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« Ice-ing on the Cake: A Different Kind of Ice Cream Cupcake | Main | Bittersweet: Amai Tea and Bake House's Last Days »

Saving Cake: Various Methods for Reviving Dried-Out Cake

Saving Cake: Can Dried-out cake be saved?

OK. So earlier this week, we bought a batch of cupcakes and purposefully let them dry out overnight. Why? Well, because we wanted to experiment and see if there really was a way to bring cake back to life if it were accidentally left out uncovered for a long period of time (hey, it happens). Well, thanks to your help and suggestions, we've tried out various theories, ranging from steaming to booze-infusing to acupuncture-esque procedures; here are our findings.
First, a few notes:
The cupcakes we used were a mass-produced variety, purchased at QFC (a local supermarket chain). Why so? Well, we weren't sure if they'd be delicious afterward, and we didn't want to waste good cupcakes on the experiment. However, the texture of the cake was moist to begin with. Please note, however, that results will differ depending on the type of cupcake!


Boiling waterLetting it steep

Solution 1: Let it Steep
What we did: Poured boiling water in a teacup and then suspended the cupcake in a tea strainer above. Boiling water was only poured to below the point where the strainer reached, so that the water didn't touch the wrapper.
The reasoning: The steaming water would infuse, and re-moisten, the cake.
The result: The texture of the sides and bottom of the cake did benefit from the steaming, however the inside of the cake was still rather hard and stale-tasting. The frosting began to melt on the sides. Overall, not worth the annoyance. Grade: C-


Steaming the cakeMicrowave!

Solution 2: It's a Wrap
What we did: Per the suggestion of a CakeSpy reader, we wrapped the cake in a wet paper towel and then microwaved it for 20 seconds (in two ten-second intervals).
The reasoning: You know, cos someone told us to. And we do what we're told.
The result: While we can't explain the science behind it, we can say that it worked! The cake was warmed and seemed to have been nicely moistened all the way through; the frosting was ever so slightly melty around the edges, but still solid. It is important to note, however, that if you use this method, the cake ought to be consumed immediately. Grade: A-

Cake and bread
Solution 3: Bread n Buttercream
What we did: We placed the cupcake in plastic with a slice of bread and let it sit for several hours.
The reasoning: A big shrug here--we read somewhere on the internet that this was a good solution.
The result: Like, OMG! It totally worked! After a few hours, a thin layer of condensation had formed on the bag; after about six hours when we removed the cake, it was--no joke--almost like new. One taster thought she detected--just maybe--a touch of yeastiness in the flavor, but she didn't stop eating it. This one yielded the best texture of all. Grade: A

Solution 4a: Simple Sugar Solution
What we did: Spooned simple syrup on the sides of the cake and let it sit for a few moments.
The reasoning: Simple syrup is an age-old trick used to keep cakes moist; if it's worked for others, it was worth a try!
The result: It had a nice effect, but only on the outer edges of the cake--the inside was still a bit hard. Grade: B+

Kill it!
Solution 4b: Simple Sugar Solution Part 2
What we did: Same as in the above, but this time instead of simply spooning it on the sides of the cupcake, we first pricked holes all throughout with toothpicks.
The reasoning: Poking the holes would allow the liquid to permeate more of the cake and give it a nicer, more moist, balance.
The result: It did work slightly better than simply applying the simple syrup to the sides, as the center of the cake seemed softer and slightly more yielding. Grade: A-

Solution 5: Booze it on Up
What we did: Once again, the cake was poked with toothpicks, but this time we poured some whiskey on.
The reasoning: Alcohol is a known preservative--and, you know, we like to party.
The result: In terms of moistness, this actually worked slightly better than the simple syrup; however, the flavor was rather assertively alcoholic and perhaps a bit much. Grade: B-

Airtight cakeUncovered

Solution 6: Signed, Sealed, Delivered
What we did: We sealed the cake in an airtight container for several hours.
The reasoning: We figured that this might capture some heat and moistness in the cake.
The result: Meh. It made a slight, but not large, difference in the cake. The frosting, however, did benefit from this method better than others. Grade: B-


