11 December 2018
Cake and Cupcake Decorating Timelines
I am often asked in cake decorating courses what is the best timeline for making and decorating (i) cupcakes and (ii) cakes. Below I have set out my preferred timeline for both. "Cake Day" is the day you want to use the cake or cupcakes.
Bear in mind that if you are in a rush, cupcakes and cakes can be made within hours so don’t panic if you get a last minute order – the below is just the ideal timeline!
Inside the Pretty Witty Academy, there are over 830 different cake tutorials including almost every style imaginable for cake making. Tutorials range from cupcakes to wedding cake recipes to business tutorials and everything in between.
If you are only making around 12 cupcakes, you will need to plan less as it will take less time. On the whole you can do it all on the day you need them (bar the florist paste decorations that need time to dry which should be made at least 24 to 48 hours in advance).
The time line below is based on baking 36 or more cupcakes.
Two weeks before Cake Day
- Prepare any sugar flowers or other decorations made of fondant or florist paste (gum paste). These can be left to dry and stored in a cardboard cake box until you need them.
- If you are making novelty characters like animals or fairies, these can be prepared up to a month in advance and stored in a cardboard cake box until you need them.
2 days before the Cake Day
- Make your buttercream. Buttercream can be stored by wrapping it in Clingfilm / Saran Wrap / Glad Wrap and leaving it outside the fridge provided the weather is not too warm. It will be fine to use up to 2-3 days later. This is because the sugar content is so high so it acts like a natural preservative.
- If the weather is warm, store it in the fridge and take out several hours before you need to use it.
- Be careful if you are using milk in your buttercream. You have to make sure the milk doesn’t turn. You can opt to use water instead of milk to soften the buttercream. This way, you don’t need to worry about the milk turning if you leave the buttercream outside the fridge.
- If you are buttercream piping your cakes, you should make extra buttercream for your piping today and wrap it in Clingfilm / Saran Wrap / Glad Wrap.
1 day before Cake Day
- Bake your cupcakes and allow them to cool in the morning.
- Once cooled, flat ice them (see the Video here on how to Flat Ice a cupcake). That will seal in the moisture so the cakes stay fresh as the cakes are not exposed to the air.
- If you are piping buttercream swirls, you will then leave the cakes and store them in a cardboard box to be finished early in the morning on Cake Day.
- If you are making fondant topped cakes, you can build small domes of buttercream on your cakes and position the fondant tops. You can then apply any flowers to the fondant with edible glue and box up your cakes ready for Cake Day. (One of the main reasons I am a fan of fondant topped cakes is you can finish everything the day before your event, and go to bed knowing everything is done!).
- On cake day, with fondant cakes, you can deliver immediately (don’t forget to take some nice photos).
- If you have buttercream piped cakes, you should pipe the cakes in the morning. This is because if you pipe them the night before, the buttercream will have a thin film on the surface of the swirl which will then crack when you apply the decorations.
- Apply your decorations to the buttercream at the last possible moment. Never apply fondant or florist paste decorations to buttercream early as the decorations can “drink” the moisture from the buttercream and then go all droopy. For example, putting on flowers onto swirls 4 hours before the cakes are needed could result in droopy flowers.
- Once the cakes are decorated, photograph and deliver.
Big cakes require slightly more preparation time than cupcakes. Make sure you plan well head so you don’t find out you are missing a critical took or flower decoration too late.
2 weeks before Cake Day
- Make sure you have all of the equipment and tools you need to make the cake.
- Make any decorations that can be made in advance like flowers and cake toppers.
4 days before Cake Day
- Make the buttercream and wrap in Clingfilm / Saran Wrap / Glad Wrap. Store in the fridge until a few hours before you need it.
- Make any decorations if you have not done this already.
3 days before Cake Day
- Bake the cake and leave to fully cool. Wrap the cake in Clingfilm / Saran Warp / Glad Wrap (firmly) and put in the fridge overnight.
- Colour the fondant up making enough for the cake and board.
- Cover the cake board.
2 days before Cake Day
- Takes the cake and any buttercream out of the fridge.
- Then let the cake come to room temperature for around 30 mins.
- Cut, level, stack and crumb coat the cake.
- You may want to put the cake in the fridge during this process, For example, when putting on the crumb coat, if the cake is too soft, put it back in the fridge as applying a crumb coat is easier when the cake is firmer.
- Once finished put the cake in the fridge for 20 minutes, then wrap in Clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours to settle the cake.
If wanting a buttercream finish (only) on your cake:
- Take the cake out and apply a second and third coat of buttercream if wanting a buttercream finish on your cake. You need to ensure you chill the cake between applying each layer of buttercream. When finished put the cake back in the fridge.
If wanting to cover the cake in fondant:
- Take the cake out and let the buttercream come to room temperature (around 30 minutes) else the fondant won’t sit smoothly on the cake.
- Cover in fondant.
- Leave at room temperature to settle as fondant does not like the fridge much as there is too much moisture.
1 day before Cake Day
- If stacking the cake, dowel today and set up the tiers.
- Apply the decorations to you cake whether piping, flowers or other designs. Note that if you have a very complex cake design or a novelty design allow more time and start the entire cake process a day earlier so you have 2 days to full decorate your cake before Cake Day.
- Finish completely so the cake can settle overnight.
- Make sure cake is still perfect and correct any last minutes glitches.
- Make sure you take some nice photos before you leave for delivery as you cannot always get nice one in a venue.
- If there is a photographer at the event, make sure you get some professional photos!
Finally, go home and relax!