How to Store Cakes—Advice from a Pro
Cake storage is not the clear-cut process you thought it was. Believe me. As a lifelong cake aficionado and fangirl, I thought I knew everything there was to know about cake preparation and storage. But I was wrong.
After spending about a year working at a famous Washington, D.C. cupcake shop and learning from the experts, I have acquired a great deal of knowledge about the less-than-obvious process of successful cake storage.
Below, I shall share my insider knowledge on how to store cakes. I'll dispel the myths, share my secrets, and help you decide on how to best store a cake based on your estimated time of eating.
Why You Shouldn't Refrigerate Your Cake
I always used to refrigerate cake, probably because we (at least in the U.S.) have been conditioned to believe that all things are kept "fresh" in the refrigerator. For many years, I believed that this was a good practice, not only because one generally puts things in the refrigerator, but also because I frequently see cakes displayed in refrigerators and refrigerated cases in many cafes and restaurants.
My entire belief system was turned upside down when I had my first day of work at a famous DC cupcake shop. When I asked them how to store some of the cupcakes I was taking home at the end of the night, and suggested refrigeration in an airtight container, they looked at me like I had just proposed we cook and eat a newborn baby.
This is because my coworkers and bosses took cake and cupcakes very seriously. And because refrigeration is a dreadful thing to inflict on a perfectly good cake.
Why? Refrigeration dries sponge cakes out. It's that simple.
Even if you refrigerate a cake in a perfectly sealed container and only for a short amount of time, it will dry out. The only time it is appropriate to refrigerate a cake is if it has decorative buttercream icing that is literally melting (and in this case, appearance trumps taste) or if it is not a sponge cake and rather a cheesecake or some sort of mousse that requires refrigeration.
Try to think of sponge cake like bread. After all, the two things are quite similar. Do you put your bread in the fridge? No. So don't put your cake in the fridge either!
So how do I store cakes?
Since refrigeration is obviously out of the question, you might be wondering what your options are. Let me first introduce the best short-term options.
Bake Fresh and Eat
Most sponge cakes are at their prime when freshly baked, so whenever possible, bake and eat cakes the day they are made. If you are going to a bakery to get cake, check with them to see what their policy is regarding timing. Some bakeries, such as the cupcake shop at which I worked, have a very strict policy of baking cakes fresh every day. This is very labor intensive and taxing, but it also means that you'll get the freshest, best cake possible.
If the bakery from which you procure cakes bakes them ahead of time and gives them to you a day later (or, god forbid, two days later), walk away. If a bakery refrigerates sponge cakes, run away. Note: These rules do not apply to custom-decorated wedding cakes, which tend to be more labor-intensive to create and are not really about flavor anyway
The best, freshest cakes are positively irresistible, so storage won't be so much of an issue. They'll be gone before you know it!
Store at Room Temperature
If you bake or buy a freshly-baked cake one night with plans to serve it the following day, you should be fine with storing it in its box, or in a sealed plastic container.
If you want to be particularly diligent about keeping your cake fresh, store it in a positively airtight container. If it came in a nice cardboard box that you don't want to undo, wrap the box in plastic wrap. If you made the cake, seal it in a plastic cake storage container.
Store your cake at room temperature and keep it out of the direct sun and away from any major heat sources that might melt the icing.
How Do I store cakes for longer periods of time?
A sponge cake can be stored in a sealed, airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. I have friends who have accepted gifts of cake from me who have nommed on them for many days afterward (up to five).
If you're worried about cakes getting moldy, don't. I've kept cupcakes around to see what happens to them, and they don't grow mould. They just dry out and harden. They actually become rather cute fossils that make for excellent projectile weapons (nobody would expect a cupcake you hurl at them to be as hard as a rock, which makes your attack all the more surprising and wonderfully painful).
For Long Term Storage: Freeze
If you know that you want to serve a cake more than three days after its baking, seal it in an airtight container and freeze it. When you're ready to eat it, let it slowly thaw at room temperature.
Freezing helps seal the moisture in whereas refrigerating dries things out. The area of any cake that is most negatively impacted by freezing is the icing, as it does not thaw out looking as perky as it did when it was first applied. That said, freezing results in a far more tasty cake than one that has gone stale- either at room temperature or in a refrigerator.