Secrets of the Costco bakery you'll wish you knew sooner

Costco is a magnet for bulk-buying deal-hunters, with specials on everything from gasoline to kayaks to toilet paper. If you have the room to store (what seems like) 98 rolls of paper towels and 20-pound bags of frozen burritos (these might be slight exaggerations), your Costco annual membership can help you save a lot of money. 

That said, some people argue that warehouse store memberships, like a Costco membership, are only good for saving money on items with long shelf-lives. If you subscribe to this line of thinking, though, you're actually overlooking some pretty killer deals in the bakery aisles at Costco. Sure, you may know a few Costco hacks already — like how they're a go-to for giant pumpkin pies — but Costco's bakery offers everything from tiramisu to bagels to sheet cakes. And even if you don't think you can eat 25 fresh croissants before they get stale, there are Costco bakery secrets that can help you make the most of your membership when it comes to feeding a crowd — regardless of a short shelf-life.

You can build an amazing wedding cake on the cheap using Costco cakes

According to an article on The Knot, the average wedding cake cost in the United States is $500. Of course, prices vary widely by location, bakery, style, and size of the cake, with the per-slice averages ranging from $1.50 to $12.00, but if you want enough cake to feed a crowd, you're probably going to be looking at at least a couple hundred bucks if you buy your wedding cake from a local bakery. 

Or, you could spend $50 total on two sheet cakes and flowers at Costco and Trader Joe's (respectively) and build your own giant, tiered masterpiece, as did one couple whose sister-in-law, Jessica Hoyle-King shared to Instagram. Apparently, her brother bought two full sheet cakes, cut them into smaller squares, and had them configured them into tiers. A family member and wedding guest (who happens to be a pastry chef, so that obviously helped), then applied homemade buttercream frosting and decorated the cake with the flowers from Trader Joe's. The result? Absolutely exquisite and unbelievably affordable, especially when you consider how much a cake like this would cost at a typical bakery. 

Even if you don't happen to have a pastry chef as a guest for your wedding, you can always practice your decorating skills in advance by following YouTube videos. Plus, it's hard to go wrong with using fresh flowers. Practically anyone could pull off a beautiful wedding cake similar to this one. 

You can freeze Costco bakery's giant muffins

Costco's bakery isn't just known for selling baked goods in bulk — they sell huge, oversized baked goods in bulk. Take for instance their pumpkin pie, which weighs in at almost four pounds and can easily feed 12 adults — it's huge. But it's not the only huge product in-store — their muffins are also gigantic (and delicious), but when they come in a pack of 12, it's understandably hard to eat them all before they start to go stale. That's the exact problem pointed out on Rather-Be-Shopping.com, when the author lamented their kids' inability to power through the whole package before having the muffins go stale. 

The author's solution? The freezer, which apparently works wonders. Just place your Costco muffins in a freezer-safe bag and pull them out when you're ready for them. You can defrost the muffins on your counter or in your fridge, but as the author points out, you can also put them in the microwave at 50-percent power for a fast and even defrosting (and a slightly warm muffin). 

And if you're feeding muffins to your kids? These things are huge, so you really, one muffin can easily serve two small humans. Just slice it in half and serve. By saving the rest in your freezer, you won't have to stress about food waste. 

You can freeze Costco bakery's croissants, too

Giant muffins aren't the only freezer-friendly Costco bakery item. According to a Reddit thread on tips for saving money at Costco, the butter croissants are another great option to pop in the freezer. But unlike the Costco muffins, which defrost well in the microwave, microwaving croissants is generally not a good idea. Microwaved croissants may end up chewy and tough; not exactly equal to the delicious flavor you enjoy when you eat them straight out of the package. 

The solution the Redditor offered is to use your oven for the defrost, "...throw [the croissants] in the oven in the morning. Turn the oven on to 350, and by the time it's preheated, [the] croissant is crispy and delicious." The beauty of this hack is that you no longer have to wait for a big family gathering or a work event to have an excuse to purchase the Costco 12-pack. Go ahead and buy those flaky, buttery croissants in bulk — as long as you have a freezer, you can enjoy them on your own timeline. 

If you're a tiramisu lover, you need to hit up Costco's bakery

There are simple cake recipes out there, but let's just be honest — homemade cakes might come with an extra dash of love mixed in, but they're kind of a hassle to make. And that's just for basic cakes you can whip up from a box and top with standard icing. It's a whole different beast to try to bake a specialty cake, like a tiramisu, from the comfort of your home. 

