A long-honored tradition for married couples is to freeze the top layer of the wedding cake so they can eat it on their first anniversary for good luck. The custom supposedly dates back to a time when weddings were celebrated with liqueur-soaked fruitcakes. Sugar and alcohol make for natural preservatives, and these cakes would go on to help celebrate the first child’s christening. Now, the tradition serves as a vestigial ritual, but cautious newlyweds aren’t always sure that honoring it is such a good idea for their stomachs.
Fortunately, the expert sources that shared their cake-preservation advice with Inverse agree that freezing cake for a year is relatively harmless, so long as the cake is preserved properly in the first pace. Of course, it’s a different story if you classify eating potentially gross food as “harm.” Because most of the time, that cake won’t taste anywhere near as good 365 days later.
Richard Miscovitch, department chair of Johnson & Wales University’s International Baking and Pastry Institute, assures Inverse that your biggest worry should be the flavor of that year-old wedding cake. “A year in the freezer impacts quality but not food safety … as long as the cake is properly frozen at a constant food-safe temperature,” he says.
Miscovitch himself has partaken in the tradition: “I have eaten year-old wedding cake, and it wasn’t as good as it was on the wedding day. But I’m not dead yet!”
Dean Lavornia, another professor at JWU’s Baking and Pastry Institute, admits that the quality of frozen cakes will suffer over time, even “assuming that it has been well wrapped and kept at a consistent frozen temperature.” More issues could arise, for instance, if a couple moves in that first year of marriage and has to transport the “frozen” cake in some way. Still, it doesn’t seem likely that anything truly harmful — say, stomach-upsetting mold — can surreptitiously grow on a frozen cake, as long as it’s not there in the first place, and the cake is properly prepared for the deep freeze.
How to Preserve the Cake
In the hectic shuffle of the wedding day, it’s easy to let the cake become an afterthought, but haphazard planning could lead to pastry disaster.
Sometime after the rest of it is cut and distributed, newlyweds should find a way to wrap the top layer of their cake in plastic shrink wrap and tin foil, sealed inside an airtight container, and into the refrigerator ASAP. Some caterers might do it without being asked to, but it’s generally not a bad idea to designate a groomsman or bridesmaid to make sure the task gets done before the cake spoils. A cake with cream cheese frosting that’s left out in the summer heat during a lengthy reception, for example, won’t even be worth saving in the first place.
In some cases, correctly preparing a cake for a deep freeze is a two-step process. Even at room temperature, frosting will still melt slightly, so if you don’t want to crush the frosting, you’ll need to let the cake solidify in the fridge before freezing it. Buttercream frosting softens even more quickly.
Generally speaking, cakes with more moisture will do better in the freezer. Oil-based cakes are thought to last longer than butter-based ones, and according to some sources, chocolate cakes will fare better than vanilla. Fruit-based fillings likely won’t freeze well, as freezing and thawing changes the texture of the fruit.
Regardless of the type of cake you choose for your wedding, when you’re ready to eat it a year later, you should let the cake thaw in the fridge for around 24 hours and then another hour or so at room temperature. Then, brace yourself for a bite that won’t necessarily be gross but might be significantly less delicious than you remember.
A More Delicious Alternative
Despite the fact that freezing a cake is mostly safe, some people would rather not bother with the risks. Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop in Washington D.C., for one, told the Washington Post in 2014 that she preferred the tradition die.
She’s a proponent of a new variation on the tradition: making a miniature recreation of the same cake one year later. It’s guaranteed to taste much more fresh and delicious — because it literally is fresh and delicious. MacIsaac, a pastry chef by trade, said, “I want the experience to be as great as it was on the night of their wedding, not some sub-par, tastes-like-frozen-steak experience.”
A lot of factors can influence the flavor and overall quality of a preserved cake, the packaging perhaps most important. Is it safe? For the most part, yes. But is it delicious? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun eating some old frozen cake on your anniversary.