How to Make + Decorate Cakes Ahead of Time

how to freeze cakes

I’m a big advocate of cake making as a means to reduce stress and have fun. That said, I know how incredibly stressful cake can be when you’re running short on time and/or things just aren’t going the way you wanted – especially if said cake is an order. I can remember many stressful nights (and even a few panic attacks) from my years of running a cake business from home and most of them stemmed from not giving myself enough time to enjoy the process. Can you relate? In hopes of sparing you some of that added stress, I’ve put together my best tips for making a timeline and working ahead. This way, maybe you won’t find yourself up at 2am agonizing over an unfinished cake! 

First, let’s talk about some make ahead tips for baking cake layers, making frosting, and storing it all so it’s ready to go when you’re ready to decorate. There are a few different methods and preferences on the subject that vary from baker to baker, and the purpose of this post is to talk about my own preferred methods. I’ve gathered them all in the video below, so give it a watch before reading on to commit these make ahead tips to memory.

And side note: if you’re wanting to learn more Cake Basics, be sure to check out my YouTube channel and hit the Subscribe button so you never miss a new one. In addition to the basics, you’ll also find my favorite recipes and cake decorating tutorials to broaden your skill set!

Storing Unfrosted Cake Layers 

When you’re building a cake, it’s ultra important that your cake layers are room temperature and not even a little bit warm (trust me, your frosting will melt). Because of this, you’ve got to give your cakes a few hours to cool after they come out of the oven. This means padding in those extra hours of cooling time into your overall timeline, which can end up taking a lot of your day if you’re doing all of it the day of. Instead, there are a few options for baking your cake layers and storing them properly so they’re ready to go on decorating day:

Storing at Room Temperature

If you’re baking your cakes a day or two ahead of decorating day, you can store them at room temperature as long as they’re wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

how to store cake layers at room temperature

Just be sure to wait until they’re completely cooled before wrapping them in plastic wrap, as the steam from a hot cake layer can create excess condensation in the storage process. Nobody wants a soggy cake!

Freezing Cake Layers

If you’re baking your cakes more than two days ahead of time, I recommend freezing your cake layers. Again, it’s important that you let the cakes cool completely before wrapping them up. As long as you wrap them properly, they will keep for up to two months in the freezer and once thawed will taste just as fresh as the day you baked them! Talk about a cake hack. 

how to freeze cake layers

To ensure they stay extra fresh, I like to wrap the cake layers in one layer of plastic wrap, then one layer of aluminum foil, then place them into a ziploc bag (or other airtight container that can go in the freezer). When you’re ready to use them, simply take the cake layers out of the freezer the day before decorating to thaw them. 

Remove them from the ziploc bag, but keep them in their aluminum foil/plastic wrap covering. This way, any excess condensation will escape and gather on top of the foil, which acts as a barrier to keep the cake beneath it from getting soggy. Then, on decorating day, remove all the wrapping and you’ll have your cake layers thawed and ready to go! 

Making Buttercream Ahead 

To make your buttercream frosting ahead of time, simply place it in an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks before decorating day.

how to store buttercream

When you’re ready to use it, bring it back to room temperature by placing it on the counter for an hour or two. Once it reaches room temperature, add it back into your stand mixer and mix it on low speed for about a minute.

how to make buttercream ahead of time

This will bring it back to frosting consistency and you’ll be ready to roll! 

Storing Crumb Coated Cakes 

After you’ve filled and frosted your cake with a crumb coat, it’s safe to store it in the refrigerator overnight without the risk of drying out the cake. The thin layer of buttercream acts as a barrier to preserve the cake underneath and help it maintain its moisture. 

why crumb coat cakes

I always like to add my final layer of frosting to a chilled crumb coated cake anyways, because having a nice firm structure underneath the final layer is one of the secrets to creating a smooth buttercream finish. Even if you don’t plan on storing your crumb coated cake in the fridge overnight, I highly recommend letting it firm up in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before you add your final layer of frosting. Here’s everything you need to know about how and why I crumb coat my cakes.

Storing Decorated Cakes (Uncut) 

Once the final layer of frosting has been added and you’ve decorated your cake, the safest place to preserve it is in the refrigerator, uncovered (in my opinion). This way, the details of your decorating will be preserved while keeping the cake beneath all that frosting nice and moist. I like to decorate my cakes and store them in the refrigerator overnight before serving them.

chocolate ganache drip tutorial

Although I don’t have much experience with fondant covered cakes, I store my buttercream frosted cakes with ganache drips, buttercream piping, sprinkles, and even fondant/gumpaste accents in the refrigerator overnight, until about an hour or two before serving the cake. If I’m driving the cake somewhere, I keep it in the fridge until the minute I walk out the door. This is because cakes that are chilled are much easier to handle and transport while keeping the details intact. 

