As many of you know by now, making cakes from scratch isn’t something that can be done in a hurry. One of the first tips I give new bakers is to plan out the baking process so they’re not trying to do everything in just a couple hours. Rushing the process is a recipe for disaster. So, for today’s edition of Cake Basics, I thought I’d help you schedule out the cake making process based on how much time you have.
Cake Basics: How to Schedule Your Cake Making
Before we get to the different schedules, the first piece of timing advice I want to offer is this: read through your recipe at least a week before you start baking. This way you’ll have plenty of time to buy ingredients, order any special ingredients, and plan how much time to give yourself for the whole process.
Some of my cakes only have a couple elements to them. Take my Classic Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream, for example. This cake has two elements: cake layers and buttercream. It’s a great cake to make when you only have one or two days to bake. My Ultimate S’mores Cake, on the other hand, has SIX different elements. That’s a great one to spread out over the course of a week. And trust me, that one is worth every minute of your time!
If You Have a Week
Let’s start with a week of prep time! A full week is a good amount of time to give yourself if you’re making a cake with a lot of elements, as I mentioned above.
- Day 1: Review the recipe and do your grocery shopping.
- Day 2: Bake the cake layers.
- Once the cake layers are cooled to room temperature, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and freeze. The layers will be good for a week like this. If you want to freeze the layers for longer, wrap a second time in tin foil and place in a zip lock bag.
- One hour before you’re ready to start stacking and decorating your cake, remove your cake layers from the freezer.
- Day 3: Make one of the fillings.
- Fillings are usually best stored in an airtight container on the counter or in the fridge.
- Day 4: Make additional fillings, if any.
- Day 5: Make the buttercream.
- To store the buttercream, place the buttercream in an airtight container and refrigerate.
- To use the premade frosting, remove from the refrigerator a few hours before you want to decorate. Let the frosting get back to room temperature and re-beat the buttercream to soften it.
- Day 6: Assembly the cake.
- I typically like to assemble the cake a few hours before I want to serve it and will then store it in a cake box or on a cake stand with a lid. Room temperature is okay for most cakes, for 2 to 3 hours. Some cakes, like my Ricotta Olive Oil Cake, are best stored in the fridge and served slightly chilled.
- If you don’t plan to serve the cake on the day you assemble the cake, you can refrigerate it overnight in an airtight container.
- Day 7: Serve the cake.
- On the day you’re ready to serve your masterpiece, you’ll want to bring the cake back to room temperature if it’s been frozen or in the refrigerator. Refer to the final section in this post about freezing and thawing your cakes.
If You Have Three to Four Days
If you’re a little tighter on time, but still have a few days to prep, here’s how I suggest laying out the baking process:
- Day 1: Review the recipe one more time, do your grocery shopping and bake your cake layers.
- Day 2: Make your fillings.
- Day 3: Make the frosting. If you only have three days, you’ll want to assemble this day too.
- Day 4: If you have an extra day, assemble the cake on day 4 a few hours before you plan to serve it.
If You Have Two Days
Now let’s say you just have two days to get everything together, here’s how I would plan out the process:
- Day 1: Shop for ingredients in the morning. By lunchtime, plan on making the cake layers. If you have fillings to make, try to get those done in the afternoon or evening when the kids go to bed.
- Day 2: On day 2, when you plan to serve the cake, you’ll want to make the frosting and assemble the cake. You can make the frosting in the morning and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours (covered well), and then re-beat it for a few minutes right before you start to assemble the cake.
If You Have One Day
If you only have one day to make a cake, pick something simple. To me, something simple is a cake that only has two elements to it: cake layers and buttercream.
- Morning: Shop for ingredients and then make your cake layers. Even though you’ll be putting the cake together in a few hours, you still want to let your cake cool to room temperature, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it for an hour. You’ll have a much easier time decorating your cake if your cake layers are chilled.
- Afternoon: While your cake layers are chilling, make your buttercream. A few hours before you serve your cake, start the assembly process. I would give yourself about an hour for stacking and decorating your cake.
- Evening: EAT!
Making Cakes Ahead of Time
Another option is to make the entire cake ahead of time and freeze it. I like to do this if I have a cake deadline in the near future but don’t have the availability to make the cake near the time I actually need to deliver it or serve it.
I wrote an entire blog post about How to Freeze, Thaw and Transport You Cakes. You can read the entire post for all the details, but here’s the reader’s digest version:
- After you’ve frosted your cake completely, freeze the cake for about 30 to 60 minutes to set the outer coat of frosting.
- Once the frosting is set, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap.
- The night before you want to serve your cake, move it to the refrigerator (still wrapped).
- The next morning, move the cake to room temperature. You can leave the plastic wrap on for the first hour or two. You’ll then remove the plastic wrap and keep the cake in an airtight container like a cake box or cake carrier.
- If you have any condensation appear on the cake, just gently pat it dry with a paper towel.
Alright! You’re all set to plan out your next cake! What’s it going to be?