Does Leftover Cake Need to be Refrigerated?

Does Leftover Cake Need to be Refrigerated?

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Leftover Cake
Leftover Cake

Did you know that some food and other fresh produce spoils faster when stored at room temperature than when stored in a colder environment? But what about in the case of baked products, like cakes? Do you really have to refrigerate leftover cakes?

Actually, cakes are versatile. But then again, whether a cake needs to be refrigerated or not only gets a little complicated when it is filled and covered with icing.

Cakes that do not Need to be Refrigerated

Simple cakes and breads do not require refrigeration. In fact, they can last for four to five days even when stored at room temperature.

A leftover cake that is plain and ordinary, whether brought from a store or baked at home, does not need to be refrigerated and is still safe to consume even after a few days. But when you put it in the fridge, it will even last longer for a few more days beyond that.

In addition, if your cake is glazed with powdered sugar and milk, you can leave it at room temperature for more than a day but no more than three days. The same goes with caramel cake and other cakes that are iced with high sugar content frosting.

Likewise, you can also leave a cake with buttercream icing on your countertop or dining table and let it sit there for a few days. This is because butter, which is the main ingredient of buttercream frosting, can also last for several days even when you don’t refrigerate it.

In addition to that, you can store cakes with Italian meringue icing at room temperature. No need to refrigerate them because refrigeration will make the meringue drip and separate.

If the icing on your cake is from a can, it almost certainly contains some preservatives. For that reason, there is no need for you to refrigerate a cake frosted using a canned icing is safe. You can leave it on your counter for more or less two to three days.

But then again, when you leave your cake on your dining table or on your counter, make sure that you cover it properly in order to keep it safe from different contaminants as well as to prevent possible food poisoning.

The reason why not all baked products, including cakes, are not required to be placed inside the fridge is because they will lose moisture. But then again, there are also other types of cakes which can be put in the freezer. Yes, you can freeze some cakes for a few months, and they would still be fine to eat.

Cakes that Need to be Refrigerated

On the contrary, a cake that is filled or covered with icing is a different case. That is because the need to refrigerate it depends on the type of its icing.

You should cover and refrigerate a cake with butter, cream cheese, or whipped cream icing. If you store a cake with these types of icing at room temperature, the frosting would become too soft. Also, its layers will slip and the frosting will melt and will make each side of the cake sag. So you must refrigerate it immediately after serving it.

There are also special types of cakes that definitely needs to be refrigerated. One is the Icebox cake. After serving, you must always put an Icebox cake in the fridge. The other one is the Ice Cream Cake. You should place any leftover of this cake in the freezer to make sure that it won’t melt.

One helpful tip, though, is to defrost an Ice Cream Cake for around 15 to 20 minutes but no longer than that. The purpose of this is for you to be able to slice it easily. But of course, when slicing a cake, especially frozen ones, you always have to use a knife that is sharp enough.

The question of whether a cake is shelf stable gets blurrier when the frosting ingredients are also in question. Any frostings that are made with eggs, milk, cream or cream cheese (all moist ingredients that definitely need refrigeration) will then force a cake into the refrigerator for safe keeping beyond a day. Normally we say only two hours is the safety net for leaving these types of foods on the counter, but the sugar in the frosting will help preserve these other ingredients and slightly extend the safety net of frosting. Storing cakes with these types of frostings in the refrigerator will prevent the risk of bacteria growth and possible food poisoning. It will also keep the frosting from melting on hot days.

This red velvet cake frosted with typical cream cheese frosting was left out on the counter for five days. Note how the frosting has become yellowed and the texture looks separated and shapeless (mushy). The frosting ingredients have also seeped into the cake, visible in the the darker red areas of the cake. This cake should have been refrigerated because of the cream cheese in the icing, and now the ingredients have been compromised with time on the counter.

Cake Frosting
Cake Frosting

Not only should cake frostings be considered when answering the refrigeration question, but don’t forget about cake fillings. Anything that may be between the layers of a cake should also be considered when deciding whether or not to refrigerate a cake. If a custard or whipped cream filling was used in the cake, then also place that cake into the refrigerator for safe keeping. Fresh fruits between the layers will also last longer and hold up better if refrigerated.

If a kitchen in hot, refrigerating a cake is a good idea if only to keep any type of frosting from melting. It may be a question of presentation and not just safety when choosing to refrigerate a cake.

Need to make a cake ahead of time? Go ahead and bake the cake the day before and cover it tightly in plastic wrap before frosting it. Make the frosting and store it in the refrigerator. Allow the frosting to come to room temperature and then frost the cake the day of the event. Another good alternative is to wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it prior to the occasion, this way it will keep for a few months without drying out. Make the frosting when needed and then frost the cake from the freezer. Many grocery stores use this method for their bakery cakes.

