Remembering Sylvia Weinstock, the ‘Queen of Cake’
Sylvia Weinstock, who died Nov. 22, created thousands of wedding cakes over the years. Four couples share what her confections meant to them.,
Sylvia Weinstock, the wedding cake visionary who died Nov. 22 at the age of 91, was known by fans as the “queen of cake” for her ornate, colorful and realistic confectionery designs.
The Brooklyn native and former schoolteacher didn’t start baking professionally until she was 50, after surviving breast cancer. She began specializing in wedding cakes when William Greenberg Jr., an Upper East Side baker in business since 1946, passed orders along to her. (He didn’t do wedding cakes.)
She founded Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in the early ’80s in a four-story townhouse in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, where she also lived. Ms. Weinstock had three daughters with her husband, Benjamin Weinstock, who died in 2018.
With a deep dislike for fondant, she was among the first to perfect and include sugar flowers, edible pieces of art that quickly became her signature. “The first cake I sold was a single-layer cake filled with sugar flowers,” she said in a 2019 interview. “It was for a private party at the Carlyle Hotel. Then I went to two-tier cakes. The tallest I’ve made was 10 feet and had thousands of flowers.”
Ms. Weinstock was a fierce businesswoman with a baker’s understanding for the complexity of taste paired with an artist’s eye for detail. Over the last 35 years, she created thousands of cakes, for clients who included Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey and Sofia Vergara. She also served as a judge on the Netflix series “Nailed it!” and appeared on “Gossip Girl,” on the CW, and “Top Chef.”
Four couples who worked with Ms. Weinstock remember what it meant to have their cake designed by the slight woman with the big, black, round glasses and an even bigger personality.
Andrea Hailey and David Williamson, both 40
Their Wedding Aug. 25, 2012, at Sylvester Manor, a property owned by the Williamson family on Shelter Island, N.Y.
“I was coming from D.C. and my family wasn’t with me,” Ms. Hailey said of when she met with Ms. Weinstock for a cake tasting. “The second Sylvia walked in the room she sensed I was sad about being on my own and made me feel like I was with a family member.”
Ms. Weinstock designed the couple’s cake with lace swags to match Ms. Hailey’s Ines Di Santo dress; daisies as a nod to her alma mater, Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn.; and greenery highlighting the boxwood that grew throughout the Williamson family property. “She understood romance and love and put it in her cakes,” said Ms. Hailey, the chief executive of Vote.org, a nonprofit platform that provides online voter guides for each state.
Ms. Weinstock also gave the couple life advice. “She was so wise when it came to love and family,” Ms. Hailey said. “She was warm and kind with a no-nonsense personality. She was also an advocate for women.”
Ms. Hailey added that, to this day, the wedding cake Ms. Weinstock made remains a topic of conversation. “We still have the handcrafted flowers that she created. My mother-in-law loved them so much that she made a permanent arrangement for us. All these years later we’re still talking about it,” she said.
Alex Gellman, 60, and Robyn Moncrief, 55
Their Wedding Dec. 17, 2016, at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.
In the fall of 2016, Mr. Gellman and Ms. Moncrief flew from Boca Raton, Fla., to New York to meet Ms. Weinstock. “I thought we were insane to fly to see a woman who was called ‘the godmother of cakes,'” said Mr. Gellman, the chief executive of Vertical Bridge, a private owner of cellphone towers. “But once we met her, tasted her cakes and talked to her, you understood how important she was.”
Mr. Gellman remembered being impressed by the walls in Ms. Weinstock’s office/work space, which were covered with photos from weddings she had made cakes for.
The couple chose a small, three-tier buttercream cake complete with her moniker flowers. “The cake moment is important,” Mr. Gellman said. “It’s intimate because it’s about taking care of each other as you feed a piece to your spouse. That’s what our time with Sylvia was like. Intimate and caring. She had a desire to connect with us so she could put that in our cake.”
The couple took home the top of the cake so they could eat it on their first wedding anniversary. But because of a hurricane in 2017, they went without power for a week and “we lost the cake and the moment of celebrating our anniversary,” Mr. Gellman said. “That was really sad. The cake meant a lot to us. So did Sylvia. She was part of our wedding experience.”
Anthony Luscia, 50, and Russell James, 49
Their Wedding Sept. 21, 2013, at 501 Union, an event space in Brooklyn.
Anthony Luscia had met Ms. Weinstock in 2004 when he was a stylist and editor for Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings magazines. “She was a creative genius who understood her clients and their stories,” said Mr. Luscia, who is now the director for events at Mama Farm, a bed-and-breakfast in Brookhaven, N.Y., owned by the actor Isabella Rossellini.
The couple decided on twin wedding cakes. Mr. Luscia’s was a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and Mr. James’s was a peanut butter cake with chocolate icing. Both cakes were two feet tall with three tiers wrapped with gold Grecian-style leaves made of sugar.
“The leaves were a nod to Sylvia’s style of work because she knew I didn’t like flowers,” Mr. Luscia said. “I gave her some input and she surprised me, which is hard to do. I cried when I saw them.”
“Cakes are an iconic moment in a wedding,” Mr. Luscia added. The couple’s “represented how we saw our lives and how we saw ourselves: equals, standing side by side as we got married,” he said.
Ms. Weinstock attended the pair’s wedding as a guest, and later in the evening, before the cutting of the cake, she gave a speech. “She was standing behind her cakes, wearing a long, dressy shirt” that was silver and black, Mr. Luscia said. “She looked like a shining star. That’s who she was.”
Michele Brown, 52, and Steven Louis Sweetwood, 58
Their Wedding June 23, 1990, at the Pierre Hotel in New York. (The couple later divorced in 2018.)
“Our wedding cake was extravagant, stunning and elegant. It was six or eight tiers with hundreds of blush and pale pink edible flowers — peonies, roses and orchids — that matched the color of my bridesmaids’ dresses,” said Ms. Brown, who raises funds for charitable organizations. “The inside was chocolate with vanilla icing. The outside was all white.”
Ms. Brown added, “The cake was so tall that when it was wheeled out, it started to fall, but they caught it.”
The cake’s brush with gravity came after an even bigger scare: Weeks before the wedding, Mr. Sweetwood had a rare carcinoid tumor in his lung removed, and the couple didn’t know if they would have to postpone.
When the time came to cut the cake, Ms. Brown said, “Tears were running down our faces. The cake signified that scary, bad times were past us and the start of everything sweet and beautiful was ahead.”
At the end of the evening, all 370 of the couple’s guests received a mini replica of their cake that Ms. Weinstock had also created as a take-home gift.