Storing Baked Goods
Once our cookies, cakes, pies and tarts etc. are baked, they have to be stored properly and there is no one catch-all perfect storage solution, so we must pay attention to what a recipe calls for. Here, however, are some basics. By the way, I know “storage” isn’t a very sexy topic, but stick with me here – proper storage will allow you to enjoy your baked goods and desserts at their best.
Generally speaking, refrigeration will dry out many baked goods. For simple quick breads, snack cakes, cookies and plain cakes, airtight containers at room temperature or wrapping the item in plastic wrap are the best solutions. Especially for cookies, I scour dollar-stores for tins and you can find great ones, especially around the winter holidays.
If you have a dessert that involves a lot of dairy, such as cheesecake, mousses or desserts with billows of whipped cream – like a trifle – then you must refrigerate. Again, most recipes will make this clear, but also use your common sense. Also, some recipes that require refrigeration are best served very cold right out of the refrigerator, but others are best stored chilled but served at room temperature. It’s all about texture and flavor. A layer cake filled and frosted with Italian Meringue Buttercream must be refrigerated, however, if served cold, the texture will be hard, unappealing and even strong flavors, like chocolate buttercream, will have little taste. These desserts should be chilled for storage, but brought to true room temperature for serving. In the case of the cake mentioned above, it might take hours for the frosting to truly soften, come to room temperature, and be able to be enjoyed in its satiny, creamy lusciousness.
Length of storage is important as well. Some cookies can last a few weeks, others a day or two. Hopefully the recipes you are using are giving you clear information. With my recipes, you might find that they last longer than I state as I try to be ultra conservative. This was you can be happily surprised if they last longer. Some storage times might seem odd, for instance, it might say a gelatin dessert lasts 2 days. Well, it will still be edible at 4 days, however, the gelatin will be more rubbery, which is why the directions say what they say. If you do not store correctly, including length of storage, your desserts will not be at their best.
One huge caveat: store baked goods INDIVIDUALLY and protected. A cinnamon coffee cake stored in an airtight container alongside buttery shortbread might leave you with cinnamon-flavored shortbread! If you place a frosted cake uncovered on the shelf in the refrigerator, it might take on the aromas of the strong cheese and olives that are also in the refrigerator.
My huge pet peeve is holiday cookies stored together. There are chocolate ones, and sugar cookies, and spiced cookies, tiny fruitcakes, bourbon balls and nutted cookies and when stored together they all end up tasting the same. Or rather, they end up taking on this odd general flavor of sweetness with no individually distinct taste. All that work, in my opinion, ruined. Of course I will offer various cookies and baked goods on a platter while serving, but never for storing.
MINT – this deserves an entry of its own. If you make mint Anything – cookies, cake, ganache, whatever – the flavor is so potent that it will flavor anything else that is stored with it. Always store your mint desserts alone and airtight. Always. Period.
And then there are those desserts that shouldn’t be stored at all. If a recipe says “serve immediately” then do it! Strawberry shortcake comes to mind as do hot souflées and ice cream sundaes; once assembled, they should be brought to the table right away.