When Cliff Simon creates a work of art, he employs a delicious palette. It often includes heaps of fine Belgian chocolate, marzipan, butter cream and metallic glitter, applied with a fine brush. For nearly 20 years the Santa Fe custom baker has dazzled celeb and nonceleb clients alike with over-the-top confections costing anywhere from $65 to $15,000. "He's absolutely incredible," says opera singer Marilyn Home, who was given a Simonized butter sponge cake likeness of the composer Rossini. "A real genius."

A former graphic artist, The Bronx-born Simon, 47, fashioned a cake topped with a multicolored re-creation of a famous Herb Ritts photo for Madonna, one in the shape of a giant, pink-painted tongue for Kiss and a New York Mets logo in chocolate for Billy Joel. But the job's no cakewalk: Simon remembers weeping in a Swiss hotel kitchen when his four-foot-tall, lemon-walnut Tower of Babel wedding cake for Diana Ross nearly suffered a meltdown of biblical proportions. Still, it tasted yummy. "After all," Simon says, "if it didn't, why would I bother?"