A friend called this morning to ask a few questions about how to solve her “cake problems.” When I told her how to fix it, she said “Really? That's so simple! I'll bet a lot of people don't know that.” So I'm sharing!
She said that every time she makes a cake, the middle is nice and soft and moist while the edges are hard and even “crusty” sometimes. Her family cuts pieces from the center and she always ends up tossing the outside pieces.
This happens because obviously, the outside edges of the cake cook faster, since they're more directly exposed to the heat. Meanwhile, the center of the cake takes longer to bake. So by the time the center is completely baked, the outside edges have overbaked. This is also why the center of the cake is higher, while the outside edges are lower and you don’t have a flat surface to frost.
The solution is pretty easy.
Find an old towel you don’t mind cutting up. Cut long, lengthwise strips, about 1 ½-2 inches in width. Measure out a strip going all around the outside edge of your pan (you might have to piece a couple together). After you put the cake batter in the pan, get the towel strips soaking wet, and squeeze them just enough so they aren’t dripping all over. But, you really do want them soaking wet. Then, using straight pins or safety pins, pin the wet strips around the pan as tightly as possible so that they stay up.
The wet towels around the pan will keep the edges from baking before the center of the cake and the cake will bake evenly throughout. By the time your cake is done, the towel strips will be completely dried out, but you’ll have a nicely risen, flat surfaced cake without the harder, overbaked edges.
You can actually buy insulating strips made for this very purpose. They work the same way– you wet them and pin them etc, they’re just made with different materials. However, I found that they did not work as well as the towel strips. They dried out MUCH faster, and I ended up with overbaked edges. So I went right back to using my towel strips.
I needed to use up some over-ripe bananas, so I went ahead and made a Banana Cake this morning and took a picture to illustrate. As you can see in the picture, I actually used strips from two different towels and used safety pins. But you can also see how nice and even the surface of the cake is—no edges that are low, no “peak” in the center of the cake, and the edges came out super soft and moist. (I know, because I’ve since frosted it and ate the bottom left corner.