“Illusion cakes” save a Hong Kong bakery from closure

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A cake decorated to resemble a roll of toilet paper on a wooden lazy susan with chef's hand holding down the center
Pastry chef Gabriel Pang Yue Ken making a cake designed to resemble a roll of toilet paper at the Le Pont Boulangerie cafe in Kuala Lumpur, June 2020
Photo: MOHD RASFAN/AFP (Getty Images)

While the past few months have been pretty much a nonstop carnival of tension and unpleasant surprises, perhaps the most low-stakes, unpredictable food world shocker was when everything on Twitter seemed to be made of cake all of a sudden. Crocs were cake; pickles were cake; even this guy’s hand was cake. Now the Dear Harley Cake Studio in Hong Kong says that its business was saved from ruination by the popularity of this very type of sweet trickery.

According to Reuters (which erroneously seems to attribute the actual creation of the trend to Dear Harley), when owners Alison Chan and Cony Lam baked a cake mimicking a banana for Chan’s nephew, the resulting social media posts drew in a bevy of customers. The cakes provided to be so popular that the team decided to pivot its entire business toward custom cake-fakery, even offering workshops for people who want to be able to do the same.

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The cakes, as Reuters reports, aren’t cheap either:

“From a crisis level of three-to-four weekly orders during March and April, the studio is now receiving 15-20 orders a week. An illusion cake costs at least HK$1,500 ($194), with some going for HK$12,000-HK$13,000.”

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The fact that this trend saved a struggling business is good news. However, I can’t help but feel that if the “illusion cake” phenomenon is going to survive, it’s going to need to get progressively weirder and increasingly photorealistic. After all, baking a cake shaped like a non-cake object is hardly a new idea. The real draw is when an object is so removed from being cake that when it is ultimately revealed to, in fact, be cake, it causes psychological turmoil and physical revulsion. Body horror, by way of the bakery.

So, bring on the Brundle-cakes! And if you have your own example of an object that you think should be caked, let us know.