Works of art by Elizabeth Hodes ’99 are not installed in galleries or museums. They wouldn’t last. And they aren’t meant to — hers is a transient art form.
She specializes in “sculptures” that look like animals, plants, and flowers. (One of her creations featured an elephant, a reclining monkey, and a delicate, light blue crane.) After people enjoy the artistry and colors of her work, the sculptures are consumed. Her medium: sugar combined with other edible ingredients to make a mixture that she shapes and paints before adorning cakes she has baked.
A self-taught custom cake maker and sugar artist who produces elaborate and lifelike creations for bridal parties and other special events, Hodes has made a cake with tiers that seemed to float on beds of banana flowers, alstroemeria, pincushion proteas, and kumquats. One of her most unusual cakes looked like an upscale store display: Atop the cake were leopard-print high-heeled open-toed shoes, a quilted clutch with gold chain, red lipsticks, eye liner, and a pearl necklace — all made out of sugar.
Hodes, who has enjoyed arts and crafts since childhood, made her first special cake for the wedding of her sister, Laura Hodes ’92, in 2000. She continued making cakes for friends (many of them Princeton pals) on the side while pursuing music full time — earning a master’s in piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music in 2003 and playing and performing for several years. In 2005 cake-making became her full-time business. “I’m not really a ‘baker,’” she says, but “more of an artist who bakes.”
All of her decorations are hand-sculpted and hand-painted with food coloring. She works with different types of sugar, including gum paste, which behaves “almost like clay,” she says, and tastes like a Necco wafer. She experiments with applying fine-art techniques — sculpting, carving, mold-making, casting. Some clients preserve the sugar decorations by shellacking them.
Her cakes can take anywhere from 25 to 100 hours to create and cost from $500 to $3,000, depending on the size and design (on average, her cakes cost $13 per slice). They have been featured in bridal magazines. In December she won a gingerbread-house contest on ABC’s Good Morning America with a Greek Revival design, and twice has placed third in Food Network Challenge competitions. Now she is developing a cake show for television.
Hodes is based in New York City, but she assembles — and sometimes creates — her cakes on site and has traveled as far as St. Barts, Montana, and California for commissions.
It doesn’t bother Hodes that she spends many hours on “sculptures” that are cut into and fall apart in the end. “People always assume I’ll be really upset,” she says. “But I just find it a realization of what it was designed for. ... I find it a happy thing when people eat the cake.”