Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baby, It’s Hot Outside

I was thinking about the heat and buttercream recently, and was contemplating doing something where I would leave a little cake out in the heat to see how it fared.

Of course, as soon as I thought it, someone else beat me to it. But I can see how some people would object to that video’s accuracy.

"That cake was in the Texas heat, and it isn't as bad here. Plus, it's out in the direct sun and mine will be under a tent. And my reception starts at 6pm, so it's cooler then. It looks like that video was shot right at noon. MY CAKE WILL BE DIFFERENT."
So I decided to go ahead and do my own melting buttercream experiment.

5:00 pm
I put a little teeny cake (I’m not going to build an entire wedding cake just to sacrifice it) and put it on my front porch, which gets about the same amount of sun that a tent would. I’ve set many cakes up where the sun was actually below the edge of the tent and still beat down on the cake, so a tent isn’t necessarily great protection.

The heat today was in the 100 degree range, which has pretty much become “average” for the summers here. High 90’s at least, and a few 100+ days seems to have become the norm.

If a reception was scheduled to start at 6pm, I would deliver the cake around 4:30 or 5 if I could. So I put the little cake outside on my porch at 5pm to simulate the same conditions that it would have been in if it was outside during a reception. This was a 3" and a 4" tier. Teeny tiny. Not heavy at all, so there was no stress on the bottom tier.
6:00 and starting to fall apart
The icing was 50-50 butter and shortening, confectioner’s sugar based. I would never do an all-shortening icing unless I had a really good reason, even though that’s fairly common around here. The 50-50 is the one that I would guess would be the most heat-stable of the types of buttercream that I offer.

I checked on the cake at 6pm, which is when the reception would be starting. It was starting to look translucent and bubbly on the surface, and liquidy around the edges. A piece of the shell border had totally fallen off.

It was sad and saggy-looking.


7:00 back collapsed
At 7pm the back of the bottom tier had collapsed, even with only having to support the weight of a 3", one-layer top tier. The shell border had fallen off in several places, and the borders were displaying a lot of shine and goopy liquid at the bases. The icing itself was turning translucent and rough in places where it had started to shift and slide off the cake.

8pm top and bottom destruction
By 8pm the top had melted enough that the icing cracked off, and the whole thing looked pretty rough. Keep in mind that this was only a teeny tiny cake, 3" and 4" diameters. If it had been a full-sized tiered cake the destruction would probably have been much more dramatic, if only because of the size and weight of the tiers.

I can't tell you how many stories I've heard about cake-cuttings that had to be moved up by HOURS because the cake was in the process of melting and falling over. Let this tiny little cake be an example of why fondant is the best way to go if you have an outdoor reception in the summer. Or better yet, keep the cake inside. It's the safest choice.

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and


Melissa said...

Kara - I've seen this happen at my friends wedding in Portland, Oregon. A large buttercream cake with lemon, raspberry and strawberry filing (from a sleeve -- gross). The temperature was mid 90's and the pure crisco based icing cake was under a tent. The cake was melting and the filing was oozing out the sides. Not pretty for those cake pictures. It was so bad that the cake was cut and served before the food was.

Anonymous said...

I've had coordinators tell me horror stories about cakes (not mine!) that were cut right after the bride and groom entered the reception because they were melting! And Bobby from The Coordinated Event ( says that he can't count the number of itmes people have sidled up to him during receptions and said "We need to move the cake-cutting up..." as the cake slowly slid into the sunset.