Thursday 31 March 2016

How not to cut cake

When my wife pointed out Francis Galton's method for cutting a cake to minimise the exposed surface and therefore improve its lifespan, I of course implemented it immediately. I hate stale cake. (I eat it anyway.)

Galton, Nature 75, pp. 173-173 (1906) doi:10.1038/075173c0

The basic principle is that you remove slices from across the middle of the cake, and then press the remaining pieces together so that there is no exposed surface to get stale.

There's an immediate drawback to this method: each progressive slice is taken from a smaller cake of a different shape, so it's hard to judge portions. It's also difficult to make even-sized pieces for multiple guests. (Galton's original publication was meant to maintain the lifespan of a cake that was only being eaten by two people.) The slices are at least neatly cuboid which solves the age-old problem of how to eat a wedge of something with a fork

The bigger problem is that this method is wholly counterproductive when applied to my wife's delicious coffee and walnut cake. It's simply not possible to produce sufficiently crisp parallel edges so that the different sides fit together and exclude the air. In fact, this method results in a greatly increased exposed surface area compared to just cutting out a wedge.

Galton's original method is applied to a Christmas cake, which has a firm texture that might be more conducive to clean edges, but I still think you're going to have difficulty getting a nice tight interface between the two exposed surfaces, even with his suggested rubber band.

Galton is known as the originator of eugenics, so perhaps it's unsurprising that this idea proves to be counterproductive. I'll stick to using the plastic cake cover.

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