One night last month, Chicago artist and self-taught baker Hyun Jung Jun dreamed of swans, huge, elegant creatures wandering along a sparkling lake, their reflections lighting up the water.
“Even in the dream, I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s so pretty. It’s so magical, ”she says. “I woke up and couldn’t help but think about it.”
So Jun turned his dream into a cake, sharing the results on the Instagram account. @dreamcaketestkitchen, which she created last year. The resulting confection is something of a Fantastic land inspired by Björk: Meringue swans encircle a glassy, flowery basin of lemon creme, with curved collars bracing gracefully on a passion fruit buttercream and a dripping border of white piping. Inside, Jun layered a sponge cake with orange olive oil and raspberry jam, adding thin leaves that protrude from the sides of the cake like miniature pond reeds.
Although long eaten, the image of the swan cake is immortalized among other recent creations by Jun for the Dream Cake Test Kitchen, an edible art project that she launched on Instagram in June 2020 when she was locked inside when the Illinois stay-at-home order was in effect. . The account, which documents the whimsical cakes Jun bakes for his friends (and friends of friends), has since garnered more than 16,000 followers who keep tabs on the artist’s latest creations. Its cooking has a fairytale quality: scroll down its feed and you’ll find mounds of sunset-hued buttercream, mussels with muscat jelly, and a creamy dome topped with sliced fruit and a sprig of lonely lavender, as well as dozens of other surreal candies.
“In my job I think about dreams a lot because that’s where the rules don’t apply and things that seem impossible happen,” Jun says. “I like that aspect of feeling like anything can happen.”
Originally from South Korea, Jun moved to Chicago to attend art school in 2009, where she studied painting before embarking on photography, printmaking, lithography, performance art and fabrication. of candles. Other than a short stint in a bakery before the pandemic, she has never had any formal training as a baker. Before baking her first cake in 2019 – a treat for her partner, Cody, and a friend of theirs – she had barely tried baking.
“Maybe I baked cookies twice or something,” she laughs. “But the whole process was very calming and relaxing, so I really went for it.”
Contrary to what the name of the project suggests, most of Jun’s cake ideas don’t come from his dreams. Instead, she seeks inspiration in imaginary scenes – depictions of places and things she has seen – or the sloping mountain landscapes of her childhood in Korea. The cooking process is mostly spontaneous. She starts with a basic sponge cake recipe and tweaks it as needed, stopping to clean the kitchen or put the cake in the fridge when she hits a creative dead end.
“It almost looks like doodle,” says Jun. “Or like to draw. It’s a bit tricky, but I like to work with edible materials.
Jun favors a plant-based, almost tasty approach to flavor combinations, using ingredients like turmeric, frilly dill stems, ginger, and the mildly numbing Chinese Five Spices (which pair perfectly with chocolate, she says). She makes her Italian buttercream – it’s less sweet than American buttercream – and enjoys experimenting with gluten-free and vegan baking, especially when cooking for friends with food sensitivities. On the cakes, she has arugula, sprigs of herbs, edible flowers and other garnishes from the garden.
At the moment, Jun only bakes her cakes for friends, but she hopes to start offering commissions this fall. For her part, she friends mostly walk away from difficult requests, although she is happy to accommodate their preferences. A friend, for example, asked for a cream-based cake, which Jun made with a double layer of cake coated with a soft dome of buttercream, fruit, and herbs, one of his most popular creations. most liked on Instagram to date. Jun is not very precious about it: sharing her cakes, she says, is the main thing.
“I like that when you have a cake, you have to have slices,” she says. “It’s not just you eating the cake.”
You can follow Hyun Jung Jun’s cake creations on @dreamcaketestkitchen on Instagram.