Cakes With Fresh Flowers

If you’re topping a cake with fresh flowers, I recommend keeping those flowers in a vase of water until the morning of the cake due date. Then, prepare the flowers according to these instructions to ensure they stay fresh once you top the cake with them. 

when to add flowers to cake

Since fresh flowers tend to wilt over time (some quicker than others), adding these final touches the day of is your best bet. 

Cakes With Fresh Berries

Berries (and fruits in general) are full of liquid, so if you are adding these to your cake, it’s best to add them last minute if possible. This will often require that you save some of the final buttercream piping until the due date of the cake as well, since those berries will need something to adhere to (and firm buttercream doesn’t make the best glue). 

when to put berries on cake

To work ahead, you can always frost the final layer of the buttercream, add any ganache drips, and store the cake overnight in the refrigerator. Then finish the rest of the decorating the day the cake is due to keep those berries looking fresh. 

Cakes Topped With Cotton Candy

Cotton candy makes a pretty whimsical cake topper, but it’s a fleeting one. Since cotton candy only lasts about an hour before beginning to disintegrate, I wait until the cake is going on display to add the cotton candy – aka the very last minute. This way you get an hour for people to ooh and ahh before you cut the cake and no one has to know the cotton candy was about to fall apart.

Creating a Cake Timeline 

To best prepare yourself, especially if you’re just getting started on your cake journey, it’s a really good idea to establish a cake timeline for yourself. This just helps you plan ahead so you’re not scrambling to get your materials together last minute. Here’s a sample timeline that I have gone by when making cakes with due dates:

timeline for cake

Notice that frosting and decorating the cake is split between day 3 and 4. This is just to give you extra padding in case you don’t want to do all the final decorating the day before. Your timeline will depend on what your final design will be, so be sure to take some time to think about things and plan out your schedule before you get in over your head.

Once you get the hang of how long things take, you can certainly squeeze this timeline even tighter and do more work closer to the due date. You can also freeze cake layers and store buttercream weeks in advance so you can eliminate more work for yourself the week of. It’s all up to you! But hopefully these make ahead tips and sample timeline give you the tools you need to set yourself up for success. Happy cake making!

84 Comments

  1. This is awesome !! Pure gold, thanks for taking the time for putting it together

  2. Alexandra

    When you put parchment on the bottom of the cake pan, do you spray the bottom of the pan with Pam or use butter first? Or do you put the parchment on the pan without any cooking spray or butter? Thank you!! I’m a total newby to baking.

    • Hi Alexandra! I spray the sides with Pam and a little bit of it always gets on the bottom of the pan in the process, so I just stick the parchment paper on top of that.

      • Alexandra

        Thank you so much!!! It worked!! I just made the cake this morning. I also made your buttercream frosting. You have the most wonderful website and videos!!! So helpful, especially for nervous newbies such as myself.

  3. Alexandra White

    Is the crumb coating meant only for cakes that have smooth frosting? Is it meant for regular swirly type frosting as well? Thank you so much!!!

  4. Thank you for these tips! I am having trouble finding balance between my Monday thru Friday regular job and adding 2 to 3 cakes a week since I started my side hustle business test drive 3 months ago. Your plan/schedule is a huge help for my anxiety!

  5. This is so helpful to anyone looking to think about doing this on the side! (Full time veterinarian here but love making cakes!) Curious about whether you can torte your cake layers before freezing or if that’s a step best left until just before you crumb coat?

    • Hi Julia! You can totally torte your cakes before freezing. Cheering you on in your cake side hustle!

  6. Hi Whitney, I’m planning to bake one of your cakes for a family gathering that’s about 5.5-6h in July by car. While I’ll have a good and sturdy ice bag, do you think the buttercream and flower buttercream will travel well or you’d suggest to prepare the buttercream at the location?

    thanks for your advice!!

    • Hi Pauline! You should be totally fine to decorate the cake at home as long as you keep the cake in the refrigerator until you have to leave for the gathering, then just keep the AC on in the car. Hope that helps!

  7. Can I do the same process but instead of using buttercream use whipped cream?? Can I frost it the night before and add decorations the day it’s due ?

    • Hi Amelia! It should totally work to frost the cake with whipped cream the night before, keep it in the refrigerator, then add decorations the day it’s due.

