How to ship a cake

Disclaimer: Little Z’s Cakery operates under California’s Cottage Food law (you can read more about what that means here) and is currently prohibited from shipping baked goods to our customers. We sell to local customers only.

Little Z’s grandma lives in Ohio and recently had a milestone birthday. Ordinarily we would have flown back and celebrated with her. I would have planned a dinner party at a restaurant and invited her siblings that live in the area, maybe even a few of her friends. However, because of the pandemic, we weren’t comfortable spending a day in the airport and on planes and risking unknowingly infecting her with the COVID virus. So we did the next best thing – planned a surprise Zoom party. It turned out really well! Each of her siblings (and most of their spouses) joined, which was actually really special because they wouldn’t have all been able to had we done an in-person party. I wanted all the party guests to be able to enjoy birthday cake with the Birthday Girl so I hit the kitchen. I baked several pans of salted caramel brownies and mailed them to each of her siblings with instructions to save them until the Zoom party. Amazingly, everyone had at least one brownie left to eat on the call.:)

I also baked a brownie cake and shipped it to my mom. Prior to baking it, I did a lot of research to determine the best way of shipping a cake. I picked brownie for two reasons: 1) my mom loves chocolate, and 2) I thought a dense cake would hold up better in transit. Now that I have done it once with so much success, I would be comfortable shipping a more traditional cake next time.

We pride ourselves in not freezing cakes. We bake fresh, usually the night before your event. Shipping obviously required me to break a few of my own rules though. I baked the brownie layers about a week in advance. I stacked and filled the layers with salted caramel buttercream while they were still fresh. Once the cake was frosted, I chilled it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let the frosting firm up and then I wrapped it in several layers of plastic wrap. This is important because you want to protect the cake from air to avoid freezer burn so push the plastic wrap closely against the cake and cake board. It won’t stick to the cake since the frosting has already set. (I did keep the decorating simplistic and nothing that stuck up/away from the cake. But this doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. This would be a great cake to experiment with the watercolor technique or bright colors.) I then froze the wrapped caked (and gel ice packs) for 3 days.

While the cake was freezing, I went to FedEx and picked up one of their Large shipping boxes. (Box size will vary depending on the size of cake you need to ship. Get the smallest box that will accommodate your cake.) At the time, USPS was no longer offering 2-day priority shipping; they estimated 5-7 days for priority. FedEx was still guaranteeing delivery times for express services, but I have heard that they no longer do either. So please research your options to know how quickly any of the carriers can will get it to your destination and for what price. I built the box as designed and then used packaging tape to seal all the edges of the box. Not just the edges that had adhesive, but all the edges. Think of this as building a mini portable refrigerator. I wanted to seal in all the cold and seal out any heat.

We don’t use delivery services for our groceries since I need to go frequently for cake ingredients anyway, but I needed an insulated bag and couldn’t find any inexpensive ones on Amazon. Fortunately we have generous neighbors and I was able to get one from them. I used the bag to line around the inside of the box. I now had my box assembled and set it aside until about an hour before I was going to take the cake to FedEx.

When it was time to package the cake, I removed it from the freezer (3 days after putting it in). I wrapped several layers of bubble wrap around it to help insulate and protect the cake. I placed the cake inside the insulated bag in the box and placed 4 frozen gel packs around it. These helped to fill the space between the cake and the box. Don’t worry if the packs rest against the cake; they won’t hurt it. I used a fifth gel pack and placed it directly on top of the cake.

I filled any remaining space with bubble wrap and then gently shook the box to make sure the cake wasn’t going to shift. I then folded down and taped the insulated bag inside the box, closed the box and sealed the remaining edge with packaging tape. I then marked “Fragile” on each side of the box and drew arrows facing the top of the box to indicate which end was up.

I took the cake to FedEx about 30 minutes before their last pick up to ensure it would go out that evening. I ended up paying for overnight shipping for delivery by noon. It cost about $100, but I figured that was inexpensive compared to the party I would have otherwise thrown.

When the cake arrived, it was still frozen and in tact. I wish I had a picture of it on the other end, but like mother, like daughter. If you thought my camera skills are poor (you can read more about the saga of my fantastic dismal picturing taking here), my mom’s are nonexistent. Actually that isn’t fully fair. She owns a camera (albeit old) and used it back in the day. She even developed her own pictures. However, she doesn’t know how to use a digital camera, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if her phone has one. So alas, you have to take my word that the cake arrived in perfect shape.

Will I ship a cake again? You bet! It isn’t cheap, but it makes for a special gift. My mom loved receiving a Little Z’s Cakery cake and “sharing” it with her party guests. Hopefully this post serves as a reference for you (and likely me) when you want to ship a cake to someone special.

Materials you will need to ship a cake:

  • Frosted and frozen cake on a cake board
  • Plastic wrap
  • Insulated bag
  • Frozen gel packs
  • Shipping box
  • Bubble wrap
  • Packaging tape
  • Permanent marker

Happy shipping and celebrating!