Cake Decorating Basics: How to Store a Cake
Learning how to store a cake properly is an important part of the baking and cake decorating process.
Photo via Craftsy instructor Beth Somers
After all, even if you’ve honed your baking skills through Craftsy courses such as The Wilton Method®: Baking Basics and refined your decorating skills with courses such as The Wilton Method®: Buttercream Skills, your cake isn’t going to impress if it’s served stale.
Here’s a primer on how to store a cake at the different stages of life: just baked, decorated but uncut, and how to store cake leftovers. It will help you make the most of the cake for the maximum amount of time possible.
Remember: cake is a perishable food.
That means that from the moment it’s made, its lifespan is finite. The elements working against its freshness are primarily heat and humidity. Secondary threats to a cake’s life include strong or artificial light, which can fade or alter colors. Keeping the cake safe from these elements is key in maintaining its freshness.
How to store a cake before decorating
If you have an elaborate cake decorating project, you may want to divide the labor by baking the cakes in advance, and then decorating them at a later date. But how to keep those luscious layers from getting stale?
First, let it cool — completely.
If a cake is still warm, it could create steam when it is wrapped, which could actually hasten the deterioration of the cake. So be sure to wait until the cake has reached room temperature, then wrap tightly all over with plastic. Do not wrap it on top of a plate or platter — be sure the plastic is sealing in all sides of the cake. For cupcakes or loaf cakes, if they’ll fit and the seal closes, you can use a freezer-type bag with a seal.
Sealed in plastic like this, you can store cakes in a dry place at cool room temperature for a few days. If the weather is very hot or humid, you can also keep them in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, but it’s even more important to wrap the cakes in this case so they don’t absorb the odors of other items in your refrigerator. (Cake flavored with eau de leftover Chinese? Not so great.)
If you won’t be using the cake layers for a while, you can keep them in the freezer for up to a month. If freezing, allow ample time for the cakes to thaw before using.
Once you’ve iced your cake, the rules for storing will change. If your cake is iced but uncut, follow these instructions.
Buttercream and fondant:
Believe it or not, buttercream and fondant actually help seal in moisture in a cake, acting as a seal between the cake and the outer world. As long as you’ve completely covered the cake, you can cover a cake in a keeper or under a large overturned bowl for as long as 3 to 4 days. Typically, these coverings are not so much to create an airtight seal, but to prevent household debris such as dust or pet hair from affixing themselves to your masterpiece.
Photo via Nordicware
Like with the undecorated cake layers, if your home is hot or humid, you can store the cake in the refrigerator. Beware refrigerating tinted fondant cakes, however, as condensation can form and make the colors bleed. Avoid quick changes in temperature, and if possible transfer any refrigerated cake to an air conditioned space first, so its “temperature shock” can be reduced, thus reducing condensation, which can make colors bleed.
Buttercream and fondant topped cakes can be frozen, but allow ample time for them to come to room temperature. First, transfer them to the refrigerator so their thaw can be done gradually, then to an air conditioned space. This can help in avoiding damaging condensation which forms when the cake changes heat environments.
Cream cheese or whipped cream icing:
If the icing has cream cheese or is made with whipped cream, even stabilized whipped cream, do not leave it at room temperature. Instead, cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Cream cheese icing may be frozen, but the texture of whipped cream icing is often altered and not for the better if it’s frozen, so it is not suggested.
Cakes topped with a boiled frosting or French or Italian buttercream may be kept at room temperature or refrigerated, just like fondant or buttercream cakes, but should not be frozen as their texture can turn gummy when thawed.
Cakes topped with ganache can be stored the same way as cakes with buttercream or fondant.
- If it is an elaborate or tall cake, consider icing it and storing in separate layers, then assembling on the day you’d like to serve.
- If there are tinted pieces to the cake that you worry may bleed if the cake is exposed to moisture, consider icing the cake but leaving it undecorated, and then adding any delicate decorations on the day the cake will be used.
- Consider the fillings. Even if some cakes are are OK at room temperature, if it is filled with something like pudding or custard that requires refrigeration, then the cake needs to be chilled.
How to store cake leftovers or sliced cakes
Luckily, cake is a food that tends to be consumed quickly, with minimal leftovers. Because once cut, you’re racing the clock to consume the cake before it goes stale.
One trick to maintain freshness is to apply icing to the cut side of the cake, to help re-seal the cake against the elements. Plus, the recipient of that side-iced slice probably won’t complain about the extra topping.
Another easy trick is to place a sheet of plastic directly on the sliced part, making sure to adhere it to all of the exposed cake. Then, wrap the cake as specified in the unsliced versions listed above.
Photo via Craftsy member msgillespie
Storing that slice of wedding cake
It’s traditional to store a portion of the wedding cake to be consumed a year later. How does that work?
Place the cake in the refrigerator so that the icing can “set,” about 30 minutes. Once it’s firm enough to be covered, cover all over with plastic wrap so that it is completely sealed. Fortify this packing by coating with a layer of aluminum foil, and then put the whole thing in either a freezer bag or an airtight container. Bid it fare thee well until next year.
What if your cake does go stale?
Even if part of your cake does go stale, you may still be able to get some use out of the scraps. Here are just a few quick ideas:
- Cake French toast: Make French toast with slices of stale cake. It’s an indulgent but fun brunch item.
- Cake pops: Crush the cake and combine it with extra icing to make the filling for cake pops.
- Cake shake: Blend stale cake with ice cream to make a decadent and highly enjoyable chilly treat.