Emily Zauzmer combines her love of art history with a knack for baking to design incredible "cake-paintings"

By Rose Minutaglio
Updated December 02, 2016 03:42 PM
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Credit: Jan Zauzmer

Emily Zauzmer, 20, is recreating famous paintings — in the most delicious way!

The Harvard University student (and former PEOPLE intern!) combines her love of art history with a knack for baking to design incredible “cake-paintings” that take her anywhere from 12 hours to four days to complete.

“My favorite is my take on American Gothic by Grant Wood,” Zauzmer, a Folklore and Mythology major with a concentration in Pop Culture at Harvard, tells PEOPLE. “It’s really just for fun, something I love to do!”

To date, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native has baked seven cake paintings — including classics like The Scream by Edvard Munch, The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Zauzmer got the idea to bake cake paintings as a junior in high school, but her love for art started at a young age.

“When I was 5, I begged my parents to take me to see The Starry Night in New York,” she says. “Which, for a kindergartner, is pretty funny. But I saw it, fell in love and got hooked!”

And after taking a high school art history course in 2013, she decided to try her hand at design.

“I was studying art, but not creating art,” she explains. “I became frustrated, because I had all of these creative juices flowing!”

So, Zauzmer channeled that drive to create her first ever masterpiece — The Starry Night on vanilla cupcakes.

“I bought a cupcake book that gave me some decorating tips to recreate Starry Night,” she says. “But at the end of the process, I ended up doing my own thing.”

Zauzmer now bakes new pieces every five months or so for special family occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

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“It’s quite a process,” she says. “I sort of take over the kitchen. La Grande Jatte took me four days and my family was begging me to clean it up! It can get pretty messy.”

To create her designs, Zauzmer — a self described “perfectionist” — prints out and studies a photo of the painting she wants to recreate. She then bakes a cake (usually vanilla) for her blank canvas and uses toothpicks to make an outline, which she fills in with icing.

“I start pretty neat using utensils and plastic bags to put on icing,” she says. “But by hour three, that’s done and I’m just using my fingers!”

The delicious works of art (“They taste pretty good, you can’t go wrong with heaps of vanilla icing!” says Zauzmer) disappear quickly, but she preserves her work by taking photos that she posts to her Instagram page.

“The first bite after working on the cakes for so long is a little hard,” she admits. “But my family and I usually eat the whole thing, which is rewarding!”

The college student says she’d definitely enter her cakes in a competition, given the opportunity.

“If cake contests exist, I’d consider it!” says Zauzmer, who would like to work in entertainment when she graduates. “But right now, it’s really just so much fun.

“My college friends have been asking me to make them one for a while, I’d like to do that.”

So, what painting does Zauzmer want to tackle next?

“I would really love to do a Mona Lisa!” she says with a laugh. “I feel like it’s missing from my repertoire.”