Cakes on an Airplane: A Guide to Flying With a Great Layered Dessert


It all started innocently enough: my friend Mary was celebrating what we’ll call a “meaningful” birthday at her summer residence. I booked my flights, then asked, “Do you want me to bring a cake?”

As a home baker, desserts are my love language and a way to mark life’s special and less special occasions. (To quote the famous credo, “A party without cake is just a meeting.”) I created chocolate cakes with feuilletine and salted caramel buttercream; red velvet with cream cheese frosting and candied nuts; even a horse head cake for a “Godfather” themed birthday.

There was only one small problem: I’ve shipped cookies, brownies, and pecan bars, but in all my years of baking, I’ve never attempted to ship a layered cake. on a plane.

Thus began a journey that included extensive searches, TSA agents, cake porters, helpful strangers, and carefully dolloped buttercream into 3.4 ounce piping bags. For every baker with an uncontrollable urge to travel with their favorite cake, here’s a survival guide.

The answer to your first question: Yes, you can fly with a cake. You can carry it (airlines will consider it a personal item) or even check it in your luggage.

But what kind of cake? A pound, bundt, or other dense crumb will survive almost any trip and last for days. But if you’re bringing a classic birthday or wedding cake – with two to four layers, toppings and icing, piped flowers or other embellishments – then you need to consider the length of the trip and the length of time during which the cake can travel safely.

“I’ve shipped wedding cakes, so I treat carry-on like a shipped cake,” says B. Keith Ryder, a retired cake designer from Virginia. “I freeze them. Cold cakes travel better.

Traditional cake flavors (like vanilla, chocolate, and carrot) can be baked, assembled, and frozen ahead of time. Ryder won’t fly with cakes filled with fresh fruit, pastry creams, mousses or whipped cream, which freeze or defrost badly. “It must be a ganache or a buttercream.”

But even a simple chilled cake, unless exposed to extreme heat, can travel all day and be safely served that night – or put in a fridge on arrival. A cake can rest for at least 8 hours; those covered with fondant will last even longer.

For Mary, I decided to make a nine-inch four-layer cake filled with lemon curd, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and Swiss meringue buttercream. Most standard cake sizes fit under a seat; the next hurdle is how to wear it.

I have several cake containers (because of course I do), but I was flying in a small plane. Which meant that space for hand luggage would be limited. Which also meant I had to research what type of plane and its dimensions under the seat. (You could try calling the airline, but your best bet is to stick to their underseat luggage recommendations.) I was probably 12 inches wide but only 7 inches tall, which eliminated all those cake racks that might have worked on a bigger jet.

“You don’t want to use a cake box — you want to use a sturdy cardboard box,” says Barb Evans, who lives in Illinois and has designed, baked and delivered professional wedding cakes for 42 years. Ideally, the cake rests on a larger piece of cardboard around the same diameter of the box, and one side of the box is cut like a drawbridge for the cake to slide into. packing tape. Be sure to bring extra tape with you in case you need to open it for the TSA. She also recommends adding a plastic-covered window on top so security guards can see inside.

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Ryder wraps a frozen cake in plastic wrap, puts it in a cake box, then fills the box with foam packing pellets so nothing can move around in transit. This box is also wrapped in plastic and placed inside a larger box with more packaging, and usually arrives still frozen.

I settled on a 12 x 12 x 6 inch cardboard box, which would hold the four layer cake on a 12 inch round cake board. The box was too short to hold decorations – I had to add them just before the party. I packed different colors of buttercream in small piping bags.

The night before the trip I baked, filled and frosted the cake – the buttercream created a seal to keep it moist. I put a small dowel in the center to keep the layers from shifting. Then I refrigerated it overnight, pulling it out just as the Uber driver pulled up.

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Pro Tip: Layer cakes made from scratch are heavy. I knew it, but transporting a cake to your car and transporting it to an airport are very different experiences. With my roller bag in one hand, I stood in the safety line with what looked like 20 pounds poised on the other arm.

For once, I arrived at the airport with a lot of extra time. I already knew the TSA allowed cakes, but I had no idea how long an inspection might take or if my little bags of buttercream might be tested.

Technically, the TSA classifies icing as a liquid. “If you can spill it, spray it, spread it, pump it or pour it, then it’s not a solid and should be packed in a checked bag,” spokesman Dan Velez said. If you continue the frosting, it has be in 3.4 ounce containers, which are then placed in a clear liter bag. Velez says it’s a good idea if the icing bags can open in case the TSA wants to test a small sample for explosives.

I decided not to use ice or gel packs to keep the cake cool, but it turns out the TSA is fine with them. as long as they are solid frozen when presented for testing. If they are partially melted, gooey, or have liquid on the bottom, they must meet the 3.4 ounce requirement.

Evans knows bakers who have bought airplane seats for tiered wedding cakes or gingerbread houses, but the box has to be short enough to fit in the TSA’s x-ray machine, which measures about 12 to 15 inches tall, he says – and then has to wear a seat belt.

Although the TSA doesn’t keep track of the number of cakes flying in friendly skies, it does see a lot of food during the holidays. Lots of pies, which are good. Gravy, cranberry sauce and jam are all subject to liquid restrictions.

Sure, there’s always the option to check out layers of cake and an unlimited container of frosting — but an assembled cake might not survive the baggage handlers. “You can check out the cake,” Velez says. “But you push it.”

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You may experience turbulence

Should you ever put a cake in overhead?

Ryder’s frozen cake is right up there; I rejected the overhead because I couldn’t determine the exact dimensions, and I wasn’t willing to risk a slope, which would leave the cake leaning at an angle. Or he could slip, bounce, or bump, which didn’t seem like a good idea.

Although I researched the height, I forgot the normal process of putting a bag under the seat: you tilt it at an angle and then slide it out. A passenger across the aisle took pity on me and instead we carefully moved the box from the aisle to below the seat.

That’s why Evans advises creating some sort of handle – even using tape around the box – to move it up and down without tipping over.

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At the end of 90 minutes flight, the cake was still cold to the touch. Dinner was in two hours. I managed to get the cake off the plane and into the hotel, where I had 60 minutes to add buttercream flowers, edible sprinkles, and gold accents. When I was done, the room looked like an icing murder crime scene.

So close, and yet so far. After a short drive and an unnerving steep curve, the cake arrived at its final destination, where it was safely stored on a counter and served a few hours later with carols, a birthday wish and criticism laudatory.

But let’s say that curve had reduced it to an overturned mess. There would have been a tear or two, then I would have given Mary a hug and my cake would have been destroyed. We had survived the past two years, we were celebrating with friends, and that was more important than any cake.

Just warn everyone that everything could be derailed. “Hey, I have no control over parts of this process,” Ryder says. “It might be crumbs by the time I get to it – but it will still taste delicious.”

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