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Avoid Cake Chaos With These Handy Cake-Making Timelines

When making a cake for a big event, important client, or even just a family gathering, it’s important to plan ahead to make sure you have enough time to accomplish your cakey goals! As an instructor, one of my most frequently asked questions is: How far ahead should or can I make this? That’s what this post will help answer!

Cake and Cupcakes by Bluprint User Irene Samson
Image via Bluprint member Irene Samson

The timelines below attempt to answer this big question, but keep in mind everyone works at their own speed. My estimations are based on someone who is comfortable with cake making and decorating, but not working at warp speed.

If you’re new to cakes, be sure to add extra time as a cushion. It’s better to have a few spare moments to admire your creation than to be rushing around at the last minute.

No matter what you’re making, working in advance can save a ton of time.

Here’s what you can make ahead of time, so you’re not trying to do it all at the last minute!

Baking cakes

Cakes can be baked up to two days in advance, stored tightly wrapped with plastic wrap in the fridge or at room temperature. 

Cupcakes can be baked one day in advance and stored (frosted or unfrosted)s in an airtight container in the fridge or at room temperature. 

Making batter and frosting

Some batters can be made well in advance, stored in the freezer, and pulled to thaw the night before baking. See one of my previous posts for tips on freezing batters and doughs.

Most fillings and buttercream frostings can be made up to three days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the filling or buttercream before placing the lid on the container to prevent it from picking up fridge odors.

Stacking your cake

Cakes can be filled and crumb coated up to a day in advance. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and store in the fridge or at room temperature depending on the stability of the filling. 

Edible decorations

Fondant or gum paste decorations can be made weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Chocolate decorations can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Piped buttercream flowers can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the freezer. See this previous post by Felicity and Krystle for tips on piping buttercream flowers

Industry Secrets for the Savvy Decorator

Insider Secrets!

Learn industry secrets and practical techniques that will set your cakes and your business apart from the rest! Small business owner Kara Andretta shows you how. Get the Class

Common cake-making timelines you need to know

1. Cupcakes

Cupcake by Bluprint Instructor Jennifer Shea

Image via Bluprint instructor Jennifer Shea

Prep: 10 minutes

Gather supplies: Pans, baking cups, scoop or spoon to fill baking cups, decorating tools, etc. 

Bake: 30-40 minutes

Gather ingredients, prepare batter,and fill baking cups (15-20 minutes).

Bake according to your recipe’s instructions (15-20 minutes per dozen). 

Cool: 10-30 minutes

Cool cupcakes at room temperature (30 minutes) or in the fridge (1o minutes).

Decorate: 5-30 minutes

Spread frosting on with an icing spatula or pipe simple swirls (5-10 minutes per dozen).

For piped flowers or other, more elaborate decorations, allow time for filling piping bags, tinting buttercream, and cleaning and switching out piping tips as needed (20-30 minutes per dozen). 

Store or Transport: 5-10 minutes

Storing cupcakes or preparing them to be transported can take up a chunk of time you weren’t planning on, since each individual cupcake will have to be moved to a container or bakery box (5-10 minutes). 

Total: 1 -2 hours

2. Single-layer cakes

Sheet Cake by Bluprint Instructor Corrie Rasmussen
Image via Bluprint instructor Corrie Rasmussen

Prep: 10 minutes

Gather supplies: baking pan, baking tools, decorating tools, etc.

Bake & Cool: 65 minutes – 2.5 hours

Baking and cooling times will vary depending on the size of your cake. For common sizes, like 6″ rounds, 8″ rounds or sheet cakes, plan on 35-55 minutes of bake time.

Cakes can be left to cool at room temperature (60-90 minutes) or in the fridge (30 minutes). 

Ice: 45 minutes –  1.5 hours

Crumb coat (5 minutes) and final coat (10-20 minutes) with buttercream or ganache.

If your kitchen is warm, account for 30-60 min for the cake to chill in the fridge after being iced.

Decorate: 35 minutes – 2+ hours

For buttercream decorations: 35 minutes – 1.25 hours
  • Simple piped border (10 minutes)
  • Piped buttercream flowers (10-30 minutes)
  • Writing on the cake with chocolate or buttercream (5-10 minutes)
For fondant decorations: 1-2 hours or more
  • Kneading the fondant (5 minutes)
  • Color the fondant (5 minutes)
  • Roll the fondant out (5-10 minutes)
  • Cut it into shapes (5-15 minutes)
  • Drying time, for any pieces that need to be solid before using (30 minutes for thin pieces, up to 24 hours for thicker, sculpted pieces) Check out my earlier post for tips on how to dry fondant quickly!

Whether you’re making buttercream or fondant decorations, account for 10-30 min of “fussing” time to apply the decorations, move things around and experiment to see what looks best. 

Store or transport: 5-30 minutes

If you’re storing a cake at home for personal use it, account for a few minutes to move the cake to a large container or to cover it with plastic wrap.

Prepping a cake to be transported takes longer: Packing the cake (10 minutes), packing delivery supplies (10 minutes), moving the cake safely to the vehicle (10 minutes). 

Total: 2.75 hours – 6.75 hours

3. Multi-layer cake

Cake by Bluprint Instructor Jenny Mc Coy
Image via Bluprint instructor Jenny McCoy

Prep: 10 minutes

Gather supplies: baking pans, baking tools, turn table, cake board or plate, icing spatulas, bench scraper, decorating tools, etc.

Bake & Cool: 65 min – 2.5 hours

See single layer cake for baking and cooling details. 

Assembly: 30 minutes – 1+ hours

Level, split and trim your cakes (5-10 minutes). Pipe or spread filling onto each of the layers (10-15 minutes). Crumb coat (5 minutes) and final coat (10-20 minutes) with buttercream or ganache.

If your kitchen is warm, account for 30-60 minutes for the cake to chill in the fridge after being crumb coated.

Decorate: 1 – 2.5+ hours

See single layer cake above for decorating details; the same details apply.

Keep in mind that crumb coating and adding a finishing layer of buttercream to a multi-layer cake takes longer since the cake is taller. Rustic finishes will come together rather quickly (5-10 minutes), while frosting a cake with sharp, crisp edges will take much longer (20-30 minutes). 

Store or transport: 5-30 minutes

See single layer cake for storing and transporting details.

Total: 2.75 hours – 8.25 hours 

Industry Secrets for the Savvy Decorator

Insider Secrets!

Learn industry secrets and practical techniques that will set your cakes and your business apart from the rest! Small business owner Kara Andretta shows you how. Get the Class

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