The best way to cut cake: Tools, techniques & tricks for perfect slices

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

We have the tools, techniques, and tricks you need to cut cake flawlessly. Find them here. Click To Tweet

Let’s start with the critical equipment for the job — the tools you need to cut cake slices cleanly.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

Cake cutting tools

If you cringe at the sight of haphazardly sliced cake, the tool you need is our 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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

Techniques

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.

Quick chill

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

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 the 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!

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

Tricks

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.

Fishing line

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflourOnce 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.The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

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.

The best way to cut cake via @kingarthurflour

Share a picture of your next cake (and those impeccable slices) with us on Instagram or Facebook using #kingarthurflour. 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.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Marketing Team.

comments

  1. Donna Collins

    & for turning 2 layers into 4…Score each layer half way up around the outside edge…take un-flavored dental floss long enough to go around with some extra…lead it around in the score mark and knot it…pull the knot tighter till the knot starts to go into the cake…keep pulling till the knot goes all the way through..pull one end and remove the floss… voila! 4 layers…more room for fillings or frosting…or whatever…

    Reply
  2. Sarah Skinner

    I can’t remember where I learned this, but I’ve found if you cut two slices before serving the first one, it will slide out a lot easier, particularly with very soft or gooey cakes or cheesecake.

    Reply
  3. Nancy alywahby

    The “tomato knife”. I believe is a FILLET knife used to filet whole fish ( fun and no bones) it is great. For fine sliceing .If it is serrated works with breads ets.

    Reply
    1. Gin Fisher

      I own that knife. It is a Rada brand “Tomato Knife”. It is awesome for tomatoes and cakes!

  4. HMB

    A tip I learned from my mom is to have a thermal pitcher or carafe standing by with hot water in which to dip the knife.
    And an interesting technique I learned from a colleague who worked with a caterer during college is to take a long, thin serrated blade and cut a circle in the cake. Then you only have to make short cuts from outside to inside circle. Pieces are almost rectangular that way. Once all the outside pieces are removed you have a smaller cake that is easy to cut in small wedges.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      That’s quite intriguing! I think this technique would work particularly well for cutting large cakes cleanly and evenly. The next time I bake for a party, I’m trying your colleague’s technique! Thanks for sharing. Kye@KAF

  5. Sarahjane Dooley

    Am I the only one who likes to cut my round cakes across the cake, making each slice, except the end one, a rectangular(ish) shape? I find I can get more evenly cut slices per cake this way.

    Reply
    1. Camille

      I slice my cakes this way too. And if you have to stretch the cake to feed more people or cut that slice for the person who only wants a “sliver” it’s much easier.

    2. Maggy

      I cut that way too. Most people I know don’t want a large piece of cake (yeah I know lol) and cutting across let’s me make whatever size portions they want.

    3. Beverly

      My mother used to do this with our birthday cakes! As a child, I was surprised that everybody didn’t cut cakes like that. Thanks for bringing back a memory!

  6. Emma

    It could’nt come better, as I have planned to bake my first layer cake this week-end ! Being French it is not in our tradition and habits to do layer cakes, but they give such a special feel to occasions that I will try in preparation of a friend’s birthday next month.

    I just have to decide which recipe and frosting !

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      You’re going to love the thrill of baking a layer cake, Emma! It’s not only a fun adventure to bake it, but it’s also a delight to eat. If your friend loves traditional flavor combinations, consider making our Classic Birthday Cake. It’s an easy, beautiful vanilla sponge cake with a luscious chocolate frosting. It’s our Recipe of the Year for 2019 and we’ve all been loving it! We hope you do too. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  7. Grady

    I don’t think I would use fishing line; monfilament nylon fishing line contains tiny amounts of lead left over from the manufacturing process. A similar polyester line for beading and other crafts would be safer, particularly for children. It’s true that you’d have to eat an awful lot of fishing line to get lead poisoning, but it is additive; you don’t want to build that up over a lifetime.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Thanks for bringing this up, Grady, and for sharing your concern. We’ve done some research and believe that there are some non-nylon fishing lines available that are appropriate for use in the kitchen. However, we always encourage bakers to use the tools and ingredients that they’re most comfortable with while baking at home. If the cake you’re trying to cut perfectly isn’t too dense and the frosting isn’t very cold, unflavored dental floss would be a fine choice for cutting cake using this method. Kindly, Kye@KAF

  8. AD Coolins

    When I started a new job some years ago the folks there were using a table knife to cut cakes. It drove me crazy to see the squashed, mangled slices so I brought nice serrated knife that I kept in my office. (Guess I’m a little OCD.)

    Reply
    1. Emma

      No, you’re not OCD you are the kind of person who likes things DONE PROPERLY 😉
      And I do share your concerns !

    2. Kye Ameden, post author

      I’m glad to hear you’re a baker who appreciates a perfectly sliced piece of cake, Emma. There’s just something so sad about a piece of layer cake that’s been lovingly made but then smeared with frosting and smushed during slicing. No more of that happening in our kitchens. 😃 Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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