Like with most foods, cakes and cupcakes are at their peak of quality when they're fresh. That means serving them the day they were baked is always your best option.
But sometimes you have no choice but to bake (or buy) a cake in advance of when you plan to serve and eat it. Or maybe you have leftover cake that you can't finish on the first day. Either way, you need to know how to store it to make sure it stays fresh for as long as possible.
Don't Store Cake in the Refrigerator!
The first and most important tip we can offer you is that when it comes to cakes, the refrigerator is not your friend. If you're accustomed to operating as if anything stored in the fridge will automatically last longer, this idea might take some getting used to. But the fact is, refrigerating cake actually makes it go stale faster.
This has to do with the way the starch molecules in the flour absorb water when the batter is baked, and then afterward, starting as soon as the cake starts to cool, those molecules recrystallize, or harden, forcing the water out and to the surface of the cake, where it evaporates. In brief, refrigerating a cake causes this process to occur significantly faster than at room temperature. So, don't refrigerate your cakes.
This is also true of breads and any other baked goods—they all go stale faster in the fridge.
Storing Cake for 1 to 3 Days
If you're planning to eat your cake within three days of when it was baked, the best thing to do is keep it at room temperature. This means on the counter, away from heat, and out of direct sunlight. If your cake is in a bakery box, you can leave it in the box, and if you're planning to eat it within 24 hours, that's all you really need to do.
If you're thinking of holding your cake for longer than that, you can leave it in the box and wrap the box with plastic wrap, which will keep the cake from drying out for up to three days.
If your cake isn't in a box, an acrylic cake lid will come in handy. It's simply a hard, clear dome with a handle that goes over the cake. Just set your cake on a plate, cover it with the lid and store it on the counter for up to three days. You can drape a kitchen towel over the dome to keep the sunlight off it.
Another great option is the plastic cake storage container, which is a two-piece affair consisting of a tray that the cake rests on and a domed top that fits over it and snaps shut, creating an airtight seal. They're also great for transporting cakes and are available to fit round layer cakes as well as square or rectangular sheet cakes. You can also find containers with shelves for storing cupcakes and even bundt-shaped ones.
How to Freeze Cakes
If you need to store your cake for longer than three days, you can freeze it. Unlike storing it in the refrigerator, freezing a cake is actually a wonderful way to keep it fresh, particularly for longer periods.
If your cake is in a bakery box, simply wrap the box in two layers of plastic wrap and store it in the freezer just like that. You can also freeze a cake, frosting and all, in one of the snap-tight storage containers we just mentioned.
When you're ready to serve, just remove the cake from the freezer and let it thaw on the counter. The frosting might be slightly tired-looking, but overall, the cake will be better than if you refrigerated it, or left it on the counter for longer than three days.
If you've baked a cake and want to store it for a few days before frosting and decorating it, the freezer is ideal. Simply cool the individual layers, then double wrap them in plastic and store them in the freezer, where they'll keep for several weeks, up to two to three months (although angel-food or chiffon cakes don't freeze well, so keep that in mind).
When you're ready to frost and decorate, take the layers out of the freezer and let them thaw on the counter, still in their plastic wrap, for 20 to 30 minutes. In fact, freezing layers like this, even overnight, makes frosting and decorating them much easier. They're easier to trim, and they don't shed as many crumbs into the frosting.