One of the most thrilling moments as a baker is pulling away the first slice of a towering layer cake. With any luck, the slice is gracefully removed to reveal the beautiful layers inside. But all too often, when you cut cake the slices end up smeared with frosting and smattered with crumbs.
After spending hours making a beautiful layer cake, you want the final presentation to be impressive. Now you can achieve that perfect look every time.
We have the tools, techniques, and tricks you need to cut cake flawlessly. Find them here.
Let’s start with the critical equipment for the job — the tools you need to cut cake slices cleanly.
Cake cutting tools
If you cringe at the sight of haphazardly sliced cake, the tool you need is a tomato knife. Yes, it’s handy for thinly slicing fresh tomatoes. But its lesser known purpose? Cutting cake perfectly!
The first time I used this slender knife to slice our Classic Birthday Cake, I literally cried out with delight as I removed the first slice: not a crumb out of place!
The tomato knife is serrated with relatively wide teeth. It slices through frosting and cake layers without exerting much pressure. It’s also super sharp while having a narrow width and short depth. This makes it ideal for cutting cake; there’s not a lot of surface area for the knife to collect frosting and then drag it through the rest of the cake.
It’s worth investing in this humbly priced knife — it’s the best tool to cut cake.
Serrated vs. chef’s knife
If you’re not able to get your hands on a tomato knife, you’ll want to use another relatively short serrated knife. A blade that’s about 5” to 8” is easiest to handle.
Some people might lean towards a straight-edged chef’s knife, thinking its sharp blade and typically long reach will do the job best.
Our testing taught us otherwise. We found serrated knives performed better than chef’s knives when cutting cake; they made neater slices with fewer frosting smears.
Another plus? With a serrated knife, you can use a gentle sawing motion so the knife moves through the cake without compressing each slice. With a chef’s knife, you might end up pushing downward and ending up with a dense, smushed slice of cake.
Still delicious, don’t get me wrong — just not quite as beautiful as you might have hoped.
Now that you’ve chosen the best knife for the job, let’s talk about some of the techniques you can use to cut cake perfectly.
Most people enjoy eating cake at room temperature. That said, don't be afraid to refrigerate your cake briefly before slicing. A quick chill in the fridge for about 10 to 15 minutes will help set your cake's frosting. The slightly cold frosting is less likely to smear as you slice a knife through it.
You won't be serving cold cake — this is a brief enough rest that the cake won’t become chilled all the way through. Plus, the cake slices will warm up quickly once they’re plated. If you really want to make sure the slices have lost their chill, wait about 5 minutes after the slices are plated before serving.
Hot water is your friend
If you have time to chill your cake before cutting, you can make slicing even easier by running your knife under hot water before using. Be sure to dry the knife thoroughly, then cut your slices while the knife is still slightly warm to the touch.
The warm knife will cut through the frosting like butter! The slices will be neat and clean, leaving all the frosting exactly where it's supposed to be.
Clean your knife between slices
Regardless of whether you’ve chilled your cake or warmed up your knife, be sure to wipe the knife clean between slices. It’s normal for the knife to collect frosting and crumbs as you cut cake (even a tomato knife to a degree). But your knife is more likely to snag and smear if you let the frosting build up.
Use a kitchen towel or sponge to wipe the knife clean after each slice. Then watch your knife move through the cake without a hitch!
You know which knife to use and the techniques to make the best slices — now we’ll show you a few tricks that are worth having up your sleeve.
If you’ve ever heard about using dental floss to slice cinnamon rolls or cheesecake, this trick won't surprise you. It turns out that strong, thin floss, or in this case, fishing line is a fantastic tool to slice through cake cleanly.
Use clean, sturdy fishing line, and be sure to cut yourself a piece that's long enough. (It should be at least as long as the diameter of the cake plus 4", approximately.)
Before cutting your cake, make light marks in the frosting to serve as guidelines for the slices. This ensures you'll end up with the right amount of evenly cut slices.
Once you’re ready to cut, hold the line firmly in each hand. Keeping it taut, exert downward pressure with your thumbs to bring the line all the way through the cake. Once you’ve reached the bottom, simply let go with one hand and pull the line out the other side of the cake. Wipe the line clean if it’s collected some frosting before making the next cut.
Clean (or cover up) any mess
Sometimes you’ll have chosen the right tool and made your cuts as mindfully as possible, and you still end up with frosting smears or errant crumbs. In these cases, relax! Your cake will still taste scrumptious, frosting smudges and all.
But if you’re a type A baker (like I am) you might want to invest in some tweezers for the kitchen. They come in handy if you’re determined to end up with picture-perfect slices. Pluck out any frosting-stained crumbs or bits of cake that are out of place until you're satisfied.
An easier (and potentially a more delicious) option? Pull out some ice cream or whipped cream and serve your cake à la mode! Your guests will be so busy savoring the multilayered dessert, they won’t even notice a crumb out of place.
Cut cake flawlessly
Whether you've made our Recipe of the Year (Classic Birthday Cake) or another impressive layer cake, slice it like a pro using our tips.
Remember to use a small, sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. Chill your cake if you have time, then warm up your knife and wipe it clean between slices. You've got tricks to use if needed.
Cut your next cake with confidence, and you'll hear oohs and ahhs as you pull away the first slice. The layers of cake will look pristine, and the filling and frosting will obediently stay in place.
Share a picture of your next cake (and those impeccable slices) with us on Instagram or Facebook using #kingarthurbaking. We'd love to see what you bake!
If you have other cake slicing techniques in your culinary toolbox, share them in the comments, below.
Thanks to Jenn Bakos for taking the photographs for this post.