How to Transport a Cake
2000 Miles by Car or Airplane
From Austin to Yosemite, or anywhere else you may travel for a special occasion, with this technique you’ll be able to transport a cake confidently, wherever you go!
If you prefer to watch a video of this tutorial, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Before you travel, bake your cake or cakes and after they’ve cooled completely, level them so they’re all flat, divide them if you want to make more layers, and you can do this with a serrated knife like a bread knife.
I really recommend drizzling them with simple syrup. Simple syrup is just equal parts of water and sugar simmered together until the sugar dissolves and when it cools, you can drizzle it over cakes to keep them really moist. This is a good idea if you’re not going to eat the cake on the same day. Drizzle it over the whole cake layer, paying special attention to the edges because those will dry out the quickest.
Now you have two options. The first is to wrap the layers in cling film or Saran Wrap to transport and then assemble the cake at your destination. When you wrap layers the goal is to seal them so that they don’t dry, so be generous with the wrap and ideally use two layers to make sure they’re sealed.
You can of course do this with whatever cake flavours you like – I’m doing vanilla and chocolate here. Then put the layers in the freezer for at least 24 hours before you travel.
The second option is to assemble the cake now, before you travel. Layer your cake and filling, and you can spread buttercream onto the cake layers or pipe it on, whichever you prefer.
If you’re using a running filling like lemon curd you’ll need to pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge of the cake before spooning the filling in, and that ring will hold the filling in place so it doesn’t ooze out.
This ring of buttercream is called a buttercream dam and you can see why!
As you assemble the cake, make sure each layer of cake is directly above the previous layer so that the sides of the cake are straight, not leaning over to one side.
Press the top of the cake down the squeeze out any filling that might ooze out later, and this will prevent bulges in the frosting on the sides of your cake.
Then use your offset spatula to smooth around the outside of the cake so that the sides are flat, which will make it easier to frost later.
Now wrap the entire cake in two layers of cling film or Saran Wrap. (You don’t need to do this on the cake board, just the cake is fine.)
To protect the cake you’re going to transport it IN the cake pans you used to bake it, so slide one over the top of the cake and if the cake is tall, use another cake pan to protect the other half of the cake.
Put the pans, with the cake inside, into the freezer for at least 24 hours.
Just before you leave, put the cakes in a coolbox with ice packs and put the coolbox in your suitcase. If you’re flying, having the cakes in your suitcase means less to carry through the airports and on the flight or flights!
I’ve got three cakes in the coolbox in my suitcase and you’ll see, the cakes will stay frozen while you travel. There are still ice crystals on this cake pan after 12 hour of travel! So until you get to your destination the cakes will stay firm and will hold their shape, so they won’t get squished in your suitcase, and being snug inside the cake pans will keep an assembled cake extra secure.
At your destination, put the cakes or the entire coolbox in the freezer if the cake is for another day or if it’s for the next day, put it in the fridge to defrost overnight.
When you’re ready to decorate the cake, unpack your turntable, if you brought it or improvise, like I’m doing with this spinning spice rack and a piece of cardboard! Check out my tutorial on another turntable hack using a microwave.
You’ll need an offset spatula, frosting smoother, and a cloth or paper towel. I’ve made a batch of my 4 Minute Buttercream here, but you can absolutely make this before you travel and put it in a ziplock bag in the coolbox with the cake layers, which I did with some blue buttercream for later.
What you definitely need to bring or go and buy is a cake board for each cake – these are cardboard rounds by Wilton. I like to use cake boards at least 2 inches bigger than cakes, to leave room for decorations and to hold onto when you’re carrying the cake, but for tier cakes for the upper tiers I trim the boards to be exactly the same size as those cakes. More on that in a minute!
I’ve used a little ring of tape to attach this cake board onto my makeshift turntable so it doesn’t slide around, and notice this hole in the middle which is optional and I’ll explain it later.
Spread a dollop of buttercream on the cake board to attach your first cake layer. When you chill the cake later, this buttercream will set and act as a glue to hold the cake in place while you frost and transport it.
Give the cake a crumb coat, which is a very thin layer of frosting to completely cover the cake and trap any crumbs that come off. I find it easiest to frost cakes when they’re cold from the fridge because they’re firmer and less crumbly than when they’re at room temperature.
If you’re making a tier cake, give all of your cakes a crumb coat and let the crumb coat set for about 30 minutes in the fridge before applying a final coat of frosting, so that the final coat sits on top of the firm crumb coat and doesn’t mix into it, and that way you won’t get any crumbs in your final coat of frosting.
For tier cakes, it’s easiest to stack the cakes when they’re cold and very firm so after frosting them, I put them in the fridge for a few hours before stacking.
