How to Cut Perfect Cake Slices, Just Like a Food Stylist Does
Any occasion that calls for an impressive cake, like the Devil's Food Cake pictured here, also calls for beautiful cake slices. After working so hard to prepare and decorate your homemade cake, the last thing you want to do is present haphazard, uneven slices. Luckily, getting that photo-worthy slice is pretty simple, especially when you follow our easy yet important tips—we're outlining exactly what a food stylist does to achieve those picture-perfect slices, and you'll be pleased to know that these techniques require minimal extra effort and work equally well on sheet cakes as for more complicated layer cakes or cheesecakes. Take a moment to learn these steps and you'll have a skill that lasts a lifetime of celebrations and enjoyable sweet moments.
Chill the Cake
We generally prefer to eat cakes at room temperature, but a quick turn in the refrigerator can help set the frosting without chilling the whole cake and makes it easier to slice smoothly through it. Place the cake in the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before you want to slice in. For cheesecakes or cakes with similar consistencies, like our Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake or ice cream cakes, chill the cake completely before cutting. Allow at least four hours or overnight for this.
Mark Even Slices
If you want to cut even slices and don't trust your eye for just slicing in, use the blade of a knife to gently mark the cake where you want to cut each slice. Food stylists will sometimes use a long piece of clean fishing wire or unflavored dental floss to mark the slices from one side to the other (and some will actually cut straight through with the wire or floss), but we recommend using a knife as a home cook.
Select the Best Knife
While a sharp chef's knife is certainly capable of slicing a smooth piece of cake, a thin serrated knife is the better tool, particularly for airier cakes like Chiffon Cake with Strawberries and Cream or Angel Food Cake. With a serrated knife you can use a gentle sawing motion rather than cutting straight down, which can smush the cake. One exception: For cheesecakes or cakes with a similar consistency to cheesecake, a chef's knife is the preferred tool, as it will produce a smoother slice.
Dip the Knife in Hot Water
Don't skip this step! It's essential for perfection. Dipping the knife in hot water before cutting will prevent tearing, uneven slicing, or frosting sticking to the knife. The residual heat of the knife ensures that the frosting stays where it is supposed to be and helps the knife slide through it like butter. Run the knife under the hot water in the sink or fill a tall cylinder-like container such as a pitcher with hot water. And after you dip, be sure to wipe away excess water from the knife before slicing.
Make the Cut
Once you've dipped your knife in hot water and wiped it dry, quickly cut into the cake. When using a serrated knife, press into the cake and slice slowly using a gentle sawing motion while pressing down. Repeat on both sides of the slice and use a cake server or large offset spatula to remove the slice. When using a chef's knife, press into the cake working from top to bottom and making sure that the knife cuts all the way through on both sides of the slice. Then use a cake server or large offset spatula to remove the slice.
Always Wipe the Knife Between Slices
Even if you use the hot water method to slice—and especially if you don't—frosting and crumbs collect on the knife as you press down for each cut. The knife will continue to drag more frosting and crumbs onto the next slice if you don't clean the knife before proceeding. To make it easy, have a clean kitchen towel or paper towels nearby to wipe the knife clean after each slice.
How to Fix It If a Slice Goes Wrong
Perhaps you hastily sliced the cake, maybe forgetting to wipe the knife or else using the wrong utensil for the job. Don't fret! Just use a knife or fork to pick off excess crumbs or frosting or use a cover-up method such as a nice dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream, or even fresh berries or more sprinkles scattered on top of the slice. These tricks can turn a slightly messy slice into a tasty looking one.