Yesterday we spoke with Ron Ben-Israel, a wedding-cake master who is certainly on the speed dial of all brides and brides-to-be. He told us all about the parallels between wedding cake making and dancing and explained why vanilla cake is poetry in the mouth. Today he continues his insights into cakes, revealing some of the weirdest ones he’s ever fashioned.
What is the weirdest cake you’ve ever made?
Easy. A few years ago we had a bride in Nantucket. First we had to figure out a way to fly the cake privately so we chartered a plane. Then the plans changed more and more. And the wedding cake had to be a sperm whale. The whale had to be huge — five feet. So we had it floating on sugar flowers so it didn’t look like a bar mitzvah cake. And then we had to change to a larger plane. People have to convince me [about making weird cakes].
And the most elaborate?
It wasn’t a wedding cake. It was for the 100th anniversary of the Plaza Hotel. The cake [a replica of the hotel] would be the centerpiece, a gift from the owner to the City of New York. It was 12 feet tall and eight feet wide, and I had to work with architects to have the exact number of balconies. And Martha Stewart wanted to do a documentary on it so people were counting. It was an interesting challenge because it was October 1 and September and October are the busiest times of the year. Every pastry shop came to help out. It was very successful.
How do you deal with bridezillas?
I think the term is overused. It’s more difficult with someone passive-aggressive than demanding. We want to please the demanding. Some clients are strong-minded. It’s harder when people can’t make a decision.
What are the most important skills to have to be a wedding cake baker?
Precision is very important for me. I would accept an old-fashioned cake if it were made neatly. A breadth of technique comes first, coupled with vision and philosophy. Then you have something good. You also need an ego to have your own business. You need to take risks, and have a healthy dose of ego but [you also] need humility. I’m a neurotic person. I always have a plan A, B, and C. I have two of everything ’cause things break. Two refrigerators. The last thing in August you want is for your cake to melt. For me, the cake is something you see when you walk into the church and cutting it is the last ceremonial step [of the wedding]. Cake is remembered more than the food.
How is wedding-cake decoration different than that of regular pastry?
The expectations are harder. Wedding cakes are reserved for once-in-a-lifetime events and have budgets and planning and expectations. The cake is a showpiece. It has to live and survive. It’s more significant.
And now for that sperm-whale wedding cake …
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 21, 2011