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!

30 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.

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