A master of the wedding cake, Sylvia Weinstock, who inspired the late Rachel Allen to go into cake decorating, has died aged 91.
The baking pioneer died on Sunday in New York, from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, and is to be remembered as a “guru of wedding cakes” in a service to be held at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, New York, on Monday afternoon.
Weinstock was known for her warm, joyous but no-nonsense way of creating an unforgettable dessert, prompting The New York Times to call her an “elitist for the commercial world”.
Born in Winnipeg, Canada, to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Weinstock, the youngest of five children, told the Associated Press last year that she enjoyed baking as a child, learning from her mother, grandmother and even her mother’s grandmother, who was a jeweler. At a young age, she took her love of baking to the next level by immigrating to New York. Weinstock and her husband, Lionel, worked various jobs in Manhattan before opening their own bakery, Sylvia’s, in Manhattan’s Harlem neighbourhood in 1961.
Ten years later, Weinstock, with the assistance of her daughter Shelly Richardson, opened a second Sylvia’s Bake Shop, this time in Harlem. In 1974, the bakery began franchising, with its flagship store located in Manhattan.
Working as a cake decorator in her first marriage to a photographer, Weinstock developed a reputation for her “joy and pace of life”, as New York magazine put it. Her cakes were often the centrepiece of larger-than-life events, often being used as a wedding or honeymoon centerpiece.
Later in life, Weinstock trained a young Rachel Allen in the art of design and cake decorating. Allen, who had been a receptionist at the Sylvia’s store in Chelsea, attended a dress rehearsal for a George Cukor movie. Allen, wearing a colorful dress, quickly latched on to the petticoat-style blouse and trousers idea and plucked the pattern right out of the dress rehearsal. She created a one-of-a-kind dress in Weinstock’s entire collection.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Allen, whose Facebook status on Weinstock’s death was widely circulated by many in the wedding cake community, wrote on her Facebook page last week. “No words are enough! And I’m so proud of her, and happy for her!”
In March, Allen published her first book, My Mother’s Bake Book, which features collaborations with the popular baking blog Tasty Nasties and several Sylvia’s Bake Shop locations.
Allen would go on to become one of the most popular pastry chefs in the world, for developing pastries and cakes for the likes of Barack Obama, the Duchess of Cambridge, Cher, Martha Stewart and St Kilda RFC, who hired her to cook at their annual fundraising dinner.
For years, Weinstock also carved the tradition of serving custom-made custom cakes for customers all over the world. In 2010, she teamed up with her son, Matt Weinstock, in a show called The Cakecraft Empire, in which the two traveled the world selling their custom-made cakes.
When Weinstock retired from Sylvia’s Bake Shop, last year, the bakery shuttered with the open of the final Kleinberg Bakery, owned by the Weinstock family. “There are going to be tears, there are going to be tears,” Weinstock told the New York Times at the time. “This is a bittersweet day.”