A few months ago, Test Kitchen Manager Sarah Jampel sent me an Instagram link, with an all-caps message imploring me to check it out.

The link in question was a reel from baker Dan Langan, who demonstrated an unconventional way to cut cake: from the outside in, rather than the top down.

Other than being surprisingly effective, Dan’s method has one distinct advantage: It results in cleaner cake slices. “Cutting with the direction of the cake and frosting layers means that the knife isn't dragging down between alternating layers of cake and frosting, leading to a more pristine cut edge,” explains Dan. “I use this method when I want a pretty slice for a photo or video, or when I've taken the time to intentionally craft a cake with several thin layers.”

After all the work it takes to bake, assemble, and frost a layer cake, who doesn’t want to make sure their slices look as sharp as possible while serving? Intrigued, I put this technique to the test.

Dan says he uses it with every type of frosting, buttercream and cream cheese frosting included. Personally, I found that when deployed in a layer cake frosted with Swiss Buttercream, it didn’t make much of a difference — this silky style of frosting is so smooth that it cuts cleanly no matter if you start at the top or from the sides.

Two chocolate cake slices, one with smears of white frosting on the cake layers, one pristine Photography by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne
Both cakes still taste great, but for the sharpest slices, try cutting from the side.

But with other frostings — like American buttercream or chocolate fudge — this slicing trick came in handy. Because American buttercream — made by beating softened butter with confectioners’ sugar — is thick and dense, it smears into crumbs much more easily; a fudgier frosting, meanwhile, is prone to smudging because of its looser consistency. If you cut cakes with those frostings using the traditional way (top down), the result is a slice with frosting that smears into the cake layers, creating a messier look. Obviously, this is not a huge deal! But if you want the sharpest slices of cake, I found that the outside-in method is a handy way around this pitfall and results in more pristine layers of cake and frosting.

No surprise here, but this tip is particularly useful when pairing cake and frosting in contrasting colors, i.e., yellow cake with chocolate frosting or red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, or for a cake with very thin layers. I imagine that a cake with loose or sticky fillings, like caramel, could also benefit from this method.

And of course, there’s more than one way to slice a cake. We’ve tested plenty of other methods, from tomato knives to fishing line, to find the very best way to cut cake. (Psst ... a serrated knife is a handy tool!) 

Cover photo by Rick Holbrook; food styling by Kaitlin Wayne.

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Classic Birthday Cake
Classic Birthday Cake
4.3 out of 5 stars 617 Reviews
3 hrs
one 8” or 9” two-layer cake
Filed Under: Tips and Techniques
Rossi crimping pie crust
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About Rossi Anastopoulo

Rossi Anastopoulo grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, which is how she fell in love with biscuits. She didn’t have any bakers in her household (with the exception of her grandmother’s perfect koulourakia), so she learned at a young age that the best way to satisfy her sweet tooth was to make dess...
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