Ella and Neil Levinson bring pure imagination to every delicious and whimsical cake they create. It begins the moment you meet them: She, the Russian born, internationally schooled pastry pro with boundless creativity and a sharp, decisive way with the cake knife. And he, the Canadian born builder turned baker, with the curly hair and calming voice of a certain beloved confection maker.
Through no intentional effort of their own, your own imagination takes flight. Suddenly, delightfully, you’re entrusting your special cake to a super capable Bond girl and Willy Wonka. Anything you want to, do it. You only live twice.
The Levinsons have been making their award winning cakes since 2006 at their specialty cake production kitchen on 32nd Street north of Shea Boulevard. Over the years, Classic Cakes and Confections has grown to become one of the most in demand confectioners in town, partnering with Arizona Biltmore Resort, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort, The Phoenician, Montelucia Resort, W Scottsdale, El Chorro Lodge, DC Ranch and Silver Leaf.
Along the way, Ella and Neil and their staff, also spend their days creating extraordinary wedding and event cakes for ordinary amazing folks, sharing their recipes on local and national morning TV news shows and engaging in their adopted Arizona surroundings for inspiration, creativity and magic.
In February 2013, Classic Cakes and Confections opened its first retail location, on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale just south of 6th Avenue. There, you can sample their famous cakes, “crodough” croissant -donuts, cupcakes, pies, cookies and pastries, peer in close at some of the amazing cake creations that have become the Levinsons’ trademark, and smile as you breathe in the aroma of all the fresh baked goodies made from the finest ingredients produced both locally and internationally.
It’s a portal to the pure, and delicious, imagination of Classic Cakes and Confections. And an invitation to set your own ideas soaring through a whimsical world of creation.
She grew up in Siberia, and got into baking early — no doubt to come up with something tastier than the Russian chocolate kartoshka, or “chocolate potato.” She soon did, graduating at the top of her culinary school, working as a professional chef in Moscow and studying under premiere pastry chefs in Switzerland and the UK before landing in New York and finally, Arizona.
Today Ella is one of Phoenix’s top cake designers, a regular on the annual “Best Of” lists and a sought-after presence at the city’s finest social events and parties. Husband Neil, who handles the recipes and much of the baking, sometimes laments they should have just named the business “Ella!”
What keeps celebrities, fine hoteliers and regular fun-loving folks coming to Classic Cakes and Confections is Ella’s bold imagination and also her peerless attention to detail. A perfectionist famous for going the extra mile to get every detail of her hyper realistic cakes just right (she’s been known to scour stores for Valentino shoes and Louis Vuitton bags just to master their shapes and textures in fondant), Ella puts in countless late, unbillable hours tweaking truffle trifles that no one but her may ever notice — but that everyone appreciates in her amazing results. As she says, with that engaging Russian resolve, “It has to be perfect!”
A background in construction hardly seems a logical path to a career in creative cake baking. But for Neil Levinson, a Canadian culinary school graduate who initially found more work available to him in building homes than in building exquisite cakes, there’s a definite advantage to knowing a bit of architecture and engineering when it comes to constructing today’s more demanding cakes.
To top the extravagant cake designs customers become enamored with on TV today, Neil stays tuned in the latest trends in cake making, but he also finds inspiration in the world around him: the particular fabric of a custom-made wedding dress; the smooth mechanics of a vintage La-Z-Boy chair. All eventually end up as cakes, and, like wife Ella, Neil’s a perfectionist. A customer requesting a cake in the shape of his beloved ’57 Fairlane may find Neil, late at night in the production kitchen, pouring over CAD blueprints to get the wedged shape of the mirrors just right.
To make sure their cakes taste as amazing as they look, Neil sources all the best ingredients from both local growers and international masters. Where others cut corners, Classic Cakes and Confections stands firm on quality. Real butter versus oils or shortening; maple syrup instead of extracts; homemade pralines and the best Italian butter creams and European chocolates.
With so much creativity on display, customers can be forgiven for occasionally ordering the impossible. Once, Neil was asked if he could fashion a cake into a goldfish bowl that could actually hold water — and goldfish. “Sometimes,” he says with a laugh, “people forget that we’re still working with cake!”