Test Kitchen tips: Helping to prevent air pockets in cakes
Occasionally when mixing cake batters, pockets of air can develop from the leavening agent, whether you're using a chemical leavener (like baking powder or soda) and/or mechanically leavening with air from beaten egg whites (as with an angel food cake, or the chiffon cake pictured above).
To remove or prevent air pockets before baking, run a skewer, spatula or knife through the cake batter after you've poured it into the pan. This will loosen the air pockets, allowing them to rise to the surface.
Air pockets are different from "tunneling" (where air tunnels appear in a baked cake), which is generally caused by overmixing the batter (over-developing the gluten) and toughening it -- the leavener has nowhere to go and tunnels through the cake as it bakes, erupting in cracks at the top. Overbeaten batters cannot be fixed (though frosting -- like makeup -- can mask a number of flaws in a finished cake).
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo: Running a spatula through chiffon cake batter. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times