FARGO — I’ve watched in delight these last couple of weeks as the world seems to have picked up on the fabulousness of cakes that look like one thing but are actually something completely different.
"Realistic cakes", "Hyper Realistic cakes" , "Imposter cakes" or “Illusion cakes" started trending after a video on Tasty.com went viral.
Similar videos followed.
The verdict was in — people get a huge kick out of watching a knife slice through something it shouldn’t easily slice through to reveal an inside that shouldn’t be there.
Maybe with COVID-19 turning our world upside down, watching someone cut into a roll of toilet paper to reveal cake is strangely satisfying. Everything has become cake, from Crocs to cups of cappuccino, teapots to t-bone steaks. Some people, tongue in cheek, are crying foul — fearing the realistic cakes have created lifelong trust issues. How can you really know your beloved golden retriever is really a dog and not an elaborate devil’s food cake?
I’ve loved this trend for the last few years, so with a nod to Barbara Mandrell, I was realistic cake before realistic cake was cool.
Before you look the photos of my work and get all nasty and up in my business on social media, remember that I am a professional journalist, not a professional baker. Baking is only my hobby, and it shows. Still, I want to encourage others of you who’ve seen these crazy cakes to give it a try. It’s actually really fun, but there are things I wish I had known before I tried these cakes.
First, here are some of my attempts at realistic cakes with links to the videos to show you how I did it. After the recipes, see the tips and tricks I wish I had known ahead of time.
Click here for the The Pop Bottle Cake
Click here for the Pancake Stack Cake
Click here for the Lumberjack Log Cake
Tips and tricks you need to know before making a realistic, illusion cake
Fondant is your friend
Most of these realistic cakes will use fondant instead an ordinary frosting you’re used to using. Fondant is a moldable, almost clay-like, icing made of sugar, gelatin and shortening. You can make your own, but I would definitely recommend just purchasing it. You can find it in specialty baking stores and bigger stores like Michaels or Walmart. Be warned though — fondant is fussy and not always easy to work with. It dries out quickly and tears. When in doubt, buy more than you need to make up for any mistakes. In some cases, the cakes will require modeling chocolate, which I think is slightly easier to work with.
Get the right tools
You won’t be able to make most of these illusion cakes with ordinary kitchen tools. The most elaborate of these cakes might require advanced airbrushing or special brushes and tools. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you really want to invest in some of these items if you’re only going to do this once. I’ve purchased the bare minimum beginner tools for less than ten dollars, and then I just improvise where I can.
A word on food coloring
I learned this one the hard way. I was making a cake using modeling chocolate. The recipe called for gel food coloring. Being lazy and cheap, I decided to just use the liquid food coloring I already had in my cabinet. You know the kind — the tiny, little bottles with the pointy, wizard-like caps. I squeezed a couple of drops into the modeling chocolate, and the chocolate immediately seized up. I learned, the hard way, that the high water content in liquid food coloring doesn’t mix well with chocolate. A final word about food coloring — while most food coloring doesn’t taste like anything, red is the exception. For some reason, the red food coloring holds onto a bitter flavor. I once made an Elmo cake and had to throw it away because the red icing was inedible.
Mise en place
A French term, meaning “setting up,” mise en place, is the practice chefs and bakers have of getting all of their necessary ingredients put out and measured ahead of time. This is important. I once started to make a cake and was moving right along when I realized I didn’t have vanilla extract (I always have vanilla extract). I had to stop what I was doing and go to the store. Don’t do that.
Allow plenty of time
This is a given. If the recipe says it takes two hours, figure it will take three. There’s a learning curve with some of these techniques. Be patient. That includes being patient enough to thoroughly let cakes cool, sometimes even chilling them in the refrigerator for an hour or two. Cold cake is much easier to work with.
No doubt, some of these cakes you’re seeing on social media are beyond cool. Did you see the one that looked like a bottle of lotion or hand soap or the one that looked like a can of White Claw? Wow! Leave those to the professionals. One of the easiest ones, of this latest viral batch, is the toilet paper cake. It’s pretty basic. So basic, that I decided to tackle it.
Tomorrow, I’ll show you how to do it on InForum.com.