Cake Condensation Solutions

Cake Condensation
Sometimes we say that a cake “sweats” which implies that the moisture is coming from inside the cake but that’s not true. Here’s what you need to know about cake condensation with explanations on what causes it and how to minimize it from forming.

VIDEO: Cake Condensation Causes and Solutions

This is PART 3
Link to Part 1: Freezing Cake
Link to Part 2: Filling and Depanning

Video Transcript with Links & Bonus Tips

Condensation is the process by which water vapor turns from a gas into a liquid. This happens when the vapor comes in contact with a cold surface like the a chilled soda can or the surface of a cold cake.

Decorated cakes don’t look great with condensation. It makes them wet, which causes the colors to run and we don’t want that. So here’s how you can avoid it even when the cake gets frozen.

Slacking Off: The Best Way to Defrost Cake

In the food industry, we refer to the process of properly defrosting food as “slacking off.” It has nothing to do with being lazy but it does involve a whole lot of nothing since it occurs not quickly at room temperature but instead gradually in the refrigerator.

Slacking off is the only safe way to defrost food since it maintains a low enough temperature to prevent the growth of bacteria. So if a health inspector came into your kitchen and found you defrosting a chicken in the sink or on the counter for instance, that would be a violation of the health code.

The same thing goes for defrosting cakes. A cake that contains ingredients like butter or cheese or raw eggs should be slacked off and held in the refrigerator. Any time you’re not working on that cake, it should go back into the fridge. That’s a matter of food safety.

So when you slack off a cake in the refrigerator, it’s going to develop condensation, but not nearly as much condensation as it would if you defrosted it at room temperature. What you don’t want to do is shock the cake by transferring it from a frozen state to a room temperature state. You want to ease the temperature of the cake from a frozen to a chilled state and the only way to do that is in the refrigerator.

Preventing Condensation with Plastic Wrap

Since condensation comes from the air, the best way to protect your cake from getting all wet on the outside is to limit its exposure by sealing it in plastic wrap. That way, the condensation forms on the plastic wrap instead of on the surface of the cake.

Cream Cheese Filling Recipe

When you use my professional layer cake construction method that involves filling the cake in the pan, then once the cake has been de-panned, it’s very important to seal it in plastic wrap until you’re ready to crumb coat it. This is not just to prevent condensation from forming but also to protect the freshness of the cake.

When it comes to a frosted cake, I don’t recommend wrapping a finished coat of frosting in plastic wrap. Frosting is just too soft to tolerate that kind of contact.

Using Plastic Wrap on Fondant and Modeling Chocolate Wrapped Cakes

Layer Cake Filling in the Pan

Here’s where the plastic wrap really comes in handy at the later stages in terms of condensation: Any time you wrap a cake in fondant or modeling chocolate, you can seal the surface in plastic wrap and keep it that way until the cake gets decorated or goes on display. If it’s a simple cake with no piping then you can leave the plastic wrap on the cake during delivery and right up to the point when the cake goes on display. This will keep the surface of the cake completely dry and free of debris.

Pros and Cons of Working with Semi-Frozen Cakes

Personally, I like to crumb coat and wrap a cake in fondant or modeling chocolate when it’s still semi-frozen. That makes the whole process so much easier because then the cake is nice and hard so it will hold its corners and edges better and can tolerate the process of being wrapped.

Leopard Print Modeling Chocolate Tutorial

Follow this link to see how I made the leopard print modeling chocolate cake wrap.

Yes, more condensation is involved this way but as long as the cake is kept sealed, the moisture won’t reach the surface.

You want to be extra careful with the finished surface of a fondant or modeling chocolate wrapped cake at this stage. Don’t press or rub too hard on the plastic wrap or you can imprint the texture of creases on the surface of the cake. When you first peel the plastic away, you might notice some contrasting colors or textures in places where air was trapped versus where it wasn’t but this will all even out as the cake comes to room temperature.

Cake Condensation

More Tips for Minimizing Condensation

Avoid Freezing Decorated Cakes

Decorations are more likely to get damaged in the freeze-thaw process, mainly due to condensation. I only recommend freezing between the filling and frosting stages (using this cake filling method) to preserve the cake and make it easier to handle.

