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This probably looks very strange to you:
But hear me out! Though it seems counterintuitive (and, as my boyfriend said, "just plain wrong"), I believe that turning a loaf of bread on its side is, in many instances, the easiest way to get thin, even slices without squashing the pieces, struggling against an impenetrable crust, or tiring out your wrist if you're cutting for a party spread or a crowd's heap of grilled cheeses.
Yes, it takes a bit more coordination and care: Rather than resting the flat, stable side against the cutting board, you'll have to hold the bread in place with the hand that isn't knife-wielding. But it's not as scary as it looks, and I've seen the technique at bakeries, in the latest issue of King Arthur Flour's Sift Magazine, and on the cutting board of Kristen Miglore.
At the restaurant where I work a couple days of the week, I slice two-foot-long loaves of gluten-free bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices. The best way to get consistent slices and preserve the shape of the loaf, which has a tendency to crumble, is to turn the bread on its side, score it using a ruler, and then slice away—clean motions, just a few back-and-forth saws, and as little downward pressure as possible.
This unorthodox cutting technique is, in my mind, most important for two major types of bread:
- Airy, delicate, and/or filled loaves (like a chocolate swirl brioche or rhubarb swirl bread)—these are susceptible to squashing
- Tough, crusty bread, where it would take a lot of pressure to penetrate the top layer (again, a risk of smashing!), and you might have difficulty detaching the bottom crust without sawing through your cutting board
For the delicate loaves, you'll get less wear and tear. Since loaves of bread are typically shorter than they are wide, by turning the loaf on its side, you'll have less distance to cover with the sawing motion. That means you'll preserve the integrity of your bread's crumb structure. (Too much sawing can mar your slices.)
For the crustier loaves, you'll be able to penetrate both of the toughest parts of the bread—the upper and bottom crusts—right from the start. That makes it easier to get thin slices, and it means you won't struggle with detaching the sometimes-tough bottom.
But first, give turning your loaf a try—then report back!
Are we crazy? Be gentle in the comments below.