It seems like an accepted fact that freezing a cake will not harm it; both professional and home bakers agree. In fact some say that the act of freezing (if done properly) may actually improve the taste, texture, and moisture level of said cake.
But controversy swirls around WHEN to freeze the cakes. Should they be frozen when the cakes are piping hot straight out of the oven? Should they be frozen when they are warm to the touch? Or should you wait till they are completely cool before freezing?
There are three divided camps on this issue…
Some people (the NEVER HOT camp) say to NEVER put hot cakes in the freezer. Some of the reasons include:
1) Placing hot foods in the freeze will cause the temperature inside the freeze to rise and cause previously frozen foods to partially thaw. But other people counter and say that modern freezers with their sensors and more efficient motors can handle the temperature fluctuations and adjust the air temperature accordingly.
2) The Never Hot Camp says that freezing hot cakes will trap steam/water inside the cake. The steam/water will turn into ice crystals which will accelerate freezer burn and cause the cake to have an "off" taste. But other people counter and say that freezer burn does not start to creep into food until they are frozen for 2-3 months.
3) Freezing hot cakes will trap steam in the cake which will change the texture of the cake; causing it to become dense, rubbery, and sometimes even soggy. Other people say that trapping the steam and moisture inside the cake will actually make it moister.
4) By wrapping the hot cakes prior to freezing you are trapping heat inside the cake and allowing the cooking process to continue. Even after it is placed in the freezer it will continue “cooking” until the freeze can lower the core temperature below 140 degrees.
Some people (the WARMER camp) say to let the cakes cool 10-15 minutes and then wrap and freeze.
The WARMER camp is a little wishy-washy and don't really have a list of reasons.
The third and largest camp (the ALWAYS COOL camp) says to freeze the cakes once they are completely cool. The biggest reason why is:
1) Steam should be allowed to escape the cake prior to wrapping and freezing. Cake recipes are tested and tweaked under the assumption that a cake will be cooled to room temperature. The amount of liquid/moisture that goes into the cake/recipe also depends on that assumption. If you wrap a hot cake and freeze it immediately you are therefore trapping moisture/steam into the cake that wasn’t designed to be there. This added moisture might make the cake too moist and in some cases downright soggy.
So who is right? When should cakes be frozen? Hot, Warm, or Room Temperature?
To answer the question for myself I did a little test...
I baked my standard 3-layer white cake (shortening based with no butter) and I wrapped and froze one layer immediately after it came out of the oven. The second layer I de-panned and allowed to cool for 15 minutes before I wrapped and placed it in the freezer. The third layer I allowed to cool for 1-1/2 hours before it was wrapped and placed in the freezer.
The cakes stayed frozen for a week, then I placed them on the counter, and stilled wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil I allowed them to defrost.
First thing I noticed on unwrapping was that the surface of the HOT frozen and WARM frozen cakes were a little sticky. Nothing really bad, but noticeable.
Next I staked the cake, but I didn’t add frosting because I didn’t want the frosting to influence the texture or taste of the cake. I wanted to test them in their naked, unadorned state. The bottom layer is the HOT layer, the center is the WARM layer, and the top is the COOL/Room Temperature layer.
Next I sliced. ( Notice I stuck a toothpick in the bottom/HOT layer? I had to do this so I could tell which was which! )
Then I tasted.
Surprisingly they looked and tasted EXACTLY the same. The HOT cake might have been a smidgen denser, with a slightly tighter crumb, but nothing too noticeable. And again – they all tasted exactly the same. I have four people sample the individual cake layers and no one noticed a difference.
I was really surprised at the findings, I thought for sure that the HOT frozen cake would taste moister – but not so.
So I guess for this particular cake at least – the timing of when it is frozen does not matter. The bottom line is freeze the cake when it is most convenient to you.