Avoid Decorating Frozen Cakes

Don’t start the decorating stage until the cake has reached refrigerator temperature. That way, condensation is less likely to form on the decorations.

Use the Refrigerator As Much As Possible

Any time you’re not working on the cake, put it back in the fridge. Don’t leave it sitting out at room temperature unless you are actively doing something to it. A cold cake will develop more condensation at room temperature.

Beware of Dark Colors

White Wedding Cake with Red Flowers
When it comes to refrigerated cakes, wait to add dark colored decorations until the last possible minute. You want to avoid any chance that your colors will run due to condensation so if you have red chocolate flowers, for instance, don’t add them to the cake until the morning of the event or ideally, wait until you’re at the event to add them to the cake.

Trick for Removing Moisture from the Surface of a Cake

If you do end up with a lot of condensation on the surface of a cake, touch it with a paper towel and that will soak up the beads of moisture.

Weather is a Factor

Humidity has a lot to do with how much condensation can accumulate on a cake so weather is a big factor. You will notice some days are worse than others.

Remember, a little moistness on the surface of a cake is not the end of the world! It’s food after all. As the cake comes to room temperature, the moisture usually dissipates.

Cake Condensation

This was Part 3. Follow the links below for more.

Part 1: Layer Cakes – Freezing Cake
Cake Filling Method

Part 2: Layer Cakes – Filling and Depanning Cake Filling Method

Complete Overview: Filling Layer Cakes in the Baking Pan
Layer Cake Filling in the Pan

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Cake Condensation Solutions — 28 Comments

  1. Hi I bake cakes all the time. I do not freeze them. After I bake them They are kept in a container with a lid.they slice as needed. But I have been having problems with the cake it gets wet. Like someone pours water on the takes about 3 days & here comes the moisture why? I make lemon,German chocolate ,salted Carmel & red velvet there are others but these are the best sellers. The lemon is the worst that develops the liquid. Can you please tell me why this happens? Fyi i bake year round happens all year no worse no less.. I thank you for hour time. Sincerely vikki

  2. Hi!
    I plan to use the pan freeze method tomorrow and decorate Friday. With a buttercream filling and buttercream outer frosting layer, do you recommend slacking off in the fridge wrapped in cling wrap or not wrapped? I couldn’t quite tell from your video which you were indicating when the cake will be covered in just buttercream and not fondant/modeling chocolate. I want to make sure I do it right.

      • My cake finish is your buttercream frosting. Do I depan, sculpt, crumb coat and let slack unwrapped to fully defrost before final coat and decorating? Thank you so much!

  3. Oh my gosh …… You are the cake angel! I have been doing cakes for 25 years and I have never come across anyone who is so honest. I do alot of what you talk about that I learned from experience. BUT YOU give alot of information with pure honesty. Alot of decorators sometimes won’t give away their secrets. Which is so crazy. We are here to help each other, not set someone up for disaster. Your videos are awesome!!!! And in laymens terms which speaks straight to me. I truely enjoy seeing someone learn from something that I’ve experenced myself. I will truely be recommending your website to all my friends. I’ve already called one, who is doing a wedding cake this weekend. Thank You again!

  4. This is a great video series!
    How do you avoid cakes sagging as they get to room temperature after the frosting for fondant has been added? If if I frost and smooth and let the cake settle, then my frosting has hardened and I can’t re-smooth.
    I’ve also tried keeping it refrigerated while I decorate but when it sits at the party, it’ll sag like the picture attached.

  5. What is the best recipe to use for making a white cake and a chocolate cake?

    What is the best recipe to use for American buttercream frosting?

    Thank you so much. I love your site.

  6. Hi just wondered whether you can use your layered method with fresh cream and ganache. I am about to do a two tiered cake with chocolate ganache layered with strawberries and a vanilla sponge cake with whipped cream. Can your method be used for this filling?

  7. Kristen,
    I frequently use Italian Meringue Buttercream for my filling and or frosting. I have seen the filling separate as it comes back to room temp and I usually have to re-whip it before use. This style and other Meringue’s like Swiss and French don’t sound like a good candidate for your pan freezing method, correct?

