May 25-June 7, 1999
STUFF@NIGHT

FLOUR CHILDREN

By Rob McKeown
(Accompanying photo of Ursula and 5-tier cake)

The office of Ursula Art of the Cake looks a bit like a prop room for Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory. An edible three-dimensional rendering of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Steer’s Head with Roses stares blankly from the center of the room. Balanced on the window, a black-and-white-tiled cake looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa as imagined by Lewis Carroll. A bookshelf holds a nursery’s worth of miniature people sculpted from marzipan and gum paste. Then there’s the chocolate coffee table.

Welcome to the world of Ursula Argyropoulos, one of Boston’s premier cake decorators – and a dandy teacher, baker, chocolatier, and pâtissier to boot. In a room the size of a 10-burner stove, Argyropoulos assembles cakes for everybody from Yo-Yo Ma (he wanted a chocolate violin) to newlyweds as far away as South Africa. In the two years since she stopped teaching baking at Newbury College and started Ursula Art of the Cake, she’s already been featured in a Boston Globe spread and signed on to create a cake for a summer wedding that will be covered by the diva of décor herself, Martha Stewart.

Between the press and word of mouth, customers now commission her work a year in advance. For the upcoming wedding season, one client wants a cake that will look big enough for 700 guests but only feed 40. (The trick? Dummy layers. The reason? Beats us.) For Argyropoulos, the project will entail a month of advance work to prepare the decorations and a whirlwind two days for baking, assembly, and transport. Although one of her standard cakes is an almond sponge, for the adventurous she’ll work in exotic flavors like elderflower and black currant. With two or three weddings per weekend during the busy summer season and cakes that can weigh more than 100 pounds, it’s a wonder that she works solo.

“It’s the kind of work you have to do sitting down,” she says. “And I do most of my work at my desk.”
Having a so-called desk job comes as something of a shock for Argyropoulos. Since she started working at her uncle’s bakery at the age of 10 (he was a master pastry chef in Germany), she has devoured every learning opportunity the baking world offered. She worked in a top-flight pastry kitchen at Paris’ Le Toit du Passy; learned bread making in German cafés; and spent 13 years at Newbury College, where a course she taught on cake decorating led to her new business. Ever the mentor, she still spends her free time running master classes out of her Boylston Street kitchen, which has hosted pastry chefs from the likes of Maison Robert, Anago, and Truc.