Consumers don’t want to buy a birthday cake with excess crumbs and smeared icing or a piece of pie with its edges missing. Whether creating layered cakes, gooey brownies or compact cheesecakes, dessert producers all desire the same thing from their slicing equipment: a clean cut.
However, when asked which machines are best for that perfect slice, the initial response often is, “Well, it depends.” With so many variables, including cost, size of cut and the type of product, there’s no one way to slice desserts. But, the right machine for the job primarily depends on a product’s temperature and vice versa.
“There’s not an individual magic number that you need to be at for every type of dessert product,” said Justin Atkins, director of sales, Bettendorf Stanford. “But each one is going to come with its own specific temperature range that it runs best, which is based on the product and the type of equipment that you’re running it on.”
In some cases, a dessert producer — often a smaller one — might need to tweak its product’s formulations to adapt to a specific temperature for slicing.
“One of the things that we always say is, ‘If you can’t pick up the product without breaking it, it probably won’t cut properly,’” said Doug Petrovich, vice-president, sales and service, FoodTools Consolidated, Inc.
Slicing fresh desserts has the potential to save time but if not done carefully and with the proper equipment, it could result in a mushy mess. On the opposite end of the spectrum, freezing a product requires more time, but the blade has more force and creates less damage when slicing. Temperature — cooled, frozen or the degrees in between — should be at the forefront of every baker’s dessert slicing decision.
Read the thermometer
While guillotine-style slicers work well for frozen products, a host of options exist for portioning fresh or delicate sweet goods.
Erika Record Baking Equipment focuses on slicing fresh desserts using the reciprocating method, which is a double blade system with adjacent blades moving in opposite directions at high speeds. This system aims to reduce crumbing and tearing. To slab or create multi-layered fresh cakes, horizontal slicers gently apply pressure using an upper belt to keep products in place as they’re being cut, said Craig Kominiak, sales consultant, Erika Record.
Bakers of brownies, sheet cakes and similar desserts can use in-pan slicers, such as Erika Record’s KSSM, to reduce handling and speed up production.
“This enables bakers to gain efficiency by slicing directly in the sheet pan, while also achieving a consistently portioned product,” Mr. Kominiak said.
However, some fresh products can’t and shouldn’t be sliced. Mr. Kominiak said desserts with viscous fillings such as custard or buttercream must at least be chilled before portioning.
“If it’s room temperature, you run the risk — regardless of the slicer — of that filling dumping out,” he explained.
Most items are too soft and difficult to handle at 100 to 105°F, the temperature at which most loaf bread is sliced, said Mr. Atkins. By lowering the temperature to 50 to 70°F, a pound cake can easily run through a reciprocating slicer.
Some bakers will only slice plain sheet cakes, which are then shipped to stores where icing is added. In this case, Mr. Atkins said the sheet cake is better sliced frozen because it’s easier to handle and transfer between conveyors.
One benefit with frozen products is that most any machine can produce a clean cut; however, bakers worry about losing the fresh taste, so they often add more ingredients to maintain flavor in frozen desserts, Mr. Petrovich said.
Using wax paper dividers, typically for round cakes, cheesecakes and pies, simplifies serving desserts at restaurants and retail stores and helps seal the cut edges so the product will not dry out. FoodTools’ machines drop the inserts between slices during the cutting process, or they can be slipped into the dessert after portioning.
With solid frozen products, a clean blade is easily maintained, but Mr. Atkins emphasized the need for a clean blade when slicing fresh, particularly products with icing. Many fresh dessert mechanical slicers are programmed to send a cleaning mechanism across the blade during the process. Bakers looking for a clean cut at a warmer temperature also have the option of slicing ultrasonically.
Inaudible sound slicing
Ultrasonic technology takes a low frequency electrical current and transforms it into high frequency energy. The energy is then converted to high frequency mechanical energy, which causes the titanium cutting blade to move up and down at 20,000 cycles per minute, Mr. Petrovich said.
“The blade is moving so fast, nothing sticks to it,” he explained. “It also results in a very high-quality cut through all types of cakes with all types of inclusions.”
Because the blade cuts smoothly and quickly, ultrasonic technology is used for delicate desserts, such as cakes with stacked rows of sponge-like layers and sticky custard or cream fillings or smooth icing.
“At a high level, products with multiple layers and/or particulates on top of or in the product are best portioned with ultrasonic,” said Rick Hoskins, chief executive officer of Colborne Foodbotics. “You can portion these without damaging them or negatively affecting the aesthetic.”
Mr. Hoskins said ultrasonic equipment also allows bakers to cut products at a wider range of temperatures, while mechanical blades require a product to be tempered at a tighter range for a clean cut.
Mr. Atkins compared the two types of equipment using an iced pound cake as an example.
“When you’re running that through a reciprocating slicer, if that icing is not frozen, it’s going to be harder to slice, and it’s going to smear the icing, which will stick to your blades,” he said. “Running it through an ultrasonic slicer, it can be warmer.”
Because desserts such as layer cakes don’t have to freeze as long or can even be cut chilled using ultrasonic slicers, dessert producers can shorten their production process.
“With ultrasonic cutting, they’re saving a lot of time, and they’re able to make it, bake it, cut it and package it in a 24-hour period,” Mr. Petrovich said. “You might be able to save up to 50% of your refrigerator costs by ultrasonic slicing.”
Although ultrasonic slicing is a high investment due to the technical aspects and its titanium blade, Mr. Petrovich said there is also a fast R.O.I.
Bakers must understand that ultrasonic slicers don’t work for every dessert.
“Everybody’s product is a little bit different, and one of the things that we really try to do is make sure we spend some time with the customer trying to determine what their product is and what’s going to be the best solution for them,” Mr. Petrovich said.
Erika Record’s TKSM system adjusts to multiple types of desserts. Bakers can vertically slice a round or rectangular cake and modify the blade’s cut depth, speed and pressure, which is paramount with multi-textured desserts. Most manufacturers also offer customized equipment to address specific needs bakers might have when portioning desserts.
Bettendorf Stanford has a small test unit to help bakers decide what option is best, if customization is needed or to prove the equipment can slice the product.
“What your neighbor is doing may not be the best offer for you,” he said. “My advice would be to trust the slicer manufacturers. We may not bake cakes for a living, we may not make desserts for a living, but we do know slicing.”
With desserts, no two are the same, and the most crucial factor to slicing success is temperature. Bakeries spend a lot of time and money to get a product to the slicer where they expect a smooth process and even smoother cuts.