Baking is considered both a form of art and a precise science.
A good cake is one that has good texture, taste, and appearance, and all of that is achieved through careful understanding of the way your ingredients and your chosen medium behaves.
Good recipe instructions are not random, and serve an ultimate purpose in this end goal.
An example of this is the instruction to invert cakes. If you’ve ever explored baking, the instruction to invert a cake or cool a cake upside down would be something familiar.
But what does it mean to invert a cake and what are the reasons for doing this?
What Does It Mean to Invert A Cake?
To invert a cake means to flip the pan upside down and cool it with the open side of the pan facing down. This is usually done over a wire rack, or over a bottle for special tube pans, in order to encourage air circulation and to cool the cake properly without destroying its structure, thereby maintaining its light, airy texture. This is especially important for delicate cakes like angel food cake, which tends to collapse on itself as it cools.
Reasons Why We Invert A Cake
Inverting a cake means cooling it upside down, and while it may sound like a really odd request from the recipe creator, it does, in fact, have several purposes. Inverting a cake helps the cake maintain its structure and gives it proper air circulation, so you do not end up with a sad, shriveled cake.
Below are 4 reasons why bakers invert cakes:
1. Inverting Maintains Cake Structure
Cakes like angel food cakes rely solely on the leavening powers of egg whites and are thus very delicate. They need help forming their structure prior to baking, while it’s baking, and after it’s baked.
Prior to baking, egg whites need to be whipped to a proper consistency to ensure that structure will be formed. During baking, an ungreased, special tube pan with a hollow center and detachable bottom helps the cake “climb” and rise and stick to the sides of the pan, thereby forming its structure.
After baking, it needs the help of gravity to maintain that structure by being cooled upside down. While the cake is still warm, the structure is not set.
If you do not invert angel food cake, it will shrink and shrivel up and collapse onto itself. It needs to be encouraged to stand up by inverting it and cooling it upside down, if that makes sense.
2. Inverting Cakes Helps Prevent Domed Tops
When you bake cakes on a regular basis, you might notice that they tend to form domes in the center as they bake. These domes are not really a problem, as they can be leveled off with a knife prior to cake decorating.
Cooling it upside down though gives the cake the chance to “correct” the doming, at least a little bit.
3. Allow Cakes to Cool Properly
Inverting a cake over a wire rack, or a bottle in the case of special tube pans, allows your cake layers to cool properly by encouraging proper air circulation around the pan. This step ensures that the cake is cooled evenly, and helps it maintain its structure.
Inverting cakes over a flat surface like a plate is not recommended as the heat from the cake will not dissipate properly and can cause condensation on the surface of the cake and cause it to stick to the plate, which is a big inconvenience, to say the least, and may even cause your cake to break apart.
Cooling and inverting cakes on a wire rack is still the recommended way to do it.
4. Inverting Cakes Prevents the Cake from Sticking to the Pan
Allowing the cake to cool in the pan, right side up might lead to it sticking to the baking pan. Inverting allows them to be properly unmolded and aerated.
What Type of Cake Needs To Be Inverted?
It is common practice among bakers to invert cakes to cool them for the reasons stated above, however, should you fail to invert them, it would not necessarily be the end of the world.
Cake layers made from boxes of cake mix will not likely suffer any adverse effects if you fail to invert them. (Read: How Many Boxes of Cake Mix for A Three Layer Cake)
There is one type of cake though, where this final step makes a huge difference in the outcome. This cake is known as Angel Food Cake, and inverting it right after baking is an absolutely necessary step in its successful creation.
What is Angel Food Cake?
Angel food cake is a sponge cake or foam cake that is made by whipping egg whites and mixing them with flour and sugar. It is a very light and fluffy cake that is usually covered with whipped cream or a light buttercream, and topped with fruits.
As it is completely dependent on egg whites for its leavening, it is a very delicate cake both prior to and after baking and requires proper technique to successfully make.
They are typically baked in a two-piece tube pan, which is uncoated and ungreased, with easily removable bottoms to be able to release the cake more easily.
Angel food cake relies solely on egg whites for leavening, and ungreased pans allow them to “climb” up the cake pan and stick there, holding their shape and structure. Two-part tube pans with removable bottoms make for easy unmolding and are specifically designed for this purpose.
After baking, angel food cake needs to be inverted immediately and cooled upside down in order to maintain its structure.
While the cake is still hot, the structure isn’t set yet; so leaving it to cool in the pan will cause the cake to shrink and collapse under its own weight. By inverting it and cooling it upside down, gravity helps the cake set properly.
Special angel cake tube pans have “feet” at the sides of the pan that look like handles, that allow for air to pass through once it is inverted.
Other bakers opt to cool the cake by balancing the pan over a bottle inserted in the hollow tube. This allows the cake to cool properly, and to properly set its structure.
Tube Pans vs Bundt Pans – What’s the Difference?
At first glance, these two pans may look alike and we may think we can use them interchangeably. In some cases, it might work, but in certain types of cake, it spells the difference between good cake and what-did-I-just-make cake.
Tube pans are round in shape and have a tube in the center that is hollow. The tubes conduct heat and allow for even and uniform cooking, and also allow for easier release of the cake after baking.
Tube pans can have plain, straight sides or can be fluted and have intricate patterns. The latter is what we call bundt pans.
Bundt pans are a type of tube pan that are designed for making bundt cakes aka cakes that look like giant donuts, with a hole in the middle. The pan designs can vary from simple to very intricate and is what makes bundt cakes such a crowd-pleaser.
Because of the rich design that can be found on bundt cakes, the cakes you can bake using these pans must be of the higher-fat kind, something that will hold their structure and something that can easily be released. Delicate cake batters like angel food cake will not do well in this type of pan.
Knowing the type of cake you are making should definitely influence your pan choice, and helps equip you for success in your baking endeavors.
What Happens If I Don’t Invert My Cake?
If you are making angel food cake and you don’t invert it, it will shrink and collapse onto itself, leaving you with nothing to show for but a really sad cake.
It will probably still be edible, especially if your guests aren’t the picky kind, but you will definitely be kicked out (and possibly yelled at) if you’re a contestant in a cooking show. It is a must to invert angel food cake, or just not make it at all.
If you are making a different type of cake, you may get away with not inverting it without significant consequences, but as they say, anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you’re going to spend all that effort making a cake, why not just go all out and do it as well as you can?
Frequently Asked Questions to What Does It Mean to Invert A Cake
What Does Inverting A Cake Mean?
Inverting a cake means flipping it upside down and cooling it with the open side of the pan facing down. This is to ensure that the cake maintains its structure and won’t collapse onto itself.
What is Angel Food Cake?
Angel food cake is a sponge cake that is made with whipped egg whites, flour, and sugar. It is very light and delicate and needs precise and proper technique to create.
Conclusion to What does it Mean to Invert a Cake
Inverting a cake essentially means flipping the pan upside down and cooling it with the open side of the pan facing down.
Baking is a precise practice and no matter how strange the instructions are, such as inverting a cake, there usually is a very good reason as to why it’s done.
If we want to give ourselves the chance to create baked goods that are visually appealing as well as delicious and want them to turn out properly, it is very important to understand the reasons behind these instructions.
As you improve in your skill and as you get to know your ingredients, your medium, and your process more, you may find that you too, might create steps and instructions that may seem strange to others, but are actually an integral and important step in the way you create your baking masterpieces.