Trouble with cakes that use egg whites, and why they don't rise


I just finished making the famous German's Sweet Chocolate Cake AKA German Chocolate Cake that uses Baker's sweet chocolate bar. I make this cake at least once a year, and some years it looks great, while other times the layers look like 3 skinny pancakes. My main problem is the 3 layers rise very little or not at all. Today's creation was the latter. I have to assume the problem is with the way I either beat the egg whites or fold them into the batter, which is the last step before I divide the batter into the 3 cake pans. The pans are sprayed with a cooking spray, and then lined with parchment paper.

What do you think is the main reason these layers don't rise? There is very little leavening in the batter - only 1 tsp baking soda (which was brand-new). I feel sure I adequately creamed the butter and sugar before I added the egg yolks, the melted chocolate and then the flour (alternated with the buttermilk). I used an old-fashioned egg beater to beat the egg whites, and I feel sure they were beaten properly.

Any thoughts, suggestions, advice would be greatly appreciated. By the way, the cake always tastes great (well, how can you go wrong with that pecan-coconut frosting?). Thanks

badge posted by: martibeth on February 19, 2011 at 9:35 pm in Baking, desserts and sweets
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reply by: pjh on February 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Some thoughts: Are you always using the same size eggs? Large eggs are the standard for most baking recipes. Do you use cream of tartar to stabilize them? Did you use the right cocoa? Sounds like, with baking soda, you should use natural cocoa, not Dutch-process. Did you perhaps over-beat the eggs? They should be stiff, but not so beaten that they become airy/foamy and "break." And, did you get the cake into the oven immediately? Baking soda, starts working 100% as soon as it's mixed with liquid, unlike baking powder, which holds some leavening power in reserve for the oven.

reply by: uninvited-guest on February 20, 2011 at 12:31 am

Aside from PJH's comments, it could be, as you mentioned, the way you fold your whites into the batter.

Are you dumping all the whites onto the batter, and then trying to fold them all in at once? Are you "rushing" the process and doing more mixing than folding? Could you be "over folding" by making sure everything is as uniform in color as possible, , thus deflating the whites, instead of not worrying about some white streaks?

If your butter is too warm, or melted, that could cause some problems for a cake, as the sugar can't cut "air holes" into butter when creaming if it is too soft. I'm leaning away from this being the problem, as the air trapped in the whites should help with getting a rise.

If none of these things seem to be the issue, could it be your oven temperature? Are the cakes cooking before they have the chance to rise? Is the oven well preheated? If not, you can lose a lot of the air out of the batter before the cooking really gets going.

Are you weighing your ingredients? That can help with consistent results. Have you sometimes used AP flour, other times Bread flour or Cake flour? They all absorb different amounts of water, and could have something to do with varying results.

I would suggest that you pay attention to these things the next time you make the cake. Make notations on the card or in the margin of the book or something. Then, the next time you make it, you can look at the results and what you may have done or not done, and keep chipping away at it until you get consistent results.

reply by: hickeyja on February 20, 2011 at 12:43 am

Marti, what size pans you are using? The 3 layer German's Choc Cake is supposed to be baked in 8-inch pans. If you are using 9-inch, that may account for part of your problem. Beyond that, I suspect that you may be deflating the whites with your folding technique.

Use a large wide shallow bowl for the batter and the biggest rubber spatula that you have/can find. I use a 15-inch wide glass salad bowl and a 5-inch spatula for folding. Put 1/3 of the whites on top of the batter in the bowl. Cut down thru the center of the whites and batter, then scrape along the bottom of the bowl and up the side, gently folding the batter you lift on the to top of the egg whites. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat until most of the white streaks are gone. This step lightens the batter without deflating the bulk of the egg whites.

Next add the remaining egg whites to the bowl of lightened batter and repeat the folding process. You should not stir the batter or scrape around the outside of the bowl, except at the end of the process-when I take ONE swipe all the way around the bowl to be sure I have not missed any big pockets of batter or egg white. Only fold until most of the white streaks are gone; a few wisps of egg white still visible in the batter will not hurt anything.

Good luck with the next cake. Jan

reply by: KIDPIZZA on February 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Good day. I do not know if you remember me or not, but about 3 years ago we posted each other about where to buy large sacks of flour. In any event Marti I have this recipe you are using. There are a few items I do not like about the way it is written.

First off it has sugar at 2 cups but some of this sugar is to be employed by the egg whites. It doesn't say how much sugar.
Also Marti, it says to whip the whites into "STIFF PEAKS"
I believe stiff peaks are when you lift out the beaters the white tips should stand erect looking up into the sky. If that is how you did this operation than I must tell you that the most efficent way to whip whites "FOR FOLDING PURPOSES" is not stiff...but what I refer to as "FIRM" peaks the tips should curl over 1/8th of a inch or a tiny tiny more than that.