Solution 7: Better with Butter
What we did: We filled a turkey baster with butter (a syringe would have worked better, natch, but this is what was around), jammed it into the cake and gave it a healthy squeeze.
The reasoning: The butter would infuse deliciousness throughout the cake from the inside out.
The result: Butter hasn't experienced such violation since Marlon Brando got his hands on it in Last Tango in Paris. Unfortunately, the butter didn't do much for the texture of the dried-out cake. It just made it kind of crunchy and greasy. Now, we're not opposed to a little grease now and then, but this time it just seemed unnecessary. Grade: D

So, having abused cake in so many ways, is there really a definitive answer? Can dried-out cake be saved? Well, it will never be the same as when it was freshly baked, but we certainly did learn some tricks for coaxing just a little bit more life out of a sweet morsel. Of course, sometimes you just hit the point where you've got to give up on the cake--at which point you might want to consider some of our other favorite suggestions: using the crumbled cake for bread pudding, as layers in a trifle, or simply eating it soaked in milk. Sublime.

Cake in milk


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Reader Comments (30)

Wuah....totally cool! Good to know too. I've actually heard of the mirco wrap AND the bread in a bag. Next time I'm face-to-face with no food 'cept a stale cake I know how to survive now :)

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterBear Silber

*Cupcakes Appreciate Y'all!*

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterCupcakeSugar

I never would have guessed about the bread trick- verry interesting!

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

That's awesome! Great tips. :) I kinda want to find a stale cupcake just so I can try to revive it, lol!

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I use bread with cookies that have gotten a bit stale too. I just stick it in the container and they are good the next day!

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

Have you been hanging out with Bill Nye the Science Guy? I vote for Solution Number 5!

Too funny! I love your wacky experiments :P

April 18 | Unregistered Commenterthereddeer

sounds superb....i love your witty style.

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterDave Jones

I'm going to try the bread bagging way next time. Thanks for sharing the results!! The microwave one sounds pretty interesting too, but will it still be moist after it's cool?

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

eating a cupcake out of a little dish of milk sounds amazing. a must try!

Nice post! Enjoyed it very much. I knew injecting three tablespoons of butter would not work! How could it? Bleah.

Great post! The bread in a bag trick works wonderfully for cookies. I thought it was my secret, but apparently not! :) Glad it works for cakes too.

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

what a great blog post! I've been buying "day old" pastries recently and the bread in the bag trick will be perfect!

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterSkatie Kat

Ohhh this post had us cracking up!!!! Really fun stuff!! Loved it all!!!

The microwave idea seemed worth trying.


Greetings from ALlenhurst NJ!
xoox Jenny..and Aaron

April 18 | Unregistered Commenterjenny holiday

Re: the microwave method of cake revival (so baroque):
Microwave + wet towel is also a good way to soften brown sugar that's been sitting around for a while. Maybe the two are related?

April 18 | Unregistered Commenterwix

Steph: if you do the microwave trick, it's best if consumed immediately. I updated the post to reflect this!

I love baby quilts: ha! We didn't put that full amount in one cupcake, more like a teaspoon. A little went a looong way!

Skatie Kat: It was amazing how it worked. We used some grain bread since it was what we had in the house, but someone told me that white bread is the best because it is pretty bland and wouldn't affect the taste of the sweets.

Wix: Interesting about the parallels between brown sugar and baked goods that need softening. I have heard that using apple can re-soften brown sugar too, wonder if that would work with the sweets!

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

I cannot believe you mentioned Last Tango in Paris. Cheeky!

April 18 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Longo

great post! Does any sort of sliced bread work?

ive been using the bread method on cookies for years. I put it in with them right after they are done cooling. The cookies (and cupcake) suck the moistier from the bread. love it!

April 18 | Unregistered Commenteragoodbuild

Very useful, good post. Though mine never seem to last long enough to dry out. :)

April 19 | Unregistered CommenterPeabody

As I recently told a young friend, "Life's too short to eat stale cupcakes."

I love your experiments! The bread trick has me intrigued. If I ever have a cupcake last long enough to dry out, I'll give it a try.

Ha, I love this! What a great round of experiments. Who knew bread was so powerful?

Fun post! Love your experiments, as usual. It's fun that you actually found a method that worked :)

April 20 | Unregistered CommenterRecipeGirl

Cool experiments but best way I know to handle this is to put it in a bowl pour a generous amount of milk on it and mash and eat. Dad taught me that years ago for stale cake.

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