How to Cut a Cake

This is one of those tasks most people assume they already know how to perform. However after receiving some emails about slipping and/or sliding glazes during Sacher torte week, I think a tutorial on this subject is warranted. For indeed as with most things, there’s a right way to cut a cake and a wrong way. Here’s the wrong way…

…which is to say stabbing it in the center from above. (Here the cake is represented by a stack of two upturned cake layer pans). Why is that the wrong way? Because it puts pressure on the center of the cake. I know, you think you have a good sharp knife there, but if the surface of the cake or pastry is at all rigid, the result will be compression which means cracking, slipping or stretching of the top coating. Even in the case of a soft buttercream top, the drag of all that surface area will pull the center of the cake downward, to no good effect. Proper cutting of a cake starts from the outside edge and continues in an arcing motion down to the plate. Allow me to demonstrate.

Start by angling the knife at about 45 degrees relative to the tabletop, and cut inward toward the cake’s center. The very tip of the knife should be the last thing that slips under the surface coating of the cake.

As you reach the middle of the cut, roughly the level of the bottom layer, the knife should be about parallel with the table.

Finishing the cut, you want to land the knife tip at the very center of the cake plate.

Then all you need to do is withdraw the knife, tip still down on the plate:

Done! Dip the knife in a nearby bowl of warm water…

…wipe it…

…and you’re ready for the next cut. Easy.

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2 Responses to How to Cut a Cake

  1. Franklin says:

    Thank you. I had seen this done on a video, and it made a difference. What I don’t get is why so many bakeries pile so much junk on a cake that it wouldn’t matter how you slice it since it will look like a toppled mess anyway. I think less is best. That’s one of the reasons I prefer traditional Austro-Hungarian pastry baking. Those tortes look elegant, simple and have a marvelous taste.
    Your instructions are always clear, engaging and I love the way you explain the why and the consequences – great technique.

    • joepastry says:

      I’m with you, Franklin! While I don’t necessarily prefer Austro-Hungarian pastry baking per se, I’m in complete agreement that we heap WAY too much frosting and such on our cakes. It’s really a sore point with me!

      Thank you very much for your very kind words!

      - Joe

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