by April Lisante
I can’t count the number of times this summer I turned the corner to the family room and saw my 11-year-old daughter literally hanging off the edge of the couch watching “The Great British Baking Show” or “Sugar Rush” on Netflix.
The shows pit amateur bakers – some British, some American – against one another to create whatever confections judges ask of them: fondant unicorns, giant cheeseburgers, gingerbread houses, etc. Everything is timed, everything seems to go wrong and everything is stressful.
But my daughter is hooked. Not on the shows, per se, but on the art of baking and decorating. Flowers, fondant French fries, colored sponge cakes, etc.
According to Noelle DeSantis, owner of Ella Vanilla in Chestnut Hill, girls my daughter’s age are some of her prime customers when it comes to cake decorating classes.
“Girls ages 9 to 13 love the classes,” DeSantis said. “They watch the television baking shows and they want to learn.”
And it seems the interest in her craft has spread here in the Hill. After three years in a humble, 300-square-foot storefront at 7922 Germantown Ave., DeSantis is getting ready to unveil her dream studio on the 7700 block of Germantown this fall. She lives in Chestnut Hill, and really can’t think of a better place to expand the business.
DeSantis, a former fine arts major, got hooked on confections herself, and, a few years ago, fell in love with cake decorating, thanks to the Ace of Cakes reality show featuring self-taught confectionary guru Duff Goldman. The Temple art major scrapped a staid gallery job in New York City to pursue a sweeter career as a cake decorating instructor. After taking classes at The French Pastry School in Chicago, she returned to Philly to open a small shop.
“Even as a kid, I could tell Chestnut Hill was special,” said DeSantis, a Media native. “When I originally decided to open up a shop, I wanted to move back to Philly. I’ve always loved Chestnut Hill.”
The new space at 7709 Germantown Ave., former home to The Tangled Web yarn store, will feature a 1,200-square-foot cake decorating supplies store and studio that can entertain anywhere between 10 to 12 guests per class. The city has approved her plans and contractors are getting to work this month. She hopes to be open late this fall. The space itself is bright and airy, with a storefront that will feature products and supplies for sale, and a separate studio space that will host classes.
“Right now I can teach up to five people in my current location,” DeSantis said. “And I do at least three, up to sometimes six or seven classes a week. I really do enjoy teaching people. It will be so nice to have all that space. I fell in love with the property.”
For $49 a person, students spend two hours learning all the techniques they need to successfully ice and decorate a cake, working with a 4-inch version. First they ice, then they master “a variety of techniques,” from piping to rosette shapes to working with the elusive fondant. DeSantis gets all of her cakes and icings from the Night Kitchen Bakery, but she sells and supplies all the fondant, sprinkles and décor to top the confections.
Her students come not just from the Hill, but from as far as New Jersey, Lancaster and the city. Some are having a fun night out, while others are learning because they are considering making their own wedding cakes or cakes for family events.
Lucy Kroll has been a devotee of DeSantis’ for several years. The 13-year-old is “a groupie,” according to her mother, Janet. DeSantis’ classes helped train the Chestnut Hill teen to make a birthday cake for her grandmother’s 80th birthday, as well as her own bat mitzvah cake.
“Noelle really taught her a lot,” Janet said.
“I like how you can be really creative,” Lucy said. “The fondant is kind of like clay.”
Randi Beamer, of West Oak Lane, started classes two years ago. Now, she runs her own confection company called Kiss My Cupcakes & More.
“I do cake pops and pretzels too,” Beamer said. “Noelle was so helpful, very detail-oriented.”
DeSantis is hoping the new space will bring more students like these.
“It’s really rewarding to create something unique and special and share it with other people,” she said. “It’s a neat way to share creativity.”
You can contact Ella Vanilla at Noelle@EllaVanilla.com or 215-909-9392.