This all-about-cupcakes post is part of my Cooking 101 Series.
For more cupcake tutorials, be sure to check out: bake cupcakes like a professional, how to frost a cupcake, and how to store cupcakes!
Welcome to Cupcakes 104: How to Store and Freeze Cupcakes!
Over the past few years, I've been blown away by your support for my Cupcakes 101 series (new to the series? Start with our article on how to bake bakery style cupcakes). Thank you so much for all of your shares, comments, and questions on those posts! I'm thrilled you've found them so helpful, and today, I'm excited to bring you yet another installment in our cupcake masterclass!
I get more questions about storing and freezing cupcakes than anything else, so I figured it was high time for a dedicated post on the subject.
While we all know there's nothing quite as delicious as a freshly baked cake, sometimes life gets in the way and we need to spread our cupcake-ing out over a few days or save a fresh batch for later. But storage is a tricky thing - keeping cupcakes fresh depends on a lot of factors, and it's frustrating to bake cupcakes in advance only to have them dry out or lose their flavor pizzazz when you go to serve them.
Fortunately, there are a few easy tricks to help you store cupcakes without losing quality - and I'm going to walk you through the process step-by-step. I've organized this post into four categories for easy navigating:
Each section will give you a quick rundown of exactly which steps to take to ensure delicious, flavorful cupcakes. There's also a BRAND NEW VIDEO TUTORIAL at the end of this post - read through to the end to see some of my best cupcake storage tips in action!
HOW TO STORE UNFROSTED CUPCAKES
If you're crunched for time, baking cupcakes one day and frosting them the next can be a huge timesaver. Use these 4 simple steps to ensure your cupcakes remain moist and fresh!
1. Let cupcakes cool COMPLETELY.
Warm cupcakes will release steam when you put them in an airtight container. This can create sticky cupcake tops (which makes it harder for the frosting to stick) and cause cupcakes to peel away from their liners (which is no fun at all).
For best results, remove just-out-of-the-oven cupcakes to a wire cooling rack and let them cool, uncovered, for at least one hour. Cupcakes should be completely cool to the touch before you put them away.
I highly recommend using a wire cooling rack instead of a plate or cutting board to let cupcakes cool. They're relatively cheap, and the wire rack lets air circulate around the cupcakes, which helps them cool faster and prevents the bottoms of the cupcakes from getting soggy or steamy. I use this 3-piece wire cooling rack from Wilton for my baking - it folds up for easy storage and the pieces stack so it doesn't take up much counter space.
2. Store cooled cupcakes in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
When cupcakes have cooled completely, place them in a storage container with a tight-fitting lid (airtight is best!). I actually use an old version of this Sterilite Box (mine is pictured below) to store my cupcakes, but this Rubbermaid Storage Container is a great new alternative (and it's BPA-free!) Both containers are just the right size for a dozen or so cupcakes, and tall enough to fit even frosted cupcakes without squishing them.
I tend to avoid covering cupcakes with plastic wrap or putting them in a plastic bag for storage - I find that giving the cupcakes a little more room to breathe helps to avoid sticky cupcake tops and keeps them fresher. Also, storing cupcakes in a sturdy box gives them a lot more protection, making it less likely they'll get squished.
3. Store cupcakes on the counter at room temperature.
I prefer storing cupcakes at room temperature on the counter, rather than putting them in the fridge. In my experience, the fridge dries cupcakes out much faster than if they're stored on the counter.
If you must store cupcakes in the fridge - if you're dealing with hot and humid weather, for example, and your frosting is melting off the cupcakes - just make sure to bring them back to room temperature before serving. Cold cupcakes can taste dry and dense, which we definitely don't want.
4. Frost cupcakes within two days.
Cupcakes are at their best within 48 hours of baking them. For best results, frost your cupcakes within 2 days of baking.
Occasionally, your unfrosted cupcakes may get a bit sticky on top. This is usually nothing to worry about - sticky top cupcakes will still taste great. Just frost the cupcakes as usual and you won't notice any difference.
If the cupcakes are so sticky that you can't get the frosting to stay on, that's when you may have to make a few adjustments. Leave the cupcakes on the counter uncovered for 30 minutes or so - often, this will dry the tops out just enough to get the frosting to stick properly. If you're still having problems, use a paring knife to trim the very top of the cupcake and cut away the sticky part, then frost normally.
I also recommend using a piping bag to frost your cupcakes rather than a knife - knives can pull the cupcake apart, especially when the top is sticky, but a piping bag tends to work much better. (You can learn more about frosting equipment and technique in our post on How to Frost the Perfect Cupcake).
How to Store Frosted Cupcakes
Storing frosted cupcakes isn't all that different from storing unfrosted cupcakes.
Here, as with unfrosted cupcakes, use a sturdy, airtight container that's tall enough to accommodate the frosted cupcakes. You don't need a special cupcake caddy-type-contraption for this - just a good, tall container like this one from Rubbermaid. If you're shopping around for a good container, look for something that's at least 3 inches tall - that's generally enough room to fit a standard-size cupcake without squishing the frosting.
PS - If you're adding sprinkles to your cupcakes, I like to put the frosted cupcakes into the container and then add the sprinkles - the container catches any spills so you don't make a mess on your counter!
