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Cake Strips

Published January 2011

How we tested

Perfectly level, evenly baked cakes can elude even the most practiced bakers. Cake strips, also known as magic strips, are engineered to correct uneven baking by applying an insulating layer around the outside of a cake pan. Without insulation from the oven’s heat, the edges bake more quickly while the center tends to dome, crack, or rise quickly before collapsing. And while cake knives and other tools can level off cakes meant for layering, there’s no remedy for an underdone, gummy interior if the edges have already dried out.

We wrapped four brands of cake strips, made from silicone or aluminized fabric that’s been soaked in water, around 8-inch square, 9-inch round, and 13 by 9-inch pans filled with cake batter, and compared them with cakes wrapped with homemade cake strips: damp cheesecloth or newspaper folded into 2-inch strips of aluminum foil and tied with twine. We looked for cracked, dark centers on our Classic Gingerbread Cake (Jan./Feb. 2011) and high, domed centers on Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake (March/April 2008). And just to see if they could accomplish even baking from the edges all the way to the middle of a large sheet cake, we baked yellow cakes in 13 by 9-inch metal pans fitted with each of the strips. Then we baked cakes without strips and compared them all (a grand total of 26) side by side to see which ones passed our test.

Even Strip, Even Baking

One of the biggest factors determining the success or failure of a cake strip: how evenly it wrapped around a pan. A strip too short to reach around the pan’s perimeter had to be doubled up with a second band, and anywhere the pieces overlapped led to uneven baking. For example, one product encircles a 9-inch cake round without overlapping, and the cakes from that vessel emerged evenly baked and level. But when we overlapped a pair of these strips to fit around an 8-inch square pan, the gingerbread it contained rose almost ¼ inch higher on the side with strips overlapping. And it wasn’t just that brand; strips from other manufacturers that had to double up and overlap led to the same results, despite reassurance two of the packages that overlapping wouldn’t interfere with effectiveness. We had much better results with a silicone band and our homemade strips. The former snaps onto a round or square pan like a rubber band, while the latter can be fashioned to any length, meaning that overlapping is never an issue. In both cases, the insulated rings ensured evenly baked yellow cakes; Our winning cake strip produced almost-perfect gingerbread, save for a slightly domed center.

No Fuss, No Muss

Cake strips that were easy to affix without slipping or falling off in the transfer to the oven had a clear advantage. We had no patience when it came to fiddling with the tight cross-turning clips on the one product, which resembled tricky paper clips and took nimble fingers to open. Worse, the thin, sharp pins that fastened other strips had to be pushed through the strips’ thick fabric with some force, making it easy to stick testers’ fingers. Velcro tabs on the one product were handy for belting around 13 by 9-inch pans; anything smaller and the tabs were too short for the strips to meet and overlap. In fact, this was the one instance when our winner's silicone band disappointed; though it requires no wriggling or pinning, and soaking it for a minute or two under hot water makes it pliable enough to stretch around a 9-inch square pan (it shrinks back to original size after cooling), it won’t fit anything larger.

A Little Goes a Long Way

But properly dressing the pans was only half the battle. When it came to actually baking with these bands, some of them insulated too well, turning gingerbread into steamed pudding and yellow cakes soft and spongy, even on the sides. The key here: water retention. Three of the four strips were made from aluminized fabric and came with instructions for presoaking followed by gentle squeezing to remove excess water. But depending on the thickness of the strip, that still left a lot of moisture.

To see how much water we were adding, we weighed each set dry and then soaked, gently squeezing them (as instructed) before weighing them again. Two brand's strips were still swelled with water after baking, as evidenced by the steam they gave off after the pans came out of the oven and by the spongy, pale edges on our cakes. But our homemade cake strips, which weighed just half an ounce more when dampened, yielded perfectly risen cakes with no cracks or shadows and with interiors that were consistently moist from edges to centers.

Given that homemade strips can be made for pennies on the dollar and custom-cut for any size pan, it’s our go-to choice. But for serious bakers who want to keep a durable, reusable strip at the ready, our winner makes the baking process a piece of cake.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*