Then you need boba straws, or wooden dowels, but these are great because they’re so easy to cut! They’ll provide the support for your upper tiers of cake.
Push one straw all the way down to the bottom of the cake, until it hits the cake board, and then pinch it where it sticks out of the cake.
Pull the straw out and cut it there and now it’ll be exactly the same height as the cake. Use it to measure and cut three more straws the same height, and these will be like pillars that support the next tier of cake.
Push them into the cake in a square formation, with at least 2 inches or 5cm between the straws, but keep the square small enough that the next cake will be sitting on top of all of the straws.
Cut the board around the top tier of cake so that it’s exactly the same size as the cake. Since the cake is cold, the frosting is firm so you won’t damage it. You COULD cut this before frosting the cake but then you’d need another board to frost it on, so this is how to do it with minimal materials.
Spread a little bit of buttercream over the straws, which will act as glue, and now place the top tier onto the bottom tier.
Center it by sliding it around and then press down to secure it. Having a cold cake is really essential for this. Now the straws will hold the cake up, supporting the little board that the top cake is on, and the fresh buttercream will hold it in place.
The little board under the top tier will be visible so use a piping bag to pipe a ring of buttercream around it. The piping bag can have a round tip or a star tip or just the ned cut off with no tip – the shape doesn’t matter.
Use your frosting smoother to scrape off the excess buttercream and flatten the rest against the side of the cake, filling in the gap between the two tiers and icing the cake board in the middle. If you’re piping a border around the bottom of each cake later, which I’m going to do, you don’t have to worry too much about this!
If you’re going to use gel colours, make sure you put them in a ziploc bag before you travel in an airplane because of cabin pressure which will almost definitely make them leak!
I’m using Wilton white icing color mixed with gel colours to make an edible paint and then dipping a paintbrush into each colour and flicking it over the cake to make colorful splatters.
I love this technique because it’s fun to do and an unusual decoration of a cake, and there’s really no skill to perfect! I’d recommend putting a disposable tablecloth or a down down around the cake so you don’t get paint everywhere.
You can wipe any smudges of buttercream or paint off the cake board with a cloth or a paper towel.
To pipe some borders I’m using an open star tip and buttercream tinted with blue gel that I made at home and froze in a ziploc bag and brought with me in the coolbox, to save me some time tinting buttercream here.
I like to pipe borders around the bottom of both tiers to cover up the join and any visible cake board, and to add some extra texture and colour and detail really quickly.
If you’re going to travel a long distance with the cake it’s a good idea to stick something down through the cakes to hold them steady. Using a simple wooden skewer is fine for two tiers. Center it over the top tier and then use a pair of scissors or anything flat and strong to knock the skewer down through top cake, through the cake board underneath the top cake, and then down through the bottom cake too.
That’s where that little hole in the middle of Wilton cake boards comes in handy! But the pointed end of a wooden skewer will poke through a cardboard cake round without a hole, too.
When you feel it hit the cake board at the very bottom, pull it up high enough to be able to cut it at the point where it stuck out of the cake, and then you can either spread some buttercream over the top or use cake toppers to conceal it.
I’m arranging some artificial flowers on top of the cake, trimming them, washing the stems, and the poking them into the top of the cake to make a little bouquet.
I like to do this the day before an event, to reduce stress on the big day and more importantly, so that the frosting and any decorations have time to set in the fridge so they’re as stable as possible before any vibrations or sudden movements inside a car.
To transport cakes you can place them on a flat surface of the cake, on the floor, or if you have a box, that will keep it cool which is important here where it’s over 100 degrees! This is a styrofoam cooler and I’m putting a piece of non-slip matting down first to prevent the cake from sliding around, and then lowering the cake in.
If you put a cake onto a seat in the car, the slanted surface will keep the cake at an angle which isn’t idea, so use a towel, sweater, purse, bottle – whatever you have to level the box so it’s sitting flat.
Ok, let’s go! Another 150 miles in the car along some very bumpy roads and with some sudden breaking in traffic, including one time that the styrofoam cooler slammed forwards into the glove box and I was sure the cake was destroyed….
But here we are in Yosemite and the cake has survived and is looking gorgeous with this beautiful scenery in the background! If you’re looking for tips on how to take photos of cakes, in surroundings like these or in your kitchen, I teach an online course called Cake Photography Like a PRO, sharing how to create stunning DIY backgrounds, great lighting with natural or artificial light, how to stage props, different photo angles and setups, taking photos with a phone or camera and how to adjust focus and lighting with both, how to take action shots without motion blur, photos for social media and video, editing…. everything you need to know to take amazing photos of your cakes to impress your friends and family or bring in more cake orders or grow your Instagram or Facebook account! Visit my online cake school to sign up.
Here’s the video version of this tutorial: