Layer cakes, cheesecakes, dacquoise and angel food cakes all require different cake cutting techniques, but the end result we strive for is always the same – we want even, clean cuts so that our desserts are presented to their best advantage.
In most cases: It really helps if the knife is wiped clean in between cuts with a warm, damp cloth. In general, frosted cakes cut cleaner when cold. If they are to be served at room temperature, you have two options: You can present the whole cake at room temperature to the guests, and maybe experience crumbly pieces as you slice, or you can slice the cake ahead of time while cold and present individual slices already plated. In the latter case, cover the slices with plastic wrap during storage and as they come to room temperature so that they don’t dry out.
- Dacquoise and meringue-based cakes: The crunchy texture of a meringue or dacquoise, often layered with a buttercream or whipped cream, is best cut with a serrated knife, such as the one in the top of the picture. The dacquoise/meringue is crunchy and hard and needs an aggressive knife. A gentle sawing motion works well.
- Cheesecakes: We recommend using a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife or a hollow-edged knife, which reduces drag (second from top in picture) and to make sure to wipe the blade between each and every cut with a warm, damp cloth. Fill a tall pitcher or vase with hot tap water, dip the blade in the water and dry with a clean cloth between cuts. Remove and discard any of the cheesecake that has stuck to the blade from the previous cut. Every time you cut a slice, you want your knife blade to be clean.
- Layer cakes, pound cakes and cakes with a soft crumb: These cut best with a sharp, thin-bladed slicing knife (third in image). A chef’s knife can work, but a slicing knife usually has a thinner blade and works its way into your cake more delicately. We want to make as clean of a cut as possible, and in this case that means reducing crumbs. A heavy, thick-bladed chef’s knife or a serrated knife will dredge up crumbs in this instance.
- Angel food cakes: These cakes are very light and many knives will compress them upon cutting. The tool on the bottom if our main picture (and seen below) is an angel food cake cutter and does the job easily and well, preserving the cake’s height and texture. You insert it like a giant fork and gently wiggle it. The tines enter the cake easily and more or less break it apart, rather than cut it, but you will get somewhat of a straight line, albeit a bit textured.
- Dental floss technique: While we prefer using a knife, here it is in detail for you to try: Start with unflavored dental floss; you can use regular floss or the wider “tape” style. Cut a long piece, at least three times the diameter of the cake. Wrap the ends around your fingers or hands to get a nice firm grip. The length of floss between your hands should be several inches greater than the diameter of the cake. Hold the floss taut, hovering above the cheesecake, then cut down into the cake all at once, holding the floss level. When you get to the crust, you might have to apply extra pressure. Lift the floss up and out, still holding taut, then re-position for subsequent cuts. Cut the cake in half then quarters and so on until you have cut the desired number of portions. Use a triangular/wedge shaped spatula to remove the slices from the pan bottom and to transfer to your serving plate.
Images: Peter Muka