Tiramisu is made from soaking Italian ladyfinger cookies (which you have to either bake first or search for in a store) in espresso or liquor before layering them with mascarpone or custard and adding a layer of cocoa powder. You then have to allow the whole thing to chill for hours before serving. Is such a long process really worth the reward of calling it homemade? 

The correct answer is "probably not." This is why it's so amazing that Costco has a giant, 2.38-pound tiramisu cake available to purchase in the refrigerated section of the bakery. Not only do you not have to take the hours of time necessary to prepare a cake yourself, but you'll probably end up saving money, too. As pointed out on Rather-Be-Shopping.com, the individual ingredients for making tiramisu can be expensive, and with the Costco-version costing roughly $16 for a giant cake? It's one heck of a good deal. 

You can get a great deal on bread at the Costco bakery

Bread is a pantry staple, but it may not be something you typically pick up at Costco. Sandwich loaves at the warehouse store are usually sold in packs of two, and even Costco's bakery items, like French bread, are typically sold by the double-loaf or in bulk amounts. So unless you eat a lot of bread, or unless you pack a lot of sandwiches for your kids' school lunches, you might be inclined to grab a single loaf from your local grocery store. But if you do that, you're probably missing out on savings. 

When the website, Kitchn, did a deep-dive price comparison of different loaves of bread sold at Costco, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, Costco breads typically proved to be the best buy. Specifically, Costco's French bread, sliced whole-wheat bread (Orowheat brand), sandwich rolls, and hamburger buns, all had the best prices. 

The catch, of course, is if you can't eat the entire purchase before it gets stale or goes bad. If that's your concern, don't hesitate to freeze the extra loaves. As with other bakery items, you can use your freezer to store and keep bread fresh

Buying Costco's frozen baked goods is a better deal (and it's the same product)

Typically when you think of Costco bakery items, you probably think about the fresh baked goods laid out on big tables and racks near the refrigerated section where the cakes are kept. But Costco also sells many of its baked goods as frozen foods in the freezer aisles, and they're often a better deal. 

In a Reddit thread asking Costco employees about the best deals they know of, one Reddit user pointed out that you can buy 24 cookies in the fresh section of the bakery for $7.99, but if you ask for a box of frozen cookies, you'll score 180 for $34.99. If you bother to do the math on that, fresh cookies come out to about $.33 each, while the frozen version is more like $.19 each. Granted, most people don't need to buy 180 cookies, but if you have the freezer space or a big event to plan for, the frozen version is a much better deal. And according to the Reddit user, the same types of savings apply to other frozen baked goods, like bread and bagels

You can return a partially eaten cake (but come on, don't do that)

If you're not already aware, Costco has an unbelievably permissive return policy and that means people will return some pretty crazy things at Costco. According to an article in Delish, Costco employees are instructed to take back just about anything a person tries to return, including wild items like a half-empty bottle of wine (Hey, girls' night was fun, but was it really that fun?), or... partially eaten cake. So, yeah... if you have any sort of problem with the baked goods you purchase at Costco, you have carte blanche to return them, no questions asked.

There are probably legitimate reasons to do this — maybe the baked goods you bought were stale before their sell-by date, or maybe your family hated the flavor of the tiramisu cake you brought home. By all means, take Costco up on its return policy for issues like these. But don't be the person who tries to take advantage of the policy by doing ridiculous things like asking for your money back for a cake when (clearly) there's only a slice or two left because everyone at the party loved it. 

Don't be that person. 

And if you are that person, be forewarned: Costco employees may be trained to take back just about any return that's brought in, but they're also trained to look for repeat offenders who are trying to cheat the system.

If you need a large number of baked goods, place your Costco bakery order ahead of time

Yes, Costco is a warehouse store, and yes, its bakery churns out countless loaves of breads, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods each day, but just because you can theoretically show up and buy hundreds of bagels and croissants the morning of your next big event, doesn't mean you should. And the beauty of Costco's dedicated bakery department is that it's easy to place an advance order — just walk up to the counter and let the staff know what you need, how much you need, and when you need it. 

