The Careful Craft of Cake Art
In an old shoe factory in New York City’s Garment District, Ron Ben-Israel kneads bright-orange sugar paste. The paste is thick, almost like clay, which he flattens with a roller and cuts with a mold into the shape of a flower.
A very artistic sensibility: To be imperfect is to be real. This alone is something of a contradiction within the baking world, where a recipe is not something one improvises. But that combination of scientific precision and artistic freedom is what makes Ben-Israel’s work stand out.
He removes it from the mold and picks the petals out by hand. “You don’t want it to be too perfect,” he says, “otherwise it doesn’t look real.”
From Art School To Cakes
Ben-Israel came to cakes from an artistic point of view. “I went to art school for four years,” he says. After retiring from a 15-year career as a modern dancer, he turned his sights toward his lifelong love of pastry arts — having watched his mother bake as a child.
In 1996, his cakes were discovered while on display in the windows of Mikimoto, on Fifth Avenue, and commissions soon followed. His baking career thus began, and he quickly started to attract attention.
One early admirer was Martha Stewart, who became a mentor. Gradually, Ben-Israel grew to become one of the most sought-after cake designers in the business.
His work has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides magazine and New York Magazine. He has appeared as a judge on Food Network’s Cake Wars and had his own show, Sweet Genius, for three seasons. We were lucky enough to watch him in action, witnessing firsthand the patience and love that one must have in order to create something mouthwatering and mouthwateringly beautiful.
A World of Flowers
Ben-Israel holds a sugary recreation of the cattleya orchid. “It’s a very exotic flower,” he says. “It’s famous for being very frilly. It has wild colors. It’s very sensual and tricky to make. I had to pull the edges by hand to make it frill. They’re very expressive. There’s another orchid I like to do called dancing ladies. It’s a huge world of flowers in general, but orchids in particular are fascinating.”
These delicate sugar pieces are artfully composed around the layers of cake, creating a cascading bouquet and a piece of cake art so beautiful you won’t believe it’s edible.
Appeasing the Client
Ben-Israel’s cakes are collaborative creations, and he works closely with his clients throughout the planning process. “Hopefully I will be able to capture what they have in mind,” he says. “We cannot proceed without feedback and approval.”
For more information about Ron Ben-Israel’s gorgeous cake art, visit weddingcakes.com. You can also find Ben-Israel across social media at @rbicakes.
A version of this story, written by Michael Woodson with photography by Manuel Rodriguez, appeared in Artists Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.