When I see professional pastry chefs at work, I’m always impressed by the fearlessness of their movements. A skilled baker knows how to roll dough so thin without tearing that it is nearly translucent. In a couple of swift muscle-memorized movements, a pro can dislodge cakes from their pans into their bare hands, flopping them onto what looks like a precariously high tower of frosting and cake without batting an eye. A seasoned baker knows that the kitchen is no place for timid hands, knows that mistakes come from uncertainty. So a skilled baker might find something like a cake lifter totally unnecessary.
But for those of us who merely dabble in pastry—and still want results that look like they came from a pair of those professional hands—a cake lifter is a game changer. And a safeguard for potential birthday disasters. What’s more? You might already have one in your kitchen.
When you see a cake lifter, you might find yourself thinking, Isn’t that basically just a pizza peel? And the answer is, yeah, pretty much. Like many metal pizza peels, the Nordic Ware cake lifter is shaped like giant offset spatula with a 10-inch diameter. The only difference between cake lifters and pizza peels is that pizza peels have longer handles for reaching into pizza ovens. In testing both lifters and peels, I found that the two can be used pretty much interchangeably. Which means more bang for your buck with this kitchen tool. Whether you use a pizza peel you already own, or go for Nordic Ware’s specific cake lifter, this tool is helpful for the amateur baker.
I bake pretty often, but I’ve had more than one family member’s birthday cake end up as a birthday trifle. I’ve split a layer in half while attempting to pick it up and place it on top of another. I have had a cake layer crumble in my hands or fall on the floor. Even now that I’ve learned a few key tips to cake moving (don’t move a cake until it’s cool, hold it from the bottom and not just from the sides, and don’t decorate it until it’s assembled on the cake stand), a cake lifter alleviates a lot of potential risks: Simply unmold your cake onto the peel, then use it to lift and place the cake on the cake stand, where you’ll decorate it. Unlike when you use your hands, your movements don’t have to be quick or swift or skilled. The cake lifter comes in handy particularly when you’re placing your second or third layer of cake onto an already-frosted pile. It allows for more leverage and therefore precision in your cake placement, meaning you’re less likely to have wobbly, uneven towers of cake. And, of course, it’s great for sliding flatbreads, boules, and pizzas in and out of a hot oven.
I know I’m not alone in my fear of cake moving. After all, birthday cake disasters are a bona fide pop culture trope. Netflix has made an entire show out of those disasters with Nailed It. But even on The Great British Baking Show, in which the most impressive amateur bakers come to show off their skills, you’ll see contestants drop and break cakes when moving in a hurry. There’s a reason you don’t see cake lifters on those shows: They do away with the dramatic failures that make good television. So, save the drama for TV baking and get a cake lifter.