By Orlando Soto, Pastry & Baking Arts Student

On our first day of class in Kitchen 501, Chef Gerri Sarnataro shared several indispensable truths about the food industry. One of them really struck me as odd: “There’s always a back door.” Meaning, there’s always more than one way of doing things, especially in cooking. I thought this was ironic, given my initial perception of pastry: we follow recipes to the gram in an effort to deliver consistent results. But of course, Chef Gerri’s words rang true throughout the program, and never more so than in cake decorating.


Professional cake decorating elevates the common, spongy dessert from ordinary to memorable. It’s an opportunity for the pastry chef to tune directly into the desires and expectations of a client. A cake is a canvas to delight the sense of sight, as much as the sense of taste. Not surprisingly, it’s the details make or break a cake. If you want to create flowers, for example, you aim to make all the petals, leaves and buds look like nature intended. Subtle color gradients and textures bring to life what was once plain, pliable fondant.


But before you can begin to decorate your cake, you need a plan. A simple scheme for the tiers, colors and the placement or distribution of ornaments is essential. This plan is not only a powerful tool to help keep the decorator on point, but will also provide a preview of sorts, for the client. In the classroom, we presented our cake diagrams and planned the preparation of the decorating elements accordingly.


With a plan in mind, we proceeded to design our cakes. This was when Chef Gerri’s words echoed through the classroom. Yes, there is the way that we were taught to create a rose, but if you looked around the room, everyone was doing their petals just a bit differently. The diverse results would prove that there’s more than one way to translate an idea into a consistently beautiful product.


In truth, cake decorating has been most challenging part of our program for me. I can’t sit still for very long, even if I’m working on a beautiful sugar flower. However, the words of Chef Chad stick with me: “I understand, Orlando, but a true Pastry Chef must be able to tackle any project.” As if he were predicting the future, one of my family members was so excited about the cake I was making, she and her fiancé signed me up to make their wedding cake a year from now (no pressure!).


Several days later, we arrived at the end of our classes. We decorated our cakes and showed them in our final ceremony. As my class heads out to our externships with many skills at hand and lessons in mind, I can see that we have, individually, begun to find our culinary voice. Of course, bearing in thought that “there’s always a back door.”


Click here to read more stories about Life as a Pastry Student.

By Carly DeFilippo

It’s not every cake designer who gets recruited by the likes of Martha Stewart, InStyle Weddings and Oprah Winfrey. Building on her former career as a photo editor/director, love of art and infatuation with chocolate, Kate Sullivan brings more than 20 years of creative innovation to cake decorating. This summer, ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) is thrilled to host an exclusive two-day workshop with Sullivan, highlighting such techniques as hand-painting and tie-dyed cakes.


What was one of the most challenging cakes you’ve designed?

The most challenging request I’ve ever gotten might well have been for a Rubiks Cube wedding cake. The bride and groom were so great and totally wonderfully geeky about the whole thing! The cube was huge and balanced on one point, and I loved it when it was all done!

If you could bake for anyone in the world, who would it be?

I’m so lucky on this one. I’ve gotten to bake for some really amazing people that I’m totally blown away by (with my family being at the head of that list, those are definitely the most memorable moments for me). Its kind of crazy—I’ve been completely tickled to make cakes for some rock and roll legends, masters of design, and famous artists. I’ve also gotten to present cakes to some truly inspirational kids in hospitals; they really take your breath away. The whole experience has already exceeded my own expectations.

Who are your mentors?

Colette Peters is the person who started me on the road to making cakes with her amazing books.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Where do you find your inspiration for design?

The cake inspirations come from everywhere; everything I see is fair-game. [But more specifically] definitely fashion, and I love going to museums & galleries. I’m particularly inspired by Alexander McQueen and other designers whose work is somewhat fantasy-based. I also love the other cake designers out there; the bar is continually being raised in terms of creativity.

What do you do when you aren’t creating works of art?

I enjoy as much time with my husband, son and dog as possible—I LOVE THOSE GUYS! I’ve also been working to learn all about 3D printing and possible food applications. My one big fat guilty pleasure is that I’ve also been obsessively binge-watching every episode of Parks & Recreation on Netflix recently.

Why do you enjoy teaching cake painting?

I think that, when I’m lost in painting a cake, it might just be the most pure experience of flow that I’ve ever had. I love the feel of the brush and textures of the colors as they move across the canvas of the fondant. Teaching new ways to transfer a pattern onto a cake and to bring that pattern to life is really rewarding.

To learn more about ICE’s Contemporary Cake Painting workshop with Sullivan, click here.


By Carly DeFilippo


As we gear up to launch our new Techniques and Art of Professional Cake Decorating program on May 2nd, we are very excited to share one of Chef Toba Garrett‘s cake and icing recipes.