There are two important reasons for placing an advance order when you know you need a large number of baked goods: First, it's the only way to guarantee Costco will have exactly what you need on hand. And second, as an article in Reader's Digest points out, it ensures that other customers can buy what they need, too. When a single person waltzes in and buys out every single cookie the store has on-hand, that kind of ruins the experience for everyone. Protect your own needs, and the needs of others, by giving the bakery department a head's up. It's a courtesy to everyone, but it ultimately makes your life easier, too. 

You can buy UNCOOKED baked goods from Costco to bake at home

Okay, so this little-known secret may not work at every Costco store — some bakeries offer the option, while others don't, and it appears to be more prevalent in Canada than in the United States. If you're looking for another way to buy Costco baked goods in bulk, consider asking your Costco bakers if you can buy a box of uncooked cookies (or croissants, or pastries) that you can freeze and bake at home. 

According to a Facebook post by Courtney LaValley, and further explained on KidsActivities.com when you ask for unbaked cookies, you receive a box of 120, already separated and ready to take out and bake. A friend of LaValley, Cathy Fisher, who responded to the original Facebook post also noted that in British Columbia, many bakery items have signs hanging below them stating you can ask for the unbaked product at the counter. A pretty good deal, and a great way to have cookies on-hand for your kids... that is, if your Costco offers the option. 

And if you're in Canada, there's more good news: According to a Diply article, you can place an order for unbaked cookies online through the Costco website. The trick is that you place your order through the Costco Business Centers site — you just have to enter your zip code to see if delivery is available in your area. 

You can personalize your Costco bakery cake order

You probably know you can waltz into Costco and grab one of their sheet cakes straight from the refrigerated section without having to order ahead. It's great for last-minute parties or events where you don't need any sort of personalization. But what if you're planning a themed birthday and you want an affordable and personalized cake? All you need to do is place your Costco cake order in advance. Like most grocery store bakeries, Costco has lots of designs to choose from, and they can add the specializations you want to the top of your cake.  

One idea you might not think of is to do as blogger Little Dove shares on her website. When this mom plans a party for her kids, she does the bulk of the cake decorating herself, but she relies on ordering a Costco cake "pre-scored" with frosted piping. The bakers end up piping even, perfect squares across the cake in white frosting. This allows her to then individually decorate each square at home. When party-time hits, she can also use the pre-scored lines to slice the cake evenly. 

When placing her order, she checks the box for "scored flowers," then crosses out the word "flowers." She then places "N/A" next to the option for colors, and writes, "Just scored, no flowers." The result is a perfectly scored white frosted cake. The best part? It's a whole lot cheaper than buying a personalized cake from other bakeries. 

Costco's social media channels offer tricks and hacks to spice up their baked goods

If you're not already following Costco on social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook, you should probably go hit "follow" on your favorite channels. Like most brands, Costco uses its social media sites to share special deals and new product offerings, but they also offer some pretty cool bakery hacks. Take, for instance, this pin on Pinterest that shows how to turn their giant pumpkin pie into the perfect Halloween party dessert. It really couldn't be easier — just place a jack-o-lantern stencil on top of the pie and sprinkle some cocoa powder onto the pie in the stencil's empty spaces. 

The same idea would work for practically any pie (or cake) and any stencil. Take, for instance, another one of their Pinterest pins, where they show how to turn a chocolate cake into a festive winter wonderland treat using nothing but snowflake stencils and powdered sugar, or another pin that shows how to make a simple, straightforward wedding cake using just a sheet cake and fresh flowers. Obviously, not everything Costco shares to its social media sites relates to its bakery, but they do have some cute, easy, and inexpensive ideas for at-home personalization. 

Their website features recipes that use Costco bakery items like croissants and bagels

The Costco website isn't just a place to search for great deals — it's actually a place to find great recipes, too. While not all the recipes incorporate items from the store's bakery department, a surprising number do. Take, for instance, the Kirkland Signature Summertime Recipes page which details how to turn a sheet cake into individual cake stars and how to make dessert kabobs using churros. 

The website also features a number of breakfast and lunch recipes that use their croissants, bagels, and various buns as starters. For instance, there's the Father's Day Breakfast Sandwich recipe that uses a bagel topped with sausage, egg, and cheese, before using sriracha sauce to draw stitching to look like a baseball, or the Kirkland Signature Meatball Sub Sandwich which uses almost all Costco products to build the perfect, dinner-worthy sandwich. The website offers lots of easy and creative recipes, so add the site to your favorites page and start searching for ideas before your next shopping trip.