and lime zest together until light and fluffy. If using a stand mixer, this will take about 5 minutes on medium speed, longer if using a hand mixer.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary.
- Add approximately one half of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until they are just incorporated.
- Add the buttermilk and lime juice and beat until mixed. Scrape down the bowl.
- Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until just barely incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, even out the batter and give the pan a few thwacks on the counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake for about 50-55 minutes until the top has started to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I would cross my fingers that it doesn't collapse.
- Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then invert and transfer to a cooling rack.
- While the batter is baking, prepare the syrup by combining the sugar, water, and juniper berries in a small saucepan.
- Bring the syrup to boil over medium-high heat and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.
- Turn off the heat and let cool.
- Once you have removed the cake from the pan and transferred it to a cooling rack, put the cooling rack over a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper to catch any drips.
- Use a pastry brush or spoon to brush all of the syrup onto the top and sides of the cake. Let cool.
- When ready to glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and 1 tbsp of lime juice and whisk to combine. Add a bit more juice if needed so that the glaze is just pourable, and pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides.
- Let the glaze harden before serving, about one hour.
- The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to one week.
If you have any questions about falling cakes or want to suggest another potential solution for this juniper lime drizzle cake, please comment and/or share a pic!
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