Cake Decorating-030

Almond Paste Cake

Tools: 5 or 6 Quart Mixer

Yields: 2, 10” cake layers or 3, 8” cake layers


  • 9 oz (255 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 oz (170 g) almond paste
  • 24oz (680 g) granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 ½  tsp almond extract
  • 12 fl oz (340 g) whole milk
  • 18 oz (510 g) cake flour
  • 1 ½  Tbsp baking powder
  • ¾  tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175-177˚C).  Vegetable spray and parchment line three 8” (20.32 cm) cake pans.  Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter, almond paste and sugar for 4 minutes.  Stop, scrape the bowl, and cream for 60 seconds more.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, to the creamed mixture.  Beat in the almond extract.
  4. Sieve together the flour, salt, and baking powder.  Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the creamed mixture.  Ladle the mixture into the baking pans.  This is a thick batter.
  5. Carefully smooth the batter with a metal offset spatula.  Hit the pan against the counter to burst any air bubbles.
  6. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 minutes or until the cake slightly shrinks and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cake can last for 3 weeks in the refrigerator if wrapped well and can be frozen.

A buttercream frosting cake featured in Toba Garrett’s book, “Professional Cake Decorating”


Tools: 5 or 6 Quart Mixer

Yields: 2 ½ to 3 lbs (1.13 to 1.36 kg)


  • 12 oz (340 g) of granulated sugar
  • 6 fl oz (177 ml) whole milk
  • 1½ Tbsp (3/8 oz) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 3 fl oz (85 g) heavy cream
  • 1¼ lbs (57 kg or 568 g) unsalted butter (cut-up)

Or, for a larger quantity:

Tools: 20 Quart Mixer*

Yields: 10 to 10.5 lbs (4.45 to 4.76 kg)


  • 3 lbs (48 oz or 1.35 kg) of granulated sugar
  • 24 oz (710 ml) whole milk
  • 6 Tbsp (90 ml or 1.5 oz or 38 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt
  • 2 fl oz (57 g or 59 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 9 fl oz (266 ml) heavy cream
  • 5 lbs (2.27 kg) unsalted butter (cut-up)

*Recipe can be multiplied 5 times for a 60 quart mixer.


  1. Make custard by heating milk and sugar over a double boiler until sugar crystals dissolve.  Remove from heat and add flour and salt and whisk until flour is incorporated.  Place over an ice bath until the custard has slightly cooled.
  2. Pour custard mixture in mixer bowl with paddle attachment.  Add cut-up butter and heavy cream.  Mix on LOW speed to fully incorporate ingredients or until mixture starts to thicken.
  3. Mix on NEXT highest speed until mixtures starts to look light and fluffy.   This can take 7 to 10 minutes or longer if making larger batches.
  4. Store and refrigerate buttercream in an air-tight container.  Freeze for up to 2 months.

Note:  If the buttercream curdles, it will just take a longer time for the butter to warm-up.  Continue beating until the butter softens and the mixture looks light and fluffy.


© 1995, 2007 Toba Garrett, all rights reserved

By Carly DeFilippo

16950026ICE grad Leigh Koh Peart (Culinary Management and Pastry & Baking Arts ’08) had an dynamic career in the music industry, but something wasn’t quite right. She moved across the world to study at ICE, which led to externships and work opportunities with some of the industry’s top bakers and pastry chefs. Today, she manages an extraordinary custom cakes business in London.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE, and what inspired you to change careers?

I was working in Singapore at the time, running event logistics for MTV music events in Asia. It was great fun but I was ready to learn something new and see more of the world. I always had a love for baking and wanted to take it to the next level. I also wanted to learn how to manage a food business. So I picked the ICE program because I was able to do both concurrently. It was quite intense but really fun, I learned a lot and made such good friends from around the world.

Where was your externship? And what have you been up to since graduation?

I did two externships. The first one was at Financier Patisserie, where I helped to produce their daily range of beautiful French-style pastries. Then I realized I wanted to learn more about the art of cake decorating, so I applied for an externship at Ron-Ben Israel Cakes, which was an amazing experience and inspired me to start my own cake business.

I moved to London after my externship at RBI Cakes. I worked as a pastry chef in Michelin-starred Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch in Mayfair, London. I learned so much working alongside high-caliber chefs, but knew that life in a restaurant kitchen was not what I wanted in the long term. I decided to start my own cake business, Craft Cakes, where I currently make bespoke cakes, teach cake decorating classes and host parties in London.


Describe a typical work day.

