Part of my job as a pastry cook involves wrapping and labeling large sheet trays of cake to store in the fridge for later. At the restaurant where I work, there’s a lot of strategy involved. Those sheets of chocolate einkorn sponge need to be handy for building wedding cakes, but they’re also competing with a week’s worth of produce for space in the walk-in refrigerator. It’s a delicate balance of trying to plan ahead but also wanting the cake to taste as fresh and delicious as possible.
What’s the best way to store a cake—in the fridge or in the freezer? Does it matter if the cake is fully decorated? I reached out to a few experts in search of the best storage advice for any cake situation.
When is it okay to freeze cake?
If done properly, freezing is one of the best ways to preserve the freshness of a cake so that you’re not scrambling to bake, cool, frost, and decorate someone’s birthday cake the morning of a big party. I’ve been there before, and trust me, it’s not a fun way to get in the celebratory mood.
Freezing a cake after it’s been baked and cooled to room temperature is akin to freezing fresh berries at peak ripeness, according to cookbook author and recipe developer Jessie Sheehan. Sheehan, who got her start baking professionally at Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn, says that freezing cake is “a brilliant move as it locks in all of the freshness.” Trung Vu, pastry chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education and former executive pastry chef at Upland in New York City, agrees, saying that, “if wrapped properly, [freezing] is the best way to extend the shelf life of a cake.”
Once a cake is baked, it should be completely cooled. This is crucial since any moisture could trap steam in the cake, possibly changing the texture of the cake, or worse, leading to unwanted bacterial growth. A hot cake placed immediately in the freezer also raises the temperature inside the freezer, which can be a safety risk for food already inside. Once cooled, individual cake layers can each be wrapped twice in food-service-grade plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, make sure to label what type of cake it is and the date that you’re freezing it. The cake can go straight in the freezer and should be used within three to four months.
If freezing cake layers, transfer the wrapped cakes from the freezer to the refrigerator one day before you want to decorate the cake. Rather than going straight to room temperature, transferring the cake from the freezer to the refrigerator allows the cake to thaw at a slower rate, which helps keep the texture even, from the center of the cake to the exterior.
Freezing is also a great way to store leftover cake slices. Those last few slices might not look so appealing when you’re sleepily cleaning up from a party, but wrap them individually to freeze, and your future self will thank you.
When is it a good idea to refrigerate cake?
It depends. Most cakes—the butter-based cakes, oil-based cakes, chiffon cakes, and sponge cakes of the world—keep well at room temperature for at least one to two days. However, there are exceptions: If the temperature of your kitchen is hot, or if there’s fresh fruit, fruit compote, or fresh dairy in the cake, such as cream cheese, whipped cream, or mascarpone, it’s best not to keep the cake out at room temperature.