From succulent chocolate slugs to fancy severed feet and brains brimming with sugary delight, a sculptor with a taste for the absurd is adding her macabre touch to cake making.
Food artist Sarah Hardy's gourmet gore has earned her a place in the rock 'n' roll hall of baking, after Rolling Stone Sir Mick Jagger commissioned a half woman-half zombie cake, made of white chocolate and forest fruit coulis blood, for his model daughter, Georgia.
Since setting up her online confectionery shop, The Edible Museum, in 2017, mom-of-two Sarah, 49, of Colchester, Essex, England, has been tickling tastebuds with everything from sweet stag beetle treats to replica T-Rex teeth, with her creations costing from £10 (~$12.60).
Speaking as Twitter has going wild over images of hyper-realistic cakes, she said:
“My personal favorites are the chocolate slugs."
“I think it's the prankster in me, as I can see myself putting one in a lunchbox. They are great for freaking people out!"
“I used to love the joke shop when I was younger, where I could get rubber biscuits. I think that's probably a big influence on what I do now."
Chocolate human brains (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
A single parent with two children, aged 12 and 14, who she does not want to name, growing up, Sarah played for hours in her mother's antique shop, filled with steel syringes, false teeth and wigs, as well as searching for fossils, insects and toads along a nearby riverbank – fueling her artistic curiosity and inspiring her to train as a sculptor at Norwich Art School in Norfolk.
Going on to forge a career as a freelance food artist for PR companies and big brands, it was when she was pregnant and unable to go to her studio or use potentially toxic materials needed for her sculptures that she started working with chocolate instead.
“I stumbled into making sculptures out of cake and then chocolate while pregnant for the first time and then for my children's birthdays."
Chocolate fossil collectors box (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
“I'm definitely someone who learned everything I know from eating rather than through training. I'm not from a culinary background and there was not a lot of cooking in my family."
“Mostly, I've taught myself. There was a lot of trial and error at first. The internet is great, but you won't learn properly until you start doing and making mistakes."
“I learned that, when it comes to chocolate, tempering is a science and art – it's alchemy."
“I started making cakes for the kids' birthdays. I'd make a castle you could knock down with a cannon and more people began to want them, so I'd take commissions."
As well as creating bespoke cakes for celebrities, Sarah has worked for Tate & Lyle, Fortnum & Mason, and made a severed head cake for the launch of the horror movie Helpers and a naked torso for London Fashion Week.
Moving out of London following her divorce made it harder to work on installation pieces for big brands, prompting her to start The Edible Museum – funded with savings, crowdfunding and a business grant, which enabled her to build a home studio.
Torso cake (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
“I'd always worked for rich people or PR companies, but you don't get the same thrill as you do from seeing an individual person buying something like a vagina cake or a maggot cake."
“The thrill is in seeing them really get and understand it."
“Also, the cake installations take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, so I'm starting to give YouTube tutorials, to try and teach people to do these themselves. "
Chocolate slugs (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
One of Sarah's recent high spots came when a woman commissioned a severed feet cake for her 15-year-old son.
“He was too old for cakes, and his mum thought it would work for him, so she delivered it to him and his friends," she said.
“I spent a lot of time working out how to make it and looking at pictures on the internet that really made me heave! You don't want to see my Google search history!"
Severed feet cake (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
“With the feet, I realized that the color comes from beneath. It's a carved sponge cake, then I put sausage marzipan for the tendons and veins, then another thin sheet of marzipan on the top, so you can see the structure of the foot underneath."
“The ankles became severed and the toe nails are made of rice paper that flake off."
“There's a lot of attention to detail. I am a perfectionist, but I do realize that holds me back."
“I used to spend an hour painting a chocolate heart, but now I do it in five minutes. My kids tell me when it looks good, so I don't need to do any more."
Another of Sarah's prize recipes is for realistic-looking brains made of chocolate.
“Usually you would dye the chocolate, but I paint on top with colored cocoa butters, so it's more like an oil painting. I love fooling the eye, so that people don't get what it is they are looking at for the first second or so," she mused.
“I made a turkey cake once as a gift for my family at Christmas, which was another favorite. I designed it for them and their sense of humor."
“I left it on the table in the dining room, so people shrieked, asking what the raw turkey was doing there."
“Everyone had a photo taken with us pulling it in and out of the oven."
Chocolate apples (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
Inspired by the amazing displays in London's Natural History Museum, Sarah's collections have also included chocolate snails, stag beetles, a megalodon tooth (an instinct breed of shark) and a chocolate T-Rex tooth.
To ensure her creations look as realistic as possible, she will often consult an expert in the field.
“At the Natural History Museum, you can walk into a room and find something you never knew would be there and it will be really exciting. That's a total inspiration for me," said Sarah.
Pheasant cake (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
“I'm interested in entomology – the study of insects – and paleontology, the study of fossils. I have an enthusiastic idiot's knowledge, but I link with people who are experts in their field, so I always get someone to look over the chocolates."
“The slugs, for example, were seen by an expert from the Royal Horticultural Society, who gave her approval."
Taste is just as important as appearance to Sarah, who says the hardest part of the job is resisting the urge to gobble up all the leftover chocolate.
Sarah in her studio (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
“I work with white, milk and dark chocolate in repetition. I try to be aware of what countries they come from and what the manufacturing process is, so at the moment I'm working with a Belgian supplier who have a good sustainability program."
“The milk chocolate has a caramel aftertaste and the white chocolate has vanilla in it. It tastes so good, it's really hard to not eat it, but I try not to get high on my own supply!"
“I put a piece of 100 percent cocoa chocolate in front of me and I have that if I can't resist. It's great as a special treat, but you can't eat every off-cut."
Chocolate fingers (PA Real Life/Sarah Hardy)
Some of her oddest requests have involved body parts, with Sarah admitting to turning down repeat requests to make a chocolate penis.
“I've made vagina cupcakes before," she said. “Someone said, 'I like your vagina cupcakes, but can you do me a really big vagina? I want it to measure eight inches.' But I can't stop wondering why. What are they doing with it?"
“I think the feet were also a pretty weird request. Usually, people will just want a PlayStation cake or something like that!"
With the pandemic impacting business, Sarah is also putting more tutorials online in the hope she can build up a following and make an income from them.
“My tactic at the moment is survival rather than growth. I just want to keep people happy and send them things that make them smile."