Here’s Why Your Batter Is Curdling (and How You Can Fix It!)

It happens all the time. Here's what to do about your curdled cake batter.

Look at a bowl of curdled cake batter—and it’s hard to miss the pesky blobs that emerge from your once-smooth mixture. What causes this batter breakdown? Your eggs or milk are too cold!

The blobs in the batter are pieces of butter. This butter breaks out of the batter when the fat gets too cold and seizes.

It’s important that all fat and dairy, including butter and eggs, should be brought to room temperature before you use them in batter. This allows your batter to become a smooth emulsion of fat (from butter and egg yolk) encasing water (from egg white), all while trapping air. If one ingredient is too cold, smooth batter suddenly changes to pockets of fat floating in water…not so delicious.

Side-by-side of curdled and smooth cake batterMandy Naglich for Taste of Home

Does Curdled Batter Affect the Final Cake?

The good news is, while curdled batter is certainly a cake-baking problem, it can still be baked and produce a cake. But the crumb or texture of that cake will be uneven because the fat isn’t dispersed evenly throughout the batter. You might find pockets of cake that seem dry or others that seem slightly gummy. Is this ideal? No. Is it the end of the world? Also, no!

Beyond the uneven texture, cakes or cupcakes baked with curdled batter may also have less rise. When batter is properly emulsified, it can effectively trap air in the fat. This air goes into the oven and results in a fluffy texture. But, if that emulsification breaks, poof!, there goes all the trapped air.

I forced curdled the batter in this cake by using very cold eggs. You can see the uneven texture of the cake and even chunks that fell off when I removed it from the pan because they were surrounded by high moisture areas.

Holding plain flat cakesMandy Naglich for Taste of Home

In this three-tier cake, the top and bottom layer are a proper batter and the middle is a curdled batter. The middle layer crumbles when cut and had less rise than the other two layers.

Finished decorated layer cakeMandy Naglich for Taste of Home

How to Avoid Curdled Batter

The best way to avoid a curdled batter is to let all of your ingredients come to room temperature first. Setting them out on the counter for about an hour is optimal.

If you need a quicker solution, you can set out the butter, eggs and dairy, then measure out all the other cake ingredients, prep your pans and preheat the oven. By the time that is all done, zap the dairy and butter in the microwave on a low power level (I use 30%) until they are room temperature. You can also use a this trick to soften butter quickly. Then, plop the eggs into a glass of warm water.

“When adding eggs,” says James Schend, our Deputy Editor of Food, “it’s best to lightly beat them first and slowly add them to the butter-sugar mixture as it’s whipping. Things usually break when liquid is added to quickly or too much is added.”

You’ll mix up a smooth, luxurious and perfectly emulsified batter!

Can I Fix Curdled Batter?

James says yes! He recommends stirring in a tablespoon or two of flour to the mixture, just until the batter is emulsified once again. Stirring any longer will cause excess gluten to form, which will toughen up your cake.

Now you can approach any batter as a fearless baker! Next, perfect your technique with our cake-baking guide.

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.