Baking and icing a cake -- whether it’s for an event or not -- is tedious work. Since you have to wait for a cake to cool before you can frost it, there’s nothing wrong with baking it the night before and letting it chill in the refrigerator until morning. But it’s not a necessity either.
When you bake a cake, you need to cool it before you can add frosting. Frosting a warm cake makes the icing soft and it might move away from your cake, causing the cake to tear or crumble. A cooled, room temperature cake is still very tender and you might notice more crumbs coming off of the cake and onto your frosting. Therefore, a chilled cake might yield better results.
When to Refrigerate
A cake is perfectly fine at room temperature for a few days when it is uncut and unfrosted. Refrigeration might be necessary, however, if it is hot in your home or you want the cake chilled for better frosting. Refrigerate your cake by wrapping it in a layer of plastic wrap -- this keeps your cake from drying out and from absorbing any smells lingering in your fridge. Unwrap your cake and frost right from the refrigerator.
Refrigerator Versus Freezer
Refrigerators are very dry environments, therefore you must wrap your cake tight to keep it from drying out overnight. If you’re chilling your cake to tighten the crumb, a freezer might be your better option because it tightens the crumb and makes the cake easier to frost than just refrigerating it. Refrigerators only chill the cakes, but don’t firm them -- so the cake can still break away as you frost it. Also, if you have larger cake tiers that you need to pick up and move around, they’ll still be soft out of the refrigerator, while a frozen cake can be picked up, cut and moved while still partially frozen. You can bake a cake ahead of time and freeze it for up to three months before you need it by wrapping it in multiple layers of plastic wrap and storing it in your freezer.
If you don’t have time to bake a cake the night before, but don’t want to deal with crumbs in your frosting, you have options. Cool your cake on a wire rack. Once cooled, apply a thin layer of frosting on the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about crumbs, because this layer of frosting is meant to catch the crumbs and hold the cake together, thus why it is referred to as a “crumb coat.” Allow the crumb coat to dry until it’s no longer tacky to the touch, then apply your top layer of frosting to finish the cake.
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