How to Save a Dry Cake
Your oven might run hot, or maybe you forgot to set a timer. You overmixed the batter, or you didn't measure correctly. Whatever happened, your cake isn't burnt, but it's also pretty dry. Don't toss it out just yet.
With a cake soak, a professional bakery hack, even the driest of cakes can be saved. Perfectly baked cakes can use the boost of moisture that a cake soak can provide, too. Plus, they're a great way to add extra flavor to cakes.
What Is a Cake Soak?
A cake soak is a syrup or liquid applied to cake after baking, usually while still warm, that is absorbed by the cake and keeps it moist.
Think Tres Leches cake, but less liquid. It's a common baking trick used in professional kitchens and bakeries. You might see squeeze bottles labeled 'cake soakers' at cooking stores, but all you really need is a pastry brush to dab on the soak. Some bakers like to poke the cake all over with a thin wooden skewer before applying the soak, but most just apply it to warm cake after removing it from the oven and let the soak absorb as the cake cools.
The other option is to let the cake cool completely, trim or level the top, and apply the soak during assembly to that exposed cake interior as you stack and frost.
Related: How To Build a Layer Cake Like a Pro
Types of Cake Soaks
The most common cake soak is simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water cooked until the sugar is dissolved. This added bit of liquid and sweetness help make the cake more moist, and stay moist longer.
Professional bakers also use a milk soak, which is milk or cream dabbed onto the cake. This soak is best if you aren't looking to add any extra sweetness.
You can also add extracts and spices to the milk or simple syrup to add more flavor into the cake.
But the options don't end there; for the most moist coconut cake, you could dab the layers with coconut milk. For chocolate cake, use coffee as a soak, or for a citrus-flavored cake, try lemon, lime, orange, or even grapefruit juice. For adults, use a drizzle of bourbon as a soak. A little alcohol never hurt a cake—if anything, we think it helps. Just be sure the soak is cool before applying it to the cake.
Don't Overdo It
Too much of a good thing like a cake soak can lead to a soggy cake, or worse, a disintegrating one. Soak is a bit of a misnomer, as you don't really want to soak the cake. A few tablespoons of soak per layer is more than enough. If you are adding a soak to warm layers, make sure to let the layers cool completely before handling. If soaking while assembling, do one layer at time, adding the soak to the layer once stacked, as you won't want to try and move it after adding any liquid.
Related: How To Bake a Moist Cake