A former secretary whose TikTok videos of her incredible illusion cakes have gained more than 8 million likes is so sure her edible treats look authentic that she challenges fans to pick which items are real and which are baked.
Quitting her insurance office job to launch a baking business in 2016 after a birthday cake made for her sister was hailed a triumph, Marian Sarkisian, 29, changed tack after being inspired by a video featuring a banana illusion cake during a Covid lockdown.
The internet sensation, who honed her cake making skills on a week-long “basics” course in Britain, where she believes the best bakers originate, soon found her flair for creating hyper-real sweet treats that now sees her fooling audiences with edible versions of everything from candles to sauce bottles.
Marian, who lives with her two sisters in Los Angeles, USA, said: “In lockdown, I had a lot more time on my hands and saw a TikTok video with a banana illusion cake.
“I love a challenge and thought, ‘I can do that.’ Now I spend most of my time making cakes for videos.”
Marian’s cakes are so realistic that she often posts them alongside the original item or in amongst other genuine things, asking her followers to guess which item is the cake.
She laughed: “A lot of my messages from followers say the same thing – ‘You got me!’”
Before starting her cake making business Marian, who studied nutrition at college, had become unhappy working in insurance.
She said: “I was working in a job that definitely wasn’t me. I was just there to make money.
“I always watched my mum bake as a child, but the first time I really did it myself was when I offered to make a birthday cake for my sister in 2016.”
She added: “It was a basic, round, naked cake with flowers on. When I look back, I actually don’t like it much, but after that people kept asking me to make them cakes.
“So, I decided to quit my job and see where baking could take me.”
Marian’s first step was travelling to the UK for her week long basics of baking course, as “the British are best at those things.”
Always passionate about drawing and graphic design, Marian’s cakes became increasingly elaborate, as she received orders for birthdays, christenings and weddings.
Then, just as her business started to boom, Covid and the lockdowns hit.
She said: “Orders stopped coming in as large gatherings stopped.”
She continued: “I had a lot of time on my hands and saw the video of a banana that was actually a cake online.
“I love a challenge and it looked really difficult, so I thought, ‘Why not try it?’”
From there, Marian began making her own illusion cakes and posting her own videos, honing her technique with trial and error and watching YouTube videos to get tips on colour icing and shaping.
Finding she had an incredible talent for cake art, she said: “I had a few videos go viral and realised this was my niche!”
Marian, who goes under the TikTok handle @cakesbymarian, has now created dozens of stunning illusion bakes that are so convincing her followers are unable to tell them from the real thing – including a taco, a lit candle, a can of tuna and even a baby’s hat.
Explaining her creative process, she said: “I usually go the supermarket and browse until I find something that inspires me.”
She added: “I look around, see, hold and touch things and think about what I want to recreate.
“Something will catch my eye and I’ll think, ‘That looks a little funky,’ or that it’s a hard shape, or challenging and I just go from there.”
The specifics of the bake depend on what Marian is attempting to recreate.
But all her creations start with baking standard round cakes, which are then stacked on top of each other.
Marian then starts the slow and careful process of carving the shape by hand.
Next she colours her sponge, dyes fondant icing or models chocolate with edible colour and begins recreating the look of the original item.
Although some creations take just two hours, others take Marian up to 10 hours to perfect, a process she loves.
She said: “I love finding new ways to make up colours. My recent bottle of ranch dressing had flecks of black on the white bottle.”
She added: “I had to crush up Oreos into the fondant and use colour as well. I then used an edible printed label to recreate it.”
While she is fond of many of her creations, Marian says one of her favourite cakes is her replica onion. It is covered with edible paper to look like onion skin, which even sounds “crunchy” like an onion when cut.
Another big hit online was Marian’s candle cake, which she lit by inserting a small birthday candle into the middle.
While her own favourite flavour of cake is a “boring vanilla,” she endeavours to make sure all her cakes taste as good as they look.
But, after her deceptive creations are revealed to be cakes when sliced on her social media videos, Marian often finds herself not knowing what to do with them.
She said: “At first, when I started posting videos, my family would eat them. Now they’re so used to being surrounded by cake that they are sick of it.”
“I try to give them out to friends and cousins. Otherwise, I just have to toss them.
“That’s the hard part, as I may have spent 10 hours on something just for it to end up in the trash.”
With 420k followers, Marian’s videos have a huge fan base and she is always looking for new, exciting things to recreate.
While her work baking cakes for private events has reduced now she focuses on her social media content and working with brands, she still loves to challenge herself by making things for pleasure – with her next creation intended to be a bottle of milk.
And for Marian, her cake making success is a dream come true.
She said: “I recently found an old diary I wrote in high school. In it I’d written that I was going to be a famous baker one day.
“It’s funny as I wasn’t even really into baking at the time.”
Grateful for the opportunities her huge following has given her, she is also keen to inspire others to follow their dreams.
She said: “I just want to encourage people to follow what they enjoy.
“I have been in miserable jobs before. Things that didn’t make me happy or challenge me.”
“I am so much happier and healthier now I am doing something I really love.
“My biggest take away form all this is that you can actually do something you love, make money, go places and not have to settle for less.”