Sugar Flower Cake Shop Owner Amy Noelle Finds Inspiration in Flowers and at The Frick
Jen Huang Amy Noelle of Sugar Flower Cake Shop
It was the summer breaks and early weekday recesses that led then high school math teacher Amy Noelle to sign up for cake decorating class, where she quickly discovered she had a knack for baking -- and family and friends quickly took notice. "I have five nieces and nephews, and I started making their cakes -- and people were impressed," she says. That confidence boost quickly landed her in a sugar flower-making class, where she realized she had the interest and patience for crafting the time-consuming but highly rewarding gum paste cake adornments. "That was where everything really clicked for me," she explains. In 2006 she opened Sugar Flower Cake Shop in the Hudson Valley, and this past Valentine's Day marks her third year in business at her Chelsea location (336 W 37th St #950, 212-993-6441) -- situated conveniently near the Chelsea Flower District. Here, Noelle discusses her rooftop honey icing, why she gets amped about creating Juliet roses, and the time she delved even deeper into the outdoors -- i.e. the woods -- for her one special creation.
Lily Kesselman Outdoors-inspired cake from Sugar Flower Cake Shop
Does a math background come in handy in the baking realm?
Absolutely. I have these excel spreadsheets that calculate the formulas for our recipes based on the pan size. So we can say, "OK it's going to be a five-tier wedding cake," and it will compute the numbers and say we need 100 grams of sugar, 100 grams of flour, and so on. It actually calculates the surface area of the cake, too, and tells us how many grams we need for the buttercream icing. I can't stand waste, so this [system] helps -- a ton.
How would you describe your style?
I would say that most of my clients come to me for something simple and elegant, and I like to describe my style as timeless. There can be a lot going on within a design, but if you take a step back and look at the overall picture, there is a level of simplicity to it that will stand the test of time.
How do you come up with a design with your clients?
Especially when we're doing wedding cakes, we go through a design consultation. It's during then that I sit down with my clients one-on-one for about an hour, and I ask them all sorts of questions. I ask them probably more questions not about cake than I do about cake -- really just because I want to be inspired by who they are as a couple and to get a sense of their style. So I'll ask about where they met, where they like to vacation together, where's the spot that everybody knows their name. It gives me a sense of who they are, if they're whimsical, formal, or over the top -- those answers will guide me.
What happens once you have a sense of a couple?
Then, we look at inspiration. The wedding cake, besides the couple, is the most photographed element of the day, so we want it to be reflective of the couple. It's also an opportunity to tie together the rest of the choices they've made, whether it's the invitations or the dress or the flowers. Usually the cake is ordered closer to the wedding, so we aim to wrap together all of their inspiration into the thing that they're first sharing with all of their guests.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I've paid attention to flowers since 2002, when I took that sugar flower class. Every time I see a flower, I try to get up close to look at it or photograph it. I'm usually looking more at the construction of the flower than its beauty. I happen to live near the Chelsea Flower District, so I'm constantly walking up and down 28th street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues if I need inspiration or I need to see a flower to remind myself of what it actually looks like.