Now THAT is the icing on the cake! The stunning sponges that look too good to eat
By Anna Edwards
With their elaborate sugar-spun details, these sweet treats are certainly not a piece of cake to make.
And clay-sculptor Karen Portaleo's stunning cakes are guaranteed to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Despite Karen having no formal culinary training, the lead decorator and her team from the Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia, always rise to the occasion.
Good enough to eat! This intricately designed and coloured cake of a lady shows off Karen's talent
They whisk up jaw-dropping creations including life-like cakes shaped like animals, people and handbags for her guests - although they all come at a considerable price-tag.
But when your clients include Sir Elton John, Demi Moore and rapper L'il Wayne, they can afford to have their cake and eat it.
Karen has been asked to create many intricate designs.
She has turned her hand to octopuses, complete with their eight tentacles twisting around its body, to a poodle with 'fluffy hair' icing, to under the sea themed gingerbread houses, to a sumo wrestler.
Now that's a bird feeder: The Highland Bakery team can make anything possible with their sponge skills
Slice of the action: This octopus cake needed copper tubing to support the intricate tentacles
Sweet stuff: This dog cake had to be carefully shaded by Karen and her team of decorators. The designer says pet cakes are always popular
But the proof is in the pudding, and talented Karen's team prides themselves on making sure the tasty treats are not only a feast for the eyes, but also one for the lips.
The former sculptor carved out her baking career when she offered to help out her friend Stacey Eames, who opened the Highland Bakery in Atlanta in 2005.
'Upon my first visit I noticed she had no decorative items in her bakery cases, so I asked if maybe I could make a few cookies.
'That's how my career in cake decorating began,' Karen says on her website.
Really wild! Karen's creations include the tiniest of detail, from the teeth to the 'hair' in the lion's ears
Don't eat me! Karen says requests for animals are popular, and she's a dab hand at making them looking too cute to eat. And, right, there's no simple Victoria sponges in Karen's kitchen
Scrumptious: Guests have been wowed at the realistic creations
A tall order: Nothing is too difficult for Karen and her cake-makers, as this baseball cake proves
Piece of cake: Karen and her team's designs wow their celebrity guests, including Sir Elton John. Shown here are an amazing Alice In Wonderland creation (left) and an aquatic scene
How does she do it? The designer reveals how she creates such elaborate designs as this food fight on her blog
Labour of love: The team spend hours coming up with a concept of the cake, baking the sponges, designing and carving the designs, like this oriental dragon
Truly talented: Karen Portaleo has carved out a career in stunning sponges
'I have no culinary training and work only as a decorator.
'I did spend a good part of my childhood in bakeries, as my grandfather was a pastry chef before he retired.'
On her blog, the lead cake decorator reveals secrets of how she creates the designs, always starting with visualizing the cake.
On one poodle cake she wrote that she had to resort to a special technique for the design: 'Fluffy fur is not easy to recreate in sugar.
'That is unless you use a cotton candy machine like I did.'
For her intricate octopus cake, she used copper tubing to support tentacles, piled on cakes and then carved out of the cake layers the shape, before using fondant to cover any seams.
But the designer's career path initially focused no art, before she wanted a slice of the action from the cake business.
She initially studying art at Ringling School of Art, Design and Jewellery in Georgia State University.
Then she studied jewellery, coppersmithing, enameling glass and porcelain at Penland School and received a BA in Fine Art from the Atlanta College of Art.
In 1995 she started own business as a prop and set designer for the advertising industry, working for companies including Maybelline.
Sugar-spun delight: The designer used a cotton candy machine to get the 'fluffy' appearance of this perfectly-designed poodle - and even the humble Coca-Cola bottle gets the Karen treatment
Hundreds of thousands of portions here: This huge sumo wrestler needed layers of sponge to carve its impressive form
Tuck in: It might be made of sugar and spice, but it doesn't look very nice
Not your average wedding gift: This cake was made for a groom who loved charcuterie
Attention to detail: Karen used a meringue to create the mushroom effect here