Trying to cut soft bread with a knife without smashing it or ruining it can be difficult, but if it isn’t too soft, it isn’t impossible. This will show you how to easily cut the french bread (or any bread) without ruining it. These are the same techniques that restaurants use (particularly sub sandwich restaurants).
They use this technique to cut thick slices, medium cuts, bread slices, and even really thin and precise cuts. All of these cuts, whether they are vertical, horizontal, or slanted, are performed using the same technique. Even beginners that have no experience cutting bread can use this technique immediately to cut soft bread. All that is needed is a hand, a knife, and a half decent shoulder.
The first thing to note is that restaurants do not attempt to try and cut into really soft bread. They know that it is too soft, and will wait for the bread to cool first and harden before attempting to cut into it.
Next thing to note is that bad dough will make bad bread. If you are making your bread from scratch and the dough is too soft (not kneaded properly), then it will produce flimsy bread when it is baked. If bread is ever purchased from any source and this is the case after it has cooled, then this is probably what was done. The bread wasn’t kneaded properly (unless it was done on purpose).
In any case, the best way to cut soft french bread without ruining it by smashing it is to use a sharp serrated long knife. This is the technique that restaurants use to cut their bread. They never use a dull knife, or a sharp knife that has become dull over time to properly cut bread. A dull knife can make any bread, especially soft bread, extremely hard and frustrating to cut.
When restaurants cut the bread, they cut it on a cutting board with a cutting board mat under it to keep the board from sliding. They set the bread on the cutting board, gently hold it to keep it from moving, then they cut the bread using the sharp serrated long knife with a swinging back and forth motion. If the knife is sharp enough, it will cut through the soft bread, even creating a nice straight line in the loaf if the knife is angled right.
The hand holding the knife is doing all the work, not the hand holding the bread. The serrated knife is designed to cut bread loaves, since it specializes in cutting things with a firmer outer layer, but a softer inside.
The serrated knife has to cut the bread by moving back and forth the entire way through the cut. In other words, it is sawing the bread. If this sawing motion isn’t followed all the way through when cutting the loaf of bread, some portions of the slice will be torn. It will appear as if the bread was cut and then ripped at some parts of the cut.
This same technique is used by restaurants to cut bread both vertically, and horizontally. It is possible to get clean straight cuts this way, even through soft bread.
In order to cut clean cuts through to slice softer bread, the sawing motion of the serrated long knife has to start and continue at the first touch of the bread. The cut needs to follow through as if you intend and know that the knife can definitely cut the bread. This same thought process has to continue all the way through the cut, using this technique with the serrated knife.
When holding the bread, it is held gently, and sawed with the other hand holding the serrated knife. The bread is never “smashed” or pressed with the knife when cutting the bread loaf. Trying to cut the bread without using the sawing motion first, will result in smashed knife imprints in the loaf of bread that may make it harder to cut.
Anytime that the bread seems to be flimsy and not cutting, then more sawing motion from the serrated knife is needed to make the clean cut. Even if the knife is new and sharp, attempts shouldn’t be made to “press” the bread with the sharp knife to try and slice it through. The bread will resist any cuts done this way.
When there is resistance from the bread being cut by the knife, most of the time it is because the knife is being pressed into the bread in an attempt to slice it. The result will be soft bread getting pushed in until it is pressed into a firm surface where it has no choice but to be smashed in and eventually sliced. The soft bread will resist the cut, because the only thing securing the soft bread is the soft bread.
When cutting the bread, make sure that the proper knife is used first: a serrated long knife. Next, make sure the serrated knife is sharp enough. If you have had the same knife for years, then it may be time to get a new one, especially if you do a lot of bread slicing. Even though knives are made out of tough materials, they unfortunately do go dull after extensive use. Knives will go dull faster if they are used more often.
Using a sharp long serrated knife to cut the bread will make your job a lot easier, even though the sawing motion may appear to be more laborious. It actually is easier, and if done right, it will cut bread faster and easier.
This same technique is used by restaurants to cut long french bread loaves horizontally in half as if a machine had pre-cut the bread for the guest. It is also used to make very thin slices across these same long bread loaves horizontally to shave off bread pieces. If you get good at cutting like this, then the cuts will feel effortless as it goes through the bread. Just always start the sawing motion before actually trying the push through the bread to slice it.