I start the day by answering emails or ordering ingredients, and then go on to bake and decorate cakes due for delivery or prepare for classes. I also trawl the internet for new techniques or products for cake decorating all the time. Sometimes I get a bit naughty and sneak off for a lazy long lunch with a friend at a hot new restaurant in town.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

It is as fun as it looks! The best part is the flexibility of being self-employed. I can find the time to pursue other culinary adventures, such as running my own supper club. Please check out Two Hungry Girls when you are next in London! We specialise in creative Chinese cuisine.


Five years ago, did you ever think you’d be doing what you’re doing now?

I always had the idea of opening my own cake shop or cafe. I am still working towards that goal, slowly but surely! I’d also like to write my own cookbook or be a cake and baked goods consultant to companies in the food and beverage industry. Anything to do with cake, basically! It is a life-long obsession.


Well, it’s done. We’ve decorated our fondant cakes and invited our friends and family to our Senior Reception (check out the photos of all our cakes above). Nine months and 100 lessons later, what have I really learned through taking the Pastry Arts & Baking Arts program at ICE? Back when I wrote my very first post, before I knew how to tare a scale, I couldn’t have even imagined that I’d be able to make flowers out of gumpaste. But I also took away a lot more than just recipes and techniques. I agree wholeheartedly with what I wrote then — I did learn much more than what was included in the curriculum. I think we all did.

I asked some of my classmates what they learned, including what they would do differently knowing what they know now. Here is a look at the unexpected lessons my fellow classmates and I gained during our time as pastry students.

As you can imagine, in a three-night-a-week evening class, most of us held full-time jobs. As a career changer, Ivana was learning a whole new set of skills. She shared, “What a humbling experience it is to start something new after working towards one career for 15 years.” More…

I was never one for flowers. This Valentine’s Day, knowing that I have a strong dislike of the traditional red roses overpopulating deli storefronts and florists on February 14, my boyfriend surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of plum-colored tulips. They were beautiful — they were a surprise, they were gorgeous and they even smelled good. But later in the evening, after leaving pastry class, I said to him, “Next year, if you’re going to get me flowers, I think you should make them out of gumpaste.”

Since I last wrote, that’s what I’ve been doing — making flowers out of gumpaste. At the start of each class, I find myself wondering how we’re going to spend the entire class just making flowers. But four hours later, I realize we have kept ourselves happily busy. The process is as tedious as it is relaxing, and as time-consuming as it is rewarding. What starts as a simple bud, comes to life a little more each day as we add petals, leaves and a final touch of petal dust that adds the perfect amount of color, dimension and magical shimmer. At least, that’s the goal. More…

This is the part of the program where we are designers. Yes, we have had the experience of designing our chocolate showpieces, but individually making fonadant-covered cakes last week was our first experience designing solo. Well, it was actually an inedible foam cake, but it still gave us something to roll our fondant over, creating a clean palate for us to decorate. The only requirement was to include a chocolate rose somewhere on the cake.

If you recall, my introduction to modeling chocolate was certainly a challenge. I struggled with rolling it through a pasta machine to make my chocolate ribbon cake. This time, I used white chocolate, working it in my hands to improve its elasticity. I’m not sure if it had to do with the warmth of my hands or the differences between white and dark chocolate, but this was much more successful than using the pasta machine. Creating the rose petals and leaves out of this material was actually quite fun. I love the process of making parts that will become something bigger and then watching each of the petals comes together to produce a beautiful flower. More…

The time has come to trade our plastic aprons and gloves for pastry bags and star tips. As you can imagine, I was quite excited to leave the world of chocolate behind and delve into a new world of marzipan fruits and vegetables and piping techniques for cake decorating.

It is the final stretch of the classroom portion of our Pastry & Baking Arts program. If you walked by our kitchen the past few lessons, you may have thought we were easing into some sort of meditative phase. One lesson we colored and shaped marzipan into everything from apples to asparagus to pigs. That day, I remember wishing I had played with Play-Doh a bit more when I was a kid. I promised myself that I would sit with my niece and nephew the next time I saw them and make oranges, pears and bananas with them out of clay. Maybe it will help them one day, if they ever decide to take a pastry program! More…

Forget the dress. Forget the location. Forget the flowers. The real star of a wedding is the cake. Brides dream of elaborate, towering cakes that take hours of planning and preparation — not to mention the time it takes to actually bake and decorate the cake!

Award-winning ICE Chef Instructor and Master Cake Decorator Toba Garrett makes it look easy. She has been practicing the art of cake decorating for 30 years and teaching classes for 17 years. Her latest book, Wedding Cake Art and Design is a handbook for professionals, as well as a guide for students, serious-minded bakers, and even brides themselves. We spoke with her about the book, cakes and why she loves teaching.

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