Amongst cake professionals, when it comes to cake decorating, all roads lead first and foremost to Betty Van Norstrand. I have heard about her reputation as undisputed queen of gumpaste flowers and other original decorative techniques for as long as I can remember. Most of the people who are selling gumpaste flowers around the country were trained by her.Betty taught and partnered with the now world renowned Sylvia Weinstock, and also taught the great cake artist Ron Ben Israel. Several years ago I sent one of my dearest friends to study with Betty, but I had never actually met her myself. And finally, last Fall, I made the trip to upstate New York, near the CIA to spend the day with Betty.
I had the idea that I would include a technique for a simple gum paste flower in my upcoming book as a tribute to her. But the manuscript became too large even to include all the recipes so I came to the conclusion that Betty should write a book entirely devoted to her art! We had a delightful getting to know each other lunch at the CIA and went around to say hello to several old friends who are now baking professors there. It’s always an inspiration to visit this culinary academy but the biggest inspiration was seeing Betty’s home, work studio, and specialized equipment. Betty started off as a water color artist and brought these skills to her astonishing work in gum paste and cake design. She has been working in cake decorating for over 40 years and has also done all manner of special projects including a collaboration with former White House Pastry Chef Albert Kumin on a giant cake for the 15th anniversary of Walt Disney world featuring a 5 foot sugar replica of Cinderella’s castle. In addition to being a first class artist, Betty is also a first rate teacher and beautiful person. And lucky YOU: she teaches one or two week-long classes a year at the Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park. Check their curriculum—it will be a chance of a lifetime for anyone interested in learning or improving their decorating skills in royal icing techniques, gum paste, rolled fondant, and pastillage. Traveling classes are arranged by direct contact with Betty , by phone: 845 471 3386 or 914 475 1314.