Cake or fake: cutting into the trend of hyper-realistic cake art

18 Dec 2022

Taste Tomorrow

Hyper-realistic cake art dominated the internet over the past months. Videos of cakes that can’t be distinguished from real objects attracted millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok. All those people are watching in awe how cakes in the form of handbags, cars, hamburgers, shoes, animals and complete persons are crafted to perfection and then destroyed in front of the camera. Why are these hyper-realistic cakes so popular, how will this trend evolve and how can professional patissiers benefit from it? 

The remarkable rise of hyper-realistic cakes

2022 was the year that hyper-realistic cakes became extremely popular. Strictly speaking, these cakes aren’t an entirely new concept, as people have long been obsessed with food disguised masquerading as all sorts of objects. Already in 2019, a video of Zach King on TikTok went completely viral, followed by a ‘These are all cakes’- video on Twitter in 2020. 

In March 2022, the trend was reignited by the Netflix show Is it Cake? In this show, contestants try to trick the judges and the audience at home into thinking that their cake is actually a real object, like a burger, designer bag, shoe or a cocktail.  

The Netflix show brought the hyper-realistic cake trend to a whole new level; especially the efforts that bakers and patissiers put in making their bizarrely realistic cakes and cutting it in half on social media. The success of Is it cake? has translated into a TikTok trend, which attracts lots of fans. Cake artists such as Tuba Geçkil, Luke Vincenti and Natalie Sideserf, alongside many patissiers have gathered a huge fan base and steal the show with their meticulously made cakes.

Why are hyper-realistic cakes so popular?

Why do so many people across the world find these videos so satisfying? There are several explanations for that:

  1. The surprise effect; the big contrast between the deliciously indulgent cake and its sudden destruction. 

  2. These beautiful, handmade creations are extra attractive in a world that’s so full of technology and filters.

  3. The slow-motion shots, the sharp stainless steel of the knife melting into the perfect fondant icing, the immaculate veneers crumbling and revealing layers of sponge and ganache… it all adds to the satisfying experience

  4. The destruction of the cake is both uncomfortable (especially when the cake resembles an animal, a hand or a face) and gratifying at the same time. It creates an illusion; an ambiguous image in which you can see two different things. Comparable with the famous rabbit-duck illusion, it creates a dissonance in people’s perception. 

Hyper-realistic cakes are an art form. And one of the reasons our brain loves art, according to Sander Van der Cruys, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leuven's Laboratory of Experiment Psychology, is that art sets up an expectation, and then violates that expectation. To make sense of that new reality, our minds must perform complex mental gymnastics. The more realistic the cake or art gets, the more our brains get to constantly adjust our expectations. That process of adjustment can actually be fun for the brain.

How will this trend evolve?

It’s interesting to consider the evolution of this trend. Will these hyper-realistic types of cake become more mainstream and found on supermarket shelves? Will people opt for these types of birthday cakes to surprise (or shock) their guests? Will traditional wedding cakes be replaced by cake portraits of the newly wed couple themselves? Or is it more likely that these cakes will mostly remain relevant on baking shows, where bakers’ talents are tested and the focus is on the looks of the cake?

While consumers across the world fell in love with these hyper-realistic cakes, actual bakers and patissiers are skeptical. The looks are impressive and very instagrammable, but to most baker’s opinions, the abundant use of fondant icing on the cake doesn’t do anything good for the taste. Made of sugar, hydrogenated oils, glycerol and gelatin, fondant is malleable, stable and has long shelf-life, making it the most popular option for realistic three-dimensional cakes. But it doesn't have much flavor, and many people prefer to peel it off before eating the cake. 

This is only one side of the story. Other baker’s do like working with fondant. Like Joonie Tan, a pastry artist in Bangalore. In her opinion, a skillful baker knows how to make it work. When demand is high, Tan sometimes uses up to 200 kg of fondant a month. On the consumer end there is also less concern over heavily decorated cakes: 3 out of 5 people worldwide agree that food that looks good to the eye is tasty too, our Taste Tomorrow survey among thousands of consumers worldwide showed.

Cheesecake brand Philadelphia is the first industrial food producer that quickly jumped on the trend. They’ve created home baking kits that help consumers to create their own hyper realistic bake: the Philly handbag. They made clever use of the home-baking hype that started in 2020. Of those home-bakers, 47% are interested in convenient solutions for home baking such as the cake kits, our consumer survey showed.  The marketing stunt was incredibly successful, so now Philadelphia offers recipes for cakes shaped like a record player, cowboy boots and perfume as well. This might prove there is some commercial potential in the trend. 

In whatever direction the trend will evolve, one thing is for sure: with the extreme popularity of the hyper-realistic baking trend, it gives bakeries an opportunity to showcase their creative talents and leverage this hot trend. And it is the perfect way to surprise the 60% of consumers who are keen to try new surprising products and new tastes.

Get inspired by these popular cake artists:

More weird cakes?

Hyper-realistic cakes are not the only type of cake that attract millions of followers on social media. See how weird and artsy cakes are taking over Instagram

Taste Tomorrow

Taste Tomorrow is the world’s largest ecosystem for consumer understanding in bakery, patisserie and chocolate. By tracking local and global consumer behaviors, attitudes and choices it provides us with valuable, in-depth insights. We are able to use these insights to track the evolution of trends and reveal new ones, helping your business to stay connected to your customers and discover new opportunities.

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