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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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!