  8. Mary-Anne Barclay

    If you are decorating with buscuits like Oreos and wafer sticks, is it best to add those just a few hours before presenting the cake? I decorated my cake the night before, refrigerated it over night, left it in a cool room the next day but the biscuits and wafers went soft.

    • Hi Mary-Anne! Yes, the wafers/cookies will go a little soft in the refrigerator but should still be fine and tasty enough to eat. If you want them fresher, I would add them as close to the time you’ll serve the cake as possible.

  9. Hi Whitney,
    Thank you for all the cake basics. They are so helpful.
    When should the cake be taken out before serving? I used whipped cream to frost, hence i left the cake in the refrigerator until it was ready to be served. But the cake wasn’t soft. Can you please advice.

    • Hi Tinu! I would take the cake out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to serving. This way the cake has a chance to soften back up. It’s much softer at room temperature.

  10. I usually bake my cake layers the day before stacking and a filling and then I double wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them in the refrigerator overnight. This time I have to make them two days before. I am wondering what your thoughts are on storing them in the fridge vs. the freezer. My house is pretty warm in summer (usually 78 degrees), so I am worried freezer to counter would result in a soggy mess.

  11. Good afternoon!
    Gold leaf…have you ever used it?
    I have a wedding cake tomorrow and was planning on icing my cakes today and keeping them in the freezer until tomorrow when I deliver them and assemble the cake.
    Can I put the gold leaf on today after my buttercream is set and chilled and then proceed to freeze the cakes with the gold leaf on them?
    Will this ruin the gold leaf/will it affect the gold leaf in any way?
    Or should I freeze the cakes, stack them at the reception venue and then apply the gold leaf?
    Or would you suggest something else?
    I look forward to hearing back from you, THANKS!

    • Hi Beth! I have never covered a cake with gold leaf before but I have used it as an accent. When I did I added it to a chilled buttercream cake and refrigerated it overnight before serving it. I have never frozen a decorated cake before, so I’m not sure how it will preserve the cake. I hope that helps!

  12. Any recipe for the cake? In your videos it looks like you use the same recipe but where can I find it?

  13. Megan Teahon

    Hello, could I leave the buttercream decorated cake uncut in the fridge for a couple days? Or is it best just the one night? For example, decorate completely Thursday but if it isn’t being served until Saturday. Thank you!

    • Hi Megan! That shouldn’t be a problem. It’s freshest the closer you make the cake to the deadline, but it should be totally fine to work that far ahead.

  14. Mona Hasan

    Hi,

    Love your website… so helpful!
    Could you plz advise me… I am making a cake and icing it on Saturday, to be eaten on Monday. I wanted to add toasted almonds on top of my icing. Will they go soft?

    Love,
    Mona

    • Hi Mona! I think you should be totally fine with the toasted almonds and that timeline. Toasting them should keep them firm. Enjoy!

  15. I am serving my cake Friday evening, can I do more than the crumbcoat tonight (Wednesday) or only the crumb coat? I am
    Hoping to at least get it frosted. I am doing a drip which can wait until Friday but if I can do the rest earlier I will (just Thursday night so trying to work around that).

    Also, loving your channel!

    • Hi Joli! You can absolutely crumb coat and frost the cake on Wednesday (and even do the drip if you want!). That should be perfectly fine if you’re serving on Friday night. Hope that helps and thanks for the kind words about my channel!

  16. Lori Stone

    Thankyou for these posts, very informative.
    I’m about to embark on two cakes for my boys birthday party. I don’t have room in the fridge for storage however live in high humidity area, so leaving them out isn’t really possible either.
    Do you think I could possibly store in a dark room with the A/C on in a sealed container?

    • Hi Lori! You could try it, but since I’ve never tried storing a cake anywhere but the fridge or freezer and don’t live in a high humidity area, I’m not entirely sure how it will work out. It sounds like your only option though, so I would go for it!

  17. Hi there how would this work with red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting? I’m making it for my fiancé’s 30th which is on a Wednesday. I will give it to him Wednesday morning and need to make it Monday primarily and finish final touches Tuesday somehow before he’s home. Need your help thank you SO much

    • Hi Marisa! Your timeline sounds totally good! You can bake the cake and make the buttercream Monday, assemble and crumb coat/frost the cake either Monday or Tuesday, and add all the finishing touches Tuesday. Store the decorated cake in the refrigerator overnight and it’ll be fresh for Wednesday morning. Sounds like such a lovely cake!

