A Tattered box of inspiration

January 18, 2024
Weinstock update

A Tattered Box of Inspiration


I decorate the front windows in the tearoom. Taking down Christmas decorations is a task that needs to happen promptly. Once that party has passed, I ready myself for the new year.  My job is to entice you into the bakery and cafe from our  Madison Road windows. Every time I redo them, I need something to jumpstart my inspiration. This year it was a set of blue cups and saucers I had set aside that someone had donated to BonBonerie. After window washing and dusting, I began fussing about. It’s a stream of consciousness kind of process where I waltz around looking into forgotten boxes and curtained storage areas until random objects start to come together. While poking about in my office I discovered a forgotten treasure in a tattered pastry box. What a fortuitous find!


I have always tried to keep myself enlightened by my sister artists in pastry. Last year, Christine, our assistant general manager, came to the wedding cake decorators with a challenge. One of our very loyal customers had come in with a BIG request. For her wedding anniversary she wanted us to use the handmade flowers she had saved from her long-ago wedding cake on a cake we would make for her celebration.  We agreed to take a look. Not long after, box after box of glorious sugar flowers arrived at the bakery in various states of beauty and breakage. To my unbelievable delight, I learned they were not merely sentimental keepsakes of a happy marriage, but the artifacts of a revolutionary moment in the pastry arts, especially those that pertained to wedding cakes. These flowers were not manufactured by a factory in China, but executed by none other than Sylvia Weinstock, the creative force behind the transformation of wedding cakes in America into extravagant works of art . Bon Appetit magazine called her “the Leonardo da Vinci of wedding cakes.”


The New York Times wrote: ” Her clientele included Whitney Houston, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, LeBron James, Robert De Niro, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and various Kennedys and Kardashians. Even bitter political foes could agree that major events were best entrusted to Sylvia, as she was widely known; she was the choice of the Clintons and of the Trumps, who ordered a 6-foot tall, 13-layer confection for Ivanka Trumps 2009 wedding. Mrs. Weinstock did not start baking desserts until she was in her 50s, in the early 1980s.Mrs. Weinstock introduced a new level of extravagance. She took apart real flowers, examined each petal for its precise shade and contour, then produced floral-draped architectural stunners in the shape of rose-studded topiaries, baskets of speckled rubrum lilies or bouquets of pink, purple and crimson anemones. On occasion, they rose 15 feet high.


We never count the flowers on a cake,” she told InStyle in 2014. Rather, we add, and add, and add until it pleases the eye. That could be hundreds, or thousands.” The process was so painstaking, she said, one artist could spend a 40-hour workweek creating just 100 roses.”


The flowers before me were made by this very icon of pastry perfection. I admired her when BonBonerie was in its infancy and now we were being asked to collaborate on a cake including some of Sylvia’s Weinstock’s actual flowers. Remaking a smaller replica of this cake became quite an undertaking, but our cake decorators, Ashley and Debra, are also talented artists and embraced the challenge with aplomb. Hundreds of sugar flowers had to be triaged; the irreparable separated from the ones that merely required freshening up. The cake was treated like an architectural renovation. Creative thinking and respect for the past made the end result greater than its broken parts.


As coincidences often happen at BonBonerie (sometimes I refer to it as magic), I would also like to mention that a few years ago, my friend and founder of Paris, a world-renowned wedding jewelry and veil designer here in Cincinnati, sent me a picture of herself with Sylvia Weinstock at an event she had attended in NYC. I cherished that picture knowing that was about as close as I would ever get to the legend, that is until this year.


And so, as you may have guessed, in that tattered box sitting on a shelf in my office were the unused few of Sylvia’s flowers that weren’t needed for the anniversary cake. Last summer, I had the good sense to save them. I instantly decided to include them in my window display since their pale blue petals matched the flowers on the teacups to a T. I continued to create the window tableau one evanescent object at a time. The other window easily came into focus using the remaining pink flowers from the same box. I cannot save every fanciful object that remains after an event has passed. It is tempting. But saving even just a few of Sylvia’s flowers was saving a piece of history. Her work was transformative, and she didn’t even begin her vision until she was in her 50’s. Now that just gives us hope. All that from a leftover box of sugar flowers. Magic. 


Sharon Butler