Ruhling: The Confectioner with the Sweet Heart

Crystal Gonzalez sets the small white box on the table and carefully opens it to reveal a half dozen elaborately iced cupcakes.

There’s one with a couple of cherries on top, one adorned with a gigantic strawberry, one defined by an upright Oreo and two decorated with edible parchment butterflies that look as though they are going to flutter off into the spring air.

She brought the home-baked goods, she says, to sweeten the day.

Crystal, a tall woman with a nose ring, large, dark glasses and long blue and purple hair that matches her blouse, has been baking all her life, but it’s only post-pandemic, since she became a wife and a mother, that she has really thrown herself into her pastry pastime with passion.

This is not something she ever thought she would do for a living, but now she can’t imagine her life without sugar and flour and eggs.

Before she started making cakes to sell, Crystal, who was born and raised in Astoria, had a career in her family’s now-shuttered Times Square restaurant, Theatre Row Diner.

She started working there full time after she graduated from the State University of New York at Purchase with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a minor in sociology.

“It was,” she says, “my dream job. I loved the fast pace and meeting all the people – we had a lot of tourists from all over the world, and I loved giving them a great New York City dining experience.”

Shortly after she got married – she and her husband used to hang out in high school, which she didn’t remember until they re-connected on OkCupid – and found out she was having a baby, the couple took out a one-year lease on an apartment in Brooklyn at the end of 2019.

“My last day working at the diner before the lockdown was March 13, 2020,” she says. “I was pregnant and out of a job.”

While she was waiting for the arrival of daughter Elyzabeth, who made her debut in June 2020, Crystal began the work that would lead to the creation of her sweet sibling, Crystal’s Confections.

“I put this note out on social media saying that I would bake cupcakes for free so I could practice,” she says. “I got my first order in July 2021 – and the woman insisted she pay. I got $50 for 50 cupcakes.”

The orders kept coming in, and soon Crystal was making a steady income.

“I can earn $800 in profit in a good month,” she says.

These days, she does her baking in her Astoria apartment, which is in the basement of her parents’ house, the one she grew up in.

Crystal and her husband are part of the extended family that also includes her two younger brothers.

“I look at my hands, and I look at the cake or the cupcakes I have made,” she says. “And I think, ‘These two hands literally just made them.’”

She considers it an honor to bake for people’s celebrations and sees it as her duty to brighten people’s lives with something sugary.

Recently, for example, she baked cinnamon rolls, cupcakes and brownies for the guys at the fire department because they are on duty 24/7.

“I love how the ingredients come together and how this involves me in people’s lives,” she says. “Whatever the occasion – a child’s first birthday or a wedding – the cake is the centerpiece of the party.”

Although Elyzabeth is too young to help out, she does like to sit in her high chair and watch Crystal creating her confections.

“I generally give her a spoon to play with,” Crystal says. “And sometimes I use her as a taster – if she likes it, she goes ‘yummmm,’ and if she doesn’t, she literally spits it out.”

She laughs.

Crystal bakes during the day and applies the icing and decorations in the evening when Elyzabeth is sleeping.

“I don’t like to be interrupted when I do it,” she says, adding that she’s been collecting and refining recipes for years.

Crystal’s Confections is a one-baker operation: She puts Elyzabeth in her stroller and makes most of the deliveries on foot.

“I love to walk,” Crystal says.

Larger orders are delivered via Uber.

When Crystal started her new career, she envisioned herself manning a storefront, but now she’s thinking it would be more fun to remain a stay-at-home cottage baker.

“When Elyzabeth is in school next year, I’m going to get a part-time job,” she says. “Perhaps it will be in a restaurant or in a bakery. I like the idea of decorating cakes.”

Whatever she does, though, she’ll keep Crystal’s Confections going because her baking makes her and everyone else so happy.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com; @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.

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