Most people approach slicing the typical round layer cake like they would a pizza: cutting it into wedges that are similar in size. And that, in the experienced eyes of Nancie McDermott, is exactly the wrong way to go about it.
"You end up with giant wedges as big as a Wisconsin football cheesehead," says McDermott, a food writer and cooking teacher based in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Yet, attempt narrower slices, the tip of the wedge falls away and the slice looks raggedy. So McDermott, author of "Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations" (Chronicle), has a better way that will get you many more slices from a 9-inch round cake. The process may look funny (and intimidating) but take a deep, cleansing breath and plunge in.
1. Imagine the cake is a giant, edible clock; divide it into four quarters: Make the first cut from 12 to 6; make the second cut from 3 to 9.
2. Holding the knife perpendicular to your body and parallel to the 12 to 6 cut, begin slicing one of the bottom quarters (the right one if you hold the knife in your right hand; left if you're left-handed). Keep making neat, parallel slices until you reach the 3 position. This final slice will be mostly frosting, McDermott notes, but someone always likes frosting best. Repeat the slicing with the remaining three quarters.
Rectangular cake: Position the long end of the cake pointing toward you. Cut in half crossways, then cut each half into thirds. Then slice the thirds, always crossways.
Square cake: Divide the cake into progressively smaller squares, from halves to quarters to eighths.
Angel food cake: Use forks instead of a knife. "Don't think of cutting it, think of tearing it. Make holes with the forks and pull it apart," she said. A big piece of this kind of cake is OK by her: "A slice of angel food cake is supposed to be generous."
Bundt cake: Cut the cake into quarters. Then halve the quarters, halve them again, and so on until you have fairly even slices.
Degree of difficulty: Easy to medium: "The skill level is low, it's the confidence level that gets in the way," says food writer and teacher Nancie McDermott. "Cut with confidence. Just get yourself past the thought of doing it wrong."
Tip: To make slicing even easier, Nancie McDermott recommends cutting a cake with a long serrated knife, the kind used for slicing bread or ham, or a "big, long butcher" knife. Dip the blade in a tall glass filled with warm water to clean it between slices, she said.