Cream cheese is something you store in the fridge, but cake is something you usually keep on the counter. What gives? A professional baker clears up the confusion.
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Credit: Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

Last night at 11 p.m., I found myself asking this question. I had cut a piece of freshly-frosted cake and then realized everyone I would feed cake to was in bed and wouldn’t be able to eat my cake until at least 8 a.m. (Well, probably more like noon, since most people don’t eat cake for breakfast.)

I’d made this particular frosting in the past but always served it the same day, but I wasn’t sure quite what to do. After all, cream cheese is something you keep in the fridge, but cake is something you usually keep on the counter.

To be safe, I set it in the fridge. Then, this morning, I decided to reach out to our local cupcake expert, Jan Moon, who used to work in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen. She now runs the highly successful Dreamcakes Bakery in Birmingham. She’s also written an entire book on cupcakes for our sister publication, Southern Living, so I figured she’d know just what to do.

Here’s what I learned from Jan:

Typically, a cake will keep on the counter 2-3 days and 5-6 days in the fridge.

Credit: Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

If you’re going to eat the cake in the next day or two and your house stays around 70 degrees or cooler, it should be fine to sit on the counter, says Jan–even if it is cream cheese frosting. So if you make the cake the day before you plan to share it, it’s okay to go ahead and frost it. In fact, Jan says you should because the icing helps to keep your cake moist.

However, if your kitchen is like a Florida swamp on an August day, or if you plan to eat the cake over the course of a week, you should keep it in the fridge.

A great way to keep your cake fresh is to stick a piece of wax paper against the exposed parts

If, for example, you want to eat a whole piece of cake before sharing it with your friends the next day, put a piece of wax paper over the exposed cake. “Fold a piece of wax paper in half and place it so it’s touching the cake,” Jan says. Another trick is to frost over the area, but that adds extra calories and fat.

If you need to refrigerate your cake, cover any edges with wax paper, then place in an air-tight container, or cover with plastic wrap.

And here’s one last trick: freeze it.

“Cake actually freezes really well,” Jan says. “You can slice it, and put it in individual containers.” Talk about portion control!

Plus, it thaws really quickly. “Just leave it on the counter for 20 or 30 minutes,” she says.

So there’s your answer. You can leave a cake with cream cheese frosting out overnight (the sugar will help preserve it) but if your kitchen is too hot, don’t take the risk. Stick it in the fridge!