Tips in Storing Leftover Cakes

Cake Storage
Cake Storage
  • Cover sponge cakes. We cover our sponges completely with frosting as this helps to keep sponges from losing moisture. If you have piped frosting onto your cake or left sponge exposed, this is more likely to go dry in storage.  
  • Wrap the cakes. Always wrap sponges, cupcakes or cake slices well in cling film. This is to create a protective barrier and to prevent them from drying out. Ensure all cut sides are completely covered to prevent the sponge from going dry.  If keeping at room temperature, a cake tin lined with greaseproof paper is ideal for buttercream-topped cakes.
  • Refrigerate your leftover cakes. Kept in the fridge, cake with buttercream or ganache topping will last for 3-4 days. If the cake has custard, cream, cream cheese or fresh fruit it will last 1-2 days at most.  If your cake has cream cheese frosting, we don’t recommend this is kept at room temperature, refrigerate for 1-2 days at most and then allow to come up to room temperature before serving.  Fruit cakes encased in marzipan and icing will last much longer.  Avoid refrigerating cakes with sugarpaste, fondant or food colouring as colours can bleed.  
  • You can also freeze your leftover cakes. Cakes freeze very well for up to 4 months. It’s best to wrap the sponges separately and to put the frosting in an airtight container before freezing.  For cake that is already frosted, wrap well in cling film, either whole or by the slice, and place in an airtight plastic container or airtight resealable bag. This will prevent it from absorbing flavours from the freezer.  You can also wrap a foil layer around the cling film to protect the cakes. Make sure there is plenty of space on your freezer shelf so that the cakes aren’t squished.  We don’t recommend freezing meringue or cream-based icings as these can spoil.
  • Keep your cakes out of direct sunlight as this can both melt the frosting and discolour your icing if it is coloured.
  • Keep your cakes cool or at room temperature. Heat will cause frosting to melt and slide and it dries out the sponge.  In summer, or if your kitchen is very warm, it is better to refrigerate your cakes and then allow to come up to room temperature if you plan to serve them at a later time.  

Got Leftover Cakes?

Here’s what you can do:

  • Cake Crunchies

Heat oven to 250°F. Spread cake crumbs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until crumbs are completely dry. (For fine crunchies, process the toasted crumbs in a food processor). Let crunchies cool, then sprinkle over ice cream.

  • Cake Pops
Cake Pops
Cake Pops

It probably goes without saying that cake pops are the cutest possible use for leftover cake. Just crumble the cake, combine with buttercream or cream cheese frosting and squeeze until squishy. Shape into little balls, then coat with candy or chocolate to seal in the moisture (because stale cake is sad, but stale cake pops are even sadder).

  • Cake French Toast

French toast will save your leftover cake just like it saves your day-old bread. Make an egg batter, coat the cake slices, then griddle until toasty on the edges.

  • Cake Shakes

Crumble stale cake, frosting and all, and throw it into a blender with a couple scoops of ice cream and some milk or cream. It’ll taste just like your childhood birthday parties.

  • Cake Truffles

Add cake scraps to a food processor and process until they are finely textured and evenly crumbled. Transfer crumbs to a bowl. Add your choice of liquid—Cointreau, Kahlúa, amaretto, or heavy cream with a splash of vanilla extract—one drizzle at a time, until the crumbs stick together firmly in a ball when squeezed. Roll into 1-inch balls and refrigerate until firm. Microwave chocolate candy melts. Dip the balls in chocolate until fully coated. Top with sprinkles, chopped nuts, or toasted coconut. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and let cool until chocolate is dry and set.

  • Grilled Cake

A genius move, especially when you serve these warm slices with ice cream or fresh fruit. Like toasting stale bread, grilling dried-out cake helps bring out the flavor, distracting you from the texture. While sturdy cakes such as pound cake work best, you can grill any cake by setting it on top of a piece of foil first.

  • Ice Cream Mix-Ins

Fold cake crumbles into softened ice cream on a cold slab à la Cold Stone Creamery. Or simply spoon them on top of ice-cream scoops.

  • Trifle
Cake Trifle
Cake Trifle

This English dessert was made for leftover cake. Neatly layer cake crumbles with fruit, custard and whatever other ingredients you feel like. Slightly dry cake is actually ideal for this pretty dessert because it soaks up fruit juices and custard. Spoon a small layer of vanilla pudding into the bottom of a tumbler or small mason jar. Top with a layer of cubed cake scraps. Drizzle cake with dark rum (optional). Top with a layer of sliced mango and raspberries. Repeat the layers until you reach the top of the glass. Finish with a dollop of whipped cream.

Related Questions:

  • Is it safe not to refrigerate cakes?

Most cakes, both frosted and unfrosted, cut and uncut, are perfectly fine at room temperature for several days. To refrigerate, wrap unfrosted cakes in plastic to protect it from absorbing any weird fridge smells and to protect it from drying out, and then unwrap it to warm up on the counter before serving.

  • Can I bake a cake a few days in advance?

Although cakes can remain safely at room temperature for up to a week, you should store them in the refrigerator if you wish to prepare them more than 3 days in advance of the event. Tightly wrap the cake in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out or absorbing odd flavors from the fridge.

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