More than meets the eye: inside the trend of hyper-realistic cake design and decoration

A cake that look like a real apple being cut into

Nicola Dowse

Posted August 25, 2022

The growing trend of creating hyper realistic-looking cakes and desserts has diners questioning their eyes, and the sanity of the chefs. That’s until they take a bite. 

When you order the Apple Pie Moonshine dessert at Melbourne laneway restaurant, Sojourn, get ready for a sensory surprise. Being served an apple on a plate might seems like a satisfactory desert for kindergarteners, but it’s probably not what you hoped for on a night out.

But there is more than meets the eye. Cut this dish in half and you’ll discover it’s not fruit, but cake.

Amit Sinha, RACV Club Executive Pastry Chef, says the dessert was created in line with Sojourn’s passion for creating dishes that showcase local produce, while also oozing “wow factor”.  

That wow factor has no doubt contributed to its popularity at Sojourn, where it’s in “so much high demand” that chefs have kept it on the seasonal menu even as they’ve changed other dishes.

It might look like an apple from the outside, but the dessert hides a complex jelly-filled centre, flavoured with Melbourne Moonshine’s ‘Apple Pie Shine’ (an apple and spice-infused moonshine) and a local apple compote, all encased in a vanilla mousse. 

“And of course, we spray and we glaze it to make sure it looks like an apple,” Sinha says. 

Sojourn's famed creation demonstrates how the demand for realistic-looking desserts has jumped off the internet and into mainstream dining.  

A dessert that looks like a real apple, sitting a top a nest of streusel and meringues

The Aple Pie Moonshine dessert is a crowd favourite at Sojourn and is made with Victorian apples . Photo: Supplied.

Realistic cakes on the rise

Sarah Theaker has been running her Melbourne cake business, Creative Cake Art, since 2007.  

The largely self-taught cake decorator specialised in realistic cakes, also known as ‘illusion cakes’ due to their painstakingly accurate designs.

She says that there’s been a definite increase in the popularity of realistic cakes, fuelled in part by the internet.  

In July 2020, hyper-realism in cake decorating went viral online when a compilation of ‘impossibly realistic’ cakes by Turkish cake artist Tuba Geçkil of Red Rose Cake came to light. 

Modelled after everyday objects such as a pot plant, roll of toilet paper, bottle of moisturiser, a bunch of bananas and a bar of soap (complete with edible suds), Geçkil’s cakes surprised and delighted audiences when what they thought was a normal object, was cut into and revealed to be cake. 

The trend soon spread across social media platforms, spawning memes, videos, and even helping to inspire a baking series on streaming platform, Netflix. 

“Hyper-realistic cakes have always been there, but I think there’s lots of people doing miniature hyper-realistic cakes, more as a thing to show on social media,” says Theaker.


A huge cake that has been made to accurately resemble a bulb of garlic

Working from a real-life reference is one way that cake decorators can imbue their sweet creations with realism, like with this garlic cake from Creative Cake Art. Photo: Supplied.

The gift of cake

The playfulness of realistic cakes doesn’t just amuse audiences online. It’s also one of the main reason’s people seek them out in person.

“Surprising people with illusion cakes is always fun,” Theaker says. “They’re all very humorous.”

Whether it be a giant garlic cake for someone who hates garlic, a shoe cake for a die-hard sneakerhead, or an ironically vegan, gluten-free cake of a steak and beer, people often come to Theaker wanting to have a cake created for a specific person or event, working with the customer to realise their vision in cake, buttercream, and fondant. 

That includes everything from baking a miniature, edible model of Melbourne’s Princess Theatre for the launch of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, to recreating someone’s great aunt as one of their favourite sayings. 

“There was a man once who had his great aunt coming to his wedding and it was her 90th birthday at the time and he had no idea what to make for her,” Theaker says. “She had this phrase ‘I’m not made of butter!’.”

“We decided to make a cake looking like a big piece of butter with a little 90-year-old lady sliding down the cake having a lot of fun.”


A cake that looks like a Nike runner

It's not unusual for people to request cakes that are humorous or hold a special meaning for a loved one - this Creative Cake Art sneaker cake was made for a running fan. Photo: Supplied.

Recreating life through cake 

Even the simplest of illusion cakes has more to it than meets the eye. These are Theaker and Sinha’s tips if you’re looking to try baking your own realistic cake or dessert at home 

Start strong 

Like any masterpiece, when creating a realistic-looking dessert, it’s important to start with a strong foundation.  

“I think it's very important to use a dense cake,” Theaker says. Using a dense cake will make it easier to carve and is less likely to collapse if stacking elements on top.   

Be patient  

Though Sojourn’s Apple Pie Moonshine dessert take a little while longer than a regular apple before it’s ready to eat, it’s still a laborious process.  

“From the start to the end, with having a blast freezer handy to us, we can get it done in say four to five hours,” Sinha says, noting that a significant amount of that time is to allow different parts of the dessert to set.   

It’s important to give each element of your cake appropriate time to cool and set – don’t try to apply buttercream to a cake straight out of the oven! 

Work from reference 

It’s common to see artists working from a reference, be that a photograph, model or still life. The same principal applies to realistic cake decorating. 

“Working from quite a few images as always quite helpful,” Theaker says. “Especially a 3D object, if you have it to work with… is incredibly helpful because obviously the colours in a photo might not be true to life.” 

Tools of the trade 

It’s not enough to rely on a spatula and a spoon if you want to create hyper-realism.  

Both Sinha and Theaker use cake decorating airbrushes to apply colour to their creations, with Sinha also using a mould to get the correct shape for the apple pie dessert. 

Theaker also recommends getting a Dresden sculpting tool, but says even (clean) household objects can help create realism.  

“Even going to the shop and getting a brand-new scourer is a good way of getting some texture.” 

Go organic 

Opting for organic is about how your ingredients were grown, but rather the object you choose to model your cake after.  

“If you’re doing something that’s organic, you don’t need to worry so much about the perfection of it,” says Theaker. “Because so many organic things have imperfections.” 

That means for beginner cake decorators, recreating an object like a fruit or vegetable is likely going to be easier to achieve realism, than something man-made like a television.

There's always a reason for cake
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