  18. What if you don’t have room in the fridge to store cakes? My girls bdays are all in November so we do one big party but they each get their own cake. So I make 3 cakes for one party. Can I just store these out on the counter, frosted and covered for the night? I don’t have time to cook for and frost 3 cakes the day of.

    • Hi Amy! You can certainly store your cakes at room temp so long as they don’t have fillings/frostings that need to be refrigerated. I like to store my cakes in the refrigerator to help preserve the decorating details, but it’s not usually mandatory!

  19. I’ll be sure to store unfrosted layers. I only need them when I get the frosting. So I might as well keep them fresh and safe.

  20. Great article! What do you recommend for half naked cakes where you only ice the top? How do you keep these moist?

  21. Do cakes need to be on a cardboard cake round before wrapping in plastic wrap to store for a couple days or freezing?

    • Hi Crystal! If they’re just cake layers then you don’t need to place them on a cardboard round. You can just wrap those and store them at room temp or the freezer according to the instructions in this blog post. They don’t need to be on a cake round until you start building the layer cake. Hope that helps!

      • Yes! Thank you so much! I’m attempting to make a wedding cake for my daughter. First one ever, so doing a trial run to have for dinner Christmas Eve. Need all the good vibes I can get!

  22. I just made a drip cake and decorated it. I’d like to keep it a week in the freezer. How do I store it in the freezer and thaw out when ready?

    • Hi Denise! I’ve never stored a cake in the freezer before but I hear about bakers doing it all the time. From what I’ve read here’s what I would do: Place the cake in the freezer for 1-2 hrs before wrapping the outside in plastic wrap to preserve the cake from freezer burn. One day before serving the cake, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. It will thaw in the refrigerator. Then 2 hours before serving the cake, take it out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temp (tastes better at room temp!). Hope that helps!

  23. Teresa Passaretti

    This is a great guide! I’m making a drip cake with sprinkles for my granddaughters 2nd birthday. I’ve been reading all your posts from ganache to buttercream frosting to tips on putting it all together. My confidence is growing and I’m ready to get baking. I’m falling in love with baking again! Thanks for inspiring me.

    • That’s so amazing, Teresa! It makes my day to hear that! Cheering you on and glad to be a resource for your cake making 🙂

  24. Paula Brown

    Hi Whitney,
    I have been asked to do a Victoria Sponge cake for my Uncles 80th. I’m only learning so I am going to coat it with buttercream. I go away Thursday evening until the Sun day the cake is needed.(3 days) Can I bake and make buttercream on the Thursday afternoon ? Thanks in advance for your advice x

    • Hi Paula! It sounds like Thursday afternoon is the best option. Any longer of a timeline and you may risk the cake not tasting as fresh. Cheering you on!

  25. this was the most helpful video. thank you.
    explained so well and easy to follow.

  26. Kate Peacock

    Hi Whitney,
    I’m making a two tier birthday cake and wondering if I can do my final icing tonight before stacking tomorrow and adding the rest of the decoration. I’ve read that icing can crack however. Should I just do a crumb coat tonight on both tiers and refrigerate overnight and a final coat in the morning before stacking?

    Thanks,
    Kate

    • Hi Kate! I would totally frost the cakes with the final icing tonight, store them in the refrigerator, then stack them tomorrow and add the rest of the decoration. I have never heard of frosting cracking (I use American buttercream though, maybe that’s different). As long as you properly dowel the bottom tier you should have enough support to prevent the bottom tier from cracking/collapsing. Hope that helps!

  27. Abbe Cherry

    Hi Whitney,
    Do you have any problems with buttercream sweating? It’s very humid where I am right now. What the best way to avoid swearing??
    Cheers,
    Abbe

    • Hi Abbe! I don’t usually have problems with my cakes sweating, I live in a fairly mild climate. I’ve heard of bakers using a paper towel to soak up the beads of condensation though – I wonder if that works!

  28. Hello! I am planning to make and decorate some cupcakes the day before they are to be shared. Would you put them in the fridge after you frost them? Covered or uncovered? Or will that dry them out? It’s pretty warm where I am so it’s possible my buttercream might melt off if I leave them at room temperature.

    • Hi Mary! There’s no need to refrigerate decorated cupcakes unless the frosting requires refrigeration (like cream cheese buttercream). I always store my cupcakes at room temperature in the box they’ll be delivered in and they keep very fresh one day ahead. If you’re concerned about the buttercream melting though, it will be better to store them in the refrigerator in a box. Hope that helps!

      • Hi my experience is if i store the gumpaste/fondat things for decoration when it comes out fron the fridge it start melting.

        How long can i store the finished decorated cake at room temperate?