The other item is this your cake does not have enough of chemical leavners. The soda is enough for the choco & the buttercream to handle it's acidity,but we must have bkg powder to lift the cake as well. Generally speaking, it will require at the very least 1 tsp for 1 cup of flour. I would make a note for next time to insert at the very least 1 tsp min worth.

Marti you have been given the mixing into the batter technique for the whites in another post.... use it. Also (3) 9 inch cake pans is what the recipe calls for. Are you subst A/P flour??? If so I strongly advise you employ BLEACHED flour for this recipe for a superior baked product.

You asked for thoughts & now you have mine. Good luck & enjoy the rest of the 3 day holiday young lady.


reply by: martibeth on February 20, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Thanks, everyone. Hope I can remember to answer some of the questions posed by others, but I can only see one poster's comments at a time. Anyway, PJ, I use large eggs, and even weigh them to make sure they are about 2 ounces in the shell (I'm using home-grown eggs). I use the recipe right off the back of the chocolate bar, so I have to melt the chocolate in boiling water. In answer to a few other questions, I weigh everything, all my ingredients are at room temperature, and specifically regarding the butter, it wasn't too soft or melted. My oven is definitely preheated enough. Also, I use all-purpose flour. I have seen several variations of the German Chocolate Cake; some call for cake flour, and some for all-purpose, but I think next time I'll try KAF's cake flour. Also, regarding the size of the pans, I always use 9 x 2-inch cake pans, so that might be a factor. I always wondered about that = thanks, Jan.

After reading everyone's comments, I guess the problem must be due to either or both: 1) the time between mixing everything and getting the layers in the oven; and 2) the way I fold in the egg whites. Yes, I have always dumped ALL the beaten egg whites in at once. The mixing bowl I used yesterday was a high narrow stainless steel bowl of my Kenwood mixer. I used a large spatula to fold in the egg whites, but I did scrape around the outside of the bowl. I'll pay close attention to everyone's comments on how to beat the egg whites and fold them. I appreciate that.

Also, regarding the leavening: The recipe doesn't call for adding cream of tartar, but maybe that would be a good thing to do. I can't remember now (was it you, KidPizza?), who suggested adding some baking powder. I might try that too.

Thinking what PJ said about the baking soda, and losing its leavening power quickly, that is probably part of the problem, because I'm guessing it's a good 10 minutes at least before the layers go in the oven, because I'm weighing the amount of batter in each pan trying to put the exact same amount in each pan.

I think I'm going to make this cake again soon, and incorporate everyone's suggestions, and see how it does. Thanks again for all the help.

reply by: uninvited-guest on February 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Since KID PIZZA suggested that you try adding some baking powder to your recipe, you may find this interesting...

The types of chemicals in baking baking powder is directly related to the when the gas is released. Some chemicals release the gas mainly when wet, others, mainly when heated.

This is an interesting chart. I have always liked some brands of baking powder better than others, and when I saw this chart, I understood why. I have a tendency to be very exacting when weighing my batters (just one of my peccadilloes) into pans prior to baking. Using a baking powder that has more chemicals that are activated by heat, gives me a little more "flexibility" to do this.

Chemical leavener - % when wet - % when heated (% inbetween)

Anhydrous monocalcium phosphate - 15 - 50 (35)
Diacalcium Phosphate-dihydrate - 0 - 100 (0)
Glucono-delta-lactone - 25 - 35 (40)
Monocalcium Phosphate - 60 - 40 (0)
Monopotassium tartarate* - 70 - 30 (0)
(*cream of tartar)
Sodium Acid Phosphate - 28 - 64 (8)
Sodium Aluminium Phosphate - 22 - 69 (9)
Sodium Aluminium Sulfate - 0 - 100 (0)

reply by: KitchenBarbarian aka Zen on March 08, 2011 at 1:05 am
KitchenBarbarian aka Zen

Interesting. This information might be useful as well:

reply by: --jej on March 14, 2011 at 11:38 am

I see I am a little late seeing this problem, but a couple of ideas crossed my mind.

I. I like to use extra large eggs usually. My DH can't see that, but when I am shopping, I make sure to get them. My recipes have all turned out well when using them.

II. I've been baking angel food cakes lately. One bit of advice said to ALWAYS use a w-i-d-e bowl when beating the egg whites, especially if using the hand mixer (which I do). That, I found, to be really good then, for folding together with the rest of the ingredients.

III. Lastly, I have a friend whose DD always adds a tsp. of baking powder -- whether it calls for it or not -- to cookie recipes. So I would suggest that, also. Worth trying at least once.

Good luck