Photo: Christie Graham Photography
Wedding cake (hopefully unlike marriage!) does not last forever. This means that if you've spent the last 10 years staring at a royal wedding slice you bought at an auction in your freezer, now is the time to throw that slice out. It's not a complete myth that you can preserve a piece of the eight-tiered cake you bankrolled for your special day, but there are rules. We asked cake designer/pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel and Chad Pagano, pastry chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, to lay it out the factors to consider when freezing.
How the Cake Is Made
Under what conditions was the cake originally made? That's the number one question to ask when you're considering whether a slice of cake you preserve will end up being a big Petri dish. If a cake is handled in unsanitary conditions when it's being made, it will only take on more harmful bacteria once you trot it out in front of dozens of guests, leave it on the dance floor in open air, and later shuttle it home to shove into the freezer. However, Ben-Israel notes that if the bakery you hired is licensed by the Department of Health (and in his case, they use pasteurized eggs), you're already in a good place once it's time for the main event.
Photo: Jackie Ray Photography
The composition of your cake also makes a difference. Fruit cakes (think: Downton Abbey-style) were originally made to last without refrigeration. Those were soaked in high-proof alcohol. That, combined with sugar, makes a natural preservative. Most cakes today — because of dairy and eggs — have to be frozen to last. To note, fondant cakes or cakes made with citrus curd layers preserve better than alternatives.
Photo: Kelsea Holder
How the Cake Is Served
Pagano says the most danger occurs when a cake is transported to an event location. "I'm most concerned about the night of the event. Was it out on the table for eight hours in the sun at the park and then wrapped up?" If yes, you're risking contamination. No amount of freezing will kill that bacteria. If you're hosting your event at a catering hall that's 68 degrees inside, it's less likely to take on tons of extra bacteria during the ceremony and party.
Photo: Theo Milo Photography
How the Cake Is Wrapped and Stored
The actual freezing process is not usually the problem, it's that "most people don't wrap the cake properly," says Ben-Israel.
Moisture is the enemy with freezing. Pagano recommends wrapping it as tightly as possible — "there's no such thing as overwrapping" — so that no additional moisture or bacteria collects on the cake. "Every time you open and close the freezer, you let moisture in," he says. "But they froze Walt Disney. If we had that freezer, the cake would be good forever." (Jury's still out on the Walt Disney freezing rumors, but it's true that cakes are great candidates for freezing if you control for contamination before preserving.)
Photo: Marissa Maharaj
The top tier of a cake, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap will be completely protected from air and freezer burn. "Eat it at the year mark, but not beyond then," says Ben-Israel. The decorative flowers, made out of sugar paste, basically last forever. "Sugar without moisture doesn't go bad."
How the Cake Is Served on the First Anniversary
After a year is up, don't just take a slice from your freezer and put it on your counter to defrost. A day or two before the anniversary, move it to the refrigerator (still covered). After it's defrosted, remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (still wrapped). You won't have that soft outside, frozen inside problem either.
Ben-Israel saw a client post on Twitter that she was diving into her cake three years after her wedding day. He tried calling her, tweeting her, texting her — anything to warn her she might get food poisoning. She uploaded a picture of the cake at the restaurant, smiling. No response.
"I watched her feeds for the next month to see if anything happened. I saw nothing. Everything seems to be fine."
Not that we would recommend doing the same. Memories last a lifetime; frosted cakes don't.