Store frosted cupcakes in your airtight container on the counter at room temperature. Remember that storing cupcakes in the fridge will dry them out faster, so opt for countertop storage unless you have a heat wave on your hands and need to stop your frosting from melting away.
Cupcakes will keep for up to a week on the counter, but I find they're at their best within 3-4 days of baking. Past that, they won't go bad, but they'll start to dry out and you'll notice them tasting a little bit denser than when they were fresh.
Making cupcakes in advance for a party?
I recommend frosting your cupcakes as close to the party as possible to help keep the frosting fresh and light. If you're short on time, though, it's easy to prepare everything ahead of time!
Here's a sample timeline I like to use when making cupcakes in advance:
1 or 2 days before party:
Bake cupcakes, cool, and store unfrosted in an airtight container on the counter.
Make frosting (add food coloring if you like), place in an airtight container, and store in the fridge overnight.
Morning of the Party:
Pull frosting out of fridge and let it come to room temperature (about 1-2 hours)
1 or 2 hours before party:
Mix frosting (I like using a hand mixer to whip frosting, but a spoon works, too) to bring it back to a fresh, creamy consistency.
Place frosting in a piping bag and frost cupcakes.
Arrange cupcakes on a serving platter and set them out for guests. Enjoy!
How to Freeze Unfrosted Cupcakes
If you need to make cupcakes particularly far in advance, or if you love baking but know you can't eat a whole batch of cupcakes before they dry out, freezing unfrosted cupcakes is a great option.
While the fridge can dry cupcakes out, the freezer keeps cupcakes surprisingly moist, even after a couple of months. To ensure the freshest, softest, you-won't-even-notice-it-was-frozen cupcakes, follow these 4 steps.
1. Let cupcakes cool COMPLETELY.
Are you sensing a theme here? Letting cupcakes cool on a wire rack for at least an hour helps prevent condensation. In the freezer, condensation will cause ice to form on the cupcake, which will result in a soggy cupcake once it's defrosted. Cupcakes should be cool to the touch before you get ready to freeze them.
2. Wrap cupcakes tightly in plastic wrap.
You know how sometimes food that's been frozen awhile just tastes like freezer? We don't want that here.
Keep that freezer taste at bay (and help cupcakes last a bit longer in the freezer) by individually wrapping each cooled cupcake with a bit of plastic wrap. (For a demo of how to do this, scroll down to the video at the end of this post!)
3. Store individually-wrapped cupcakes in an airtight bag or container.
For an added layer of protection (and to keep cupcakes from rolling around in the freezer), place individually-wrapped cupcakes in a freezer-safe plastic bag or container. Place the bag or container in a relatively "safe" spot in your freezer - don't squish the cupcakes to make them fit into a small space, and keep them away from any heavy objects that could fall on them.
Even when frozen, cupcakes have a little bit of "give" to them - they'll never be quite rock solid, so they're susceptible to being squished. Keep them protected in the freezer to help them maintain their shape.
For best results, defrost and use frozen cupcakes within three months.
4. To defrost, unwrap cupcakes and bring them to room temperature.
When you're ready to defrost the cupcakes (I recommend defrosting them within three months of initially freezing them), remove them from the freezer and pull back the plastic wrap. Leaving the cupcakes uncovered helps prevent them from getting sticky while they defrost.
Let them come to room temperature on the counter (this only takes an hour or two), and then frost normally and store in an airtight container on the counter for up to a week.
How to Freeze Frosted Cupcakes
I personally prefer freezing unfrosted cupcakes rather than frosted ones, because I love the taste of fresh frosting. But if you've already frosted a batch of cupcakes and need to store the leftovers, freezing them is a great way to save those delicious cupcakes for another day. For best results, follow these three steps:
1. Pre-Freeze Cupcakes
Avoid smashing your cupcakes' frosting by first freezing cupcakes uncovered. Arrange the cupcakes on a plate and place them, uncovered, in the freezer for about an hour until the frosting has frozen.
2. Individually wrap cupcakes, and then store in a sturdy container.
When the frosting has completely frozen, remove cupcakes from freezer and quickly wrap each one in plastic wrap (just like you would if you were freezing unfrosted cupcakes). The frozen frosting should hold its shape. This individual wrapping, in my experience, does a lot to preserve freshness and taste (and it keeps those yucky freezer flavors away!)
Place individually wrapped cupcakes in a sturdy, airtight container and store in the freezer for up to three months. I like to use a glass or plastic container (rather than a plastic bag) when freezing frosted cupcakes - it protects the frosting a bit more and helps the icing hold its shape.
3. To defrost, unwrap cupcakes and bring them to room temperature.
This is the same thing you'd do for unfrosted frozen cupcakes, but I think it's worth mentioning again. Pull the plastic wrap off frozen, frosted cupcakes and let them come to room temperature on the counter for about an hour. Store defrosted cupcakes in an airtight container on the counter for up to a week.
Note: Occasionally, the frosting will start to slip off of cupcakes as they defrost. This can generally be fixed by pushing the frosting back to the top of the cupcake with a butter knife.
VIDEO: HOW TO STORE AND FREEZE CUPCAKES
Video time! Watch the quick tutorial below to see exactly how I store my cupcakes.