  8. Hi my name is Linda and I’m a fairly new Baker about a year and a half now and I have a question about freezing, thawing and refreezing . I had a cake all decorated with frosting and fondant of course first crumb coated and it was sitting here waiting to be picked up for a while it turned out she had broke her foot so the cake was never picked up until the very next day I had to leave it sitting out as it was three tiers. It would never fit in my refrigerator anyway the bottom layer they gave back to me because they said it would not fit in their refrigerator crazy story anyway I took it apart all the decorations and re-froze the bottom layer it’s a perfectly good cake and the bottom layer was 10 inches . My question is since it was only about 18 hours it was sitting in the freezing cold room is the cake fine to redo and give to someone else I have to make this cake for someone ASAP and I have that cake available can I use it or do I have to throw the whole thing out ?

  9. Hello, I am making a small two tiered buttercream wedding cake. I have to transport it from NY to Connecticut. I was wondering if could stack and then transport it if i have a wooden dowel running through the center from top to bottom. I am in the wedding and will not have the time to stack it at the venue. It is a symbolic cake, so it is not really large.

    • Yes, you can stack it before transport but you will need more than one wooden dowel running down the middle. You will need at least 4 vertical support dowels in the lower tier and a minimum of 2 horizontal supports, which are the long pointy types that pass through both tiers. I recommend reading this book on cake delivery, which has detailed tutorials plus video on how to insert these kinds of wood dowels to support stacked cakes plus all the tips you will need to execute that type of delivery successfully. Good luck!

  10. This is the Lego cake I made…had a great deal more buttercream than the mah Jong cake. No problem w/buttercream getting soft…could be due to quantity of icing which was pretty thick?

  11. I made a 17″ square “mah Jong” cake w/racks and tiles. I was concerned about the buttercream icing, which seemed to soften too quickly, even in a cool kitchen. Could I have prepared the cake minus the racks and tiles and kept refrigerated overnight w/o any problem instead of fighting the last minute application of sides and top.
    The fondant racks and handpainted candy tiles (did I say “NEVER” again, ha) weighed over 8 lbs…so a lot of weight unevenly distributed on the buttercream iced cake with no support. It held up, did not cave in …my fear. A suggestion, please, for using buttercream in hot hot Houston. Ganache over the buttercream???

    • Leslie,
      Wow. This cake is amazing. All those hand painted tiles – what incredible detail! That must have been a tremendous amount of work. When you say “prepared,” do you mean frost? If so, the answer is absolutely yes. I recommend frosting 1-2 days in advance of the event. If the cake itself is nice and chilled then the buttercream on the outside should firm up. All my best tips on how to manage buttercream are here: Smooth Buttercream Cake Frosting.

      It seems like you’ve got good instincts for cakes since your work is solid and is holding up despite your worst fears.

      • Thank you for the compliment, as you ARE my chocolate guru!!! I did cover the sides and top with fondant, not my fav, but had a reason for this particular cake. I have read so many conflicting rationals for chilling/not chilling a fondant covered buttercream cake and wanted your opine on that. I did chill the buttercream frosted cake prior to applying the fondant, but it started to soften during the application. The sheer size/weight made the re-chilling process awkward, at best.

        • Okay it’s good to know you were dealing with fondant. Yes, I still recommend chilling in that case, especially if all-butter buttercream is involved. I can’t figure how the buttercream went soft on you that quickly but then it’s hard to tell what’s going on underneath the tiles. Perhaps you had a lot of fondant components which made this particular cake more tedious to cover.

          I recommend rolling out all the fondant elements and getting all your tools ready before the cake comes out of the fridge. Right up until the last possible minute, the cake should still be in the fridge as you’re prepping the fondant. This will guarantee that you have crisp edges to work with as you cover the cake.

  12. Excellent advice as always, Kristen 🙂
    I wonder if you have any tips for adding shine to modeling chocolate decorations without using confectioners’ glaze, and preferably something that won’t stay sticky.
    Thanks for all your help.