Cake is one of the best foods to make ahead and freeze. Freezing your cake after you bake it—but before frosting and decorating it—can actually improve the final product.
There are several reasons for freezing a cake before decorating it. One, it helps to spread out the labor. Trying to bake a cake, make the frosting, and decorate it all in one session is overwhelming. Not even professional bakers do this.
Second, trimming and sculpting the cake is easier when it's chilled, but not fully frozen. And lastly, frosting a chilled cake is much easier, since a chilled (or frozen) cake won't shed as many crumbs into the frosting as a room-temperature cake.
What Cakes Can You Freeze?
The best cakes for freezing are normal to high-fat cakes, which basically means any regular cake made with some amount of milk and/or oil. The exceptions are lean cakes like angel food and chiffon cakes. Their lack of fat makes them dry out in the freezer. You're better off serving cakes like that right away.
When to Freeze Cakes
The best time to freeze a cake layer is after it's fully cooled, but before you level it. Leveling a cake is the process of trimming off the rounded part on top of the cake to make it flat. The reason it's better to freeze it before leveling is that in case of freezer burn on the top, you're just removing that part anyway. It's also much easier to level a cake that's still partially frozen (like after 20 to 30 minutes of thawing).
Ideally you'll let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes, remove the cakes from the pans and let them cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack before wrapping and freezing them.
Whatever you do, don't wrap a warm cake. It might seem like holding in the steam would preserve the cake's moisture. But in fact, once it has turned to steam, that moisture cannot return to the cake. All it will do is form condensation underneath the plastic and cause the surface of the cake to turn soggy.
If you do wrap and freeze a warm cake, the best thing to do is leave it, and then when you go to defrost it, take it out of the freezer, immediately unwrap it, and brush away any frost particles so that frost doesn't wet the surface of the cake as it thaws.
How to Wrap Cakes for Freezing
We mentioned plastic a moment ago. And indeed, the best way to wrap a cake for freezing is to wrap it in plastic wrap. Plastic wrap produces a nice, tight seal that holds in moisture and protects the cake from freezer burn.
If you're freezing your cake for three days or less, a single layer of plastic wrap is plenty. If you're planning to freeze it for longer, you'll need another layer. And for this second layer, you have options:
- One: Use a second layer of plastic wrap.
- Two: Use a layer of foil.
- Three: Seal the wrapped cake in a freezer bag.
Either way, a double-wrapped cake will let you store it in the freezer for two to three months. Just be sure to label the cake with the date so you know how long it's been in there. The advantage of the Ziploc method is that you can reuse the bags. Just be sure to press all the air out before you seal them.
It's also not a bad idea to place your wrapped cakes on cardboard cake rounds in the freezer. This helps keep the bottoms flat, which might be an issue in freezers with wire racks rather than flat shelves. Cardboard rounds also allow you to stack your cakes in the freezer to save space.
How to Thaw Frozen Cake
The challenge with thawing a frozen cake is dealing with the condensation that will form. When thawing a wrapped cake, condensation will form on the inside plastic. Removing the plastic without knocking this condensation back onto the surface of the cake takes a steady hand.
Conversely, thawing an unwrapped cake means the condensation has nowhere to go but the surface of the cake.
On balance, thawing it wrapped is probably the best method. At least there's a chance that some of the condensation will end up on the plastic. If you see moisture on the cake, carefully blot it with a clean paper towel.
You might hit on the idea of frosting the cake while it's still frozen. The problem here is that leveling and trimming is very difficult to do when the cake is rock hard. And even so, your frosting will harden up when it comes into contact with the frozen cake, making spreading it difficult.
After 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature, your cake is ready to level, stack and decorate.