        • Hi Rose! You can absolutely store a cake at room temperature for 4-5 days unless the filling/frosting requires refrigeration. Hope that helps!

  29. Hello Whitney,
    I am baking a simple chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling (using your recipes) and adding some Harry Potter decorations (fondant) on top of it. It’s for sunday and it’s going to be 93 degres outside. It’s for a party that is outside 🙁 Unfortunately I could’t make your special hot day frosting recipe. What do you think of putting the whole cake in the freezer on saturday evening and taking it out on Sunday morning?
    Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Marie! I would actually just refrigerate the cake until the very last minute, then transport it in an air conditioned car if you can and keep it in the shade. You can certainly try the freezer, but I just don’t have any experience freezing a fully decorated cake so I’m not sure if it’s the best route. Hope that helps!

      • Thank you Whitney! I didn’t try the freezer, too risky without any experience… We did what you suggested. I made a DIY box with 2 ice packs attached to it (inside the box). The cake was totally fine. Such a relieve (it was the first time I baked a cake for someone outside of my family!).

  30. Becky Rodrigues

    Hi Whitney!

    Thank you for your super helpful timeline. I used it and on decorating day, I actually had fun because I had time haha.

    I have to make two cakes fully frosted with buttercream two days ahead (no fondant). Could I store them in the fridge Friday night and deliver them Sunday morning? Or do you think they would dry out? Is Room temp /freezer better for two nights than fridge?
    Thank you!

    • That’s so amazing, Becky! I’m glad decorating day was fun and not stressful! The decorated cakes should be totally fine for two days in the refrigerator. Just try to do the baking/assembling as close to decorating day as you can for maximum freshness. Hope that helps!

    • Hi Linda! I never really do, but I know you can freeze frosting by placing it in an airtight container (most bakers wrap it up in plastic wrap before placing in a ziploc bag) and placing it in the freezer for up to two months. The day before you’re ready to use it, place it in the refrigerator to thaw, then bring it to room temperature the day you need it. Hope that helps!

  31. Christine

    Hi Whitney, do you have an easy way to sift powdered sugar for buttercream frosting? For some reason it is my least favorite part of the process.
    Just wondering?
    Thanks, Christine

    • Hi Christine! I actually don’t sift my powdered sugar for frosting unless it has visible clumps that need sifting. I don’t find it makes much of a difference otherwise. If you want an easy way to sift large amounts of powdered sugar though, a large fine mesh sieve is the quickest way!

  32. I am nowhere near a baker but I love to bake and I’m making the cake for my brother and sister-in-law’s gender reveal party and this just saved me! I would have been pressing the day before but I’m definitely going to bake my layers tonight! Thank you!!

    • Hi Joanne! It depends on the filling. If the filling needs to be refrigerated you’ll need to figure out a way to store them all in the refrigerator or do the filling/decorating the day the order is due. If you want to decorate them the day before you’ll want to store them in a box, at room temp unless they need refrigerating due to the filling.

  33. Hello Whitney.
    Thank you for these information. I would like to use your vanilla cake recipe for a 4- Tier (with 3 layers each tier (2inches every layer) wedding cake I’m making for my friend on Oct. 1, 2022. It’ll be base- 16” square pan, followed by round pans of 14, 12 and 10 top. How much recipe/batch mix would I need for every tier. I’m a novice and this is only my 3rd wedding cake. I would appreciate your advice. Thank you I’m advance.

    • Hi Joan! Wow, that is a huge endeavor and I am cheering you on! I will say that I have never baked my vanilla cake recipe in a pan larger than a 9 x 13 casserole dish, so I’m not sure how long to bake it per your pan sizes. The recipe yields about 7 Cups of batter as-is, and you’ll need 7 Cups of batter for each 10″ round layer, 9 Cups of batter for each 12″ round layer, 12 Cups of batter for each 14″ round layer, and 16 Cups of batter for each 16″ square layer. If each size is three layers tall, you’ll need a total of 132 Cups of batter for that entire cake. Divide that by 7 Cups per batch and you’ll need to whip up about 19 batches of the recipe. I would recommend researching best practices for baking cakes in larger pans like that and you should be able to find a relative baking time for each pan size. Hope all of that helps!

  34. Hi Whitney
    I live in Louisiana. The humidity is my worst nightmare. I do buttercream and fondant decor on my cakes. My cakes look great when I’m finished and place them in refrigerator over night, but my last 4 cakes my fondant decor seems to be falling and making the cakes look melted. I thought I had a stable enough buttercream but it his humidity is killing me. Any suggestions?

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