March 9, 2023
During spring and summer weekends, a part of 31st Avenue in Astoria, NYC closes to motor vehicles and parking. This creates a beautiful, people-centric space for locals to congregate and share their energies and wares with other people.
I met Crystal Gonzalez of Crystal's Confections at the 31st Ave Open Street in mid-December . Her colorful, well-stocked table overflowed with delicious baked goodies, and her beaming smile invited me to take a look.
Look at all of the deliciousness!
"Did you make all of this?" I asked. "Yes," she replied, telling me that everything on the table came from her home kitchen. My eyes locked with those of a gingerbread person, and I knew that I needed that gingerbread person in my tummy.
I bought the gingerbread person and accidentally dropped it on the ground. It fell and shattered in a way that made Crystal and me laugh:
Dropped and broken perfectly into bite-size pieces.
My partner's birthday was coming up in January, and I asked Crystal if she baked gluten-free cakes. Yes, she replied, responsibly adding that she takes special measures to ensure a gluten-friendly kitchen.
Perfect. It was settled: Crystal would bake Liv a gluten-free red velvet cake for her birthday in exchange for my photography and this piece on my website. I love that we had a chance to exchange our services and passions rather than money.
One month after the Open Street, I drove to Astoria to pick up Liv's cake. Crystal was beaming as she walked towards me with the boxed cake, clearly filled with immense pride in her work.
Crystal's pride was warranted - the cake was sweet, moist, and beautifully frosted. It satisfied several of our friends during Liv's birthday party. You can scroll down to the bottom of this page for a small gallery of the gluten-free red velvet cake that Crystal baked for Liv.
I love learning people's stories. My interaction with Crystal was not just about finding a local baker to make a cake for my wife. It was also an opportunity to get to know Crystal.
To that end, I asked Crystal to answer a number of questions about her passion for baking, her family, and her favorite kitchen tools.
I'd love to start with five photos that mean something to you, and I'd love to hear something about each of them.
I was vending at the Ditmars Open Streets Halloween event. I teamed up with the Bier and Cheese Collective and did a popup in front of the shop.
This was probably my favorite popup I did the entire vending season. It was my favorite holiday weekend, and it was during the Ditmars annual Halloween parade so everyone was in costume! I loved seeing all the kids and parents in costume together and everyone was so supportive of my small business.
There was even a line of people waiting to purchase! I had a line!! Me! It was an amazing day.
This is my first Wedding cake - a three-tier funfetti cake with Biscoff buttercream. I was so excited that someone had trusted me to make their wedding cake. A wedding is a big deal! I also made it with a one-week notice! They added their own flowers and topper! The cake was a huge hit and the grooms were extremely happy!!
This is my first character cake. This was also my first time using A LOT of fondant! I pretty much held my breath the entire time but I am completely in awe of how it came out.
My best friend. My sweet wild little bean. This is my daughter Elyzabeth (pronounced e-LIE-za-beth), who's turning 3 in June. She is my purpose for everything.
I want her to be the happiest little person and want to do everything I can for her. I hope that one day she'll help me bake and decorate. For now, she's my taste tester ☺️💗
This is my family. We are a hardworking little family full of love. We strive to do good everyday and treat people the way we would want to be treated. We love enjoying time alone, and spending time outside making memories.
How did you get started baking? Who encouraged you?
I started getting interested in baking when I was around 10, when I started watching the show Cake Boss. Cake Boss himself was definitely an idol of mine in my baking adventure. I watched his show countless times. On the weekends, there would be a Cake Boss marathon on TV, and it'd be playing all day in my room. I picked up baking lingo and techniques that he used and it stuck with me.
I didn't get to practice much as a kid, so it was all visual learning until I was able to eventually get my own ingredients and practice what I could. It definitely did not look good in the beginning, but it definitely tasted good. In high school, I would bake for every holiday and my birthday and give the treats to my classmates. When I was in college, I lived in an apartment on-campus, where we had a whole kitchen. There, I practiced more.
After I was out of college and working with my dad in his restaurant, I began to really pursue baking as a hobby first. For years, I'd bake for my coworkers and bring them the results.
When the pandemic hit, I was 7 months pregnant and out of work. At that point, I had all the time in the world to practice.
For my niece's birthday one year, I gave her the first cake that I had baked for someone else. I made her a Moana themed cake. I made buttercream flowers for the first time after watching a 5 minute video on YouTube. I was so proud of myself and it came out super pretty!
That was when I knew for sure - "I need to do this."
After I gave birth, I took a break from baking. A year later, I decided to jump back on it again and I joined a mom group on Facebook called MOMally Astoria and commented on a post where someone was asking for cupcakes for a party. I mentioned that I was starting out as a baker and that I would do the cupcakes for free just to get some clientele.
I received a message from someone who we'll call "C". She saw my comment and she wanted me to make cupcakes for her sister's baby shower. I was so excited! I mean - someone wanted me to make them cupcakes! I didn't mind that it was free.
Well, C insisted on paying. Despite my objections, she offered $50 for 40 cupcakes. That cupcake order created Crystal's Confections.
C is still my client today and orders from me at least 2 times every year. I will always be grateful to her. She gave me a chance when no one else would. This entire business is based off of word of mouth. I'm just so grateful for all the clients I've gained thus far. Without them, there's really no Crystal's Confections.
What are the three most important things you want people to know about you?
I want people to know that I am hardworking, generous, and smart.
Have you lived in New York City for your whole life?
I was born and raised in Astoria, Queens, New York. It's my home and I'm never leaving.
If you and your family were given two weeks with nothing on your schedule and an unlimited budget, what would you do together?
So many things. We'd take a mini-vacation to my favorite place upstate, Lake George. We'd definitely go shopping to all the places we don't get to go to, and a ton of kid activities too!!
What's one skill you've been developing lately, even if it isn't related to cooking or baking?
A skill that I've been developing lately (and over time, to be honest) is managing my time while being a mom and a business owner. Working on orders takes a lot of time in the kitchen. I have to divide my work between the daytime, when my daughter is awake and wants attention, and the nighttime, when my daughter is asleep and I'm able to focus.
What's your favorite food?
My favorite foods are pizza and tacos.
What are your two most favorite baked goods you've ever made?
- My first character cake
- My cinnamon rolls
I like to say that I have the best cinnamon rolls. They are soft, gooey, and sweet, and I always love to serve them warm when clients pick them up.
Here's a video of my cinnamon rolls:
What baked good do you most enjoy creating?
I love decorating cakes and making DIY cookie kits.
I love decorating cakes because that's really where the fun and inspiration come in! A cake is the centerpiece of a party and the eye of a photo shoot. It's also what showcases the special event.
I absolutely love the cookie DIY kits because they are pretty much perfect for any holiday, and for birthday parties! I also love how focused kids become while doing it and it's also encouraging them to be creative. I also love how the little boxes look when they are all packed up.
Is there a memorable time when you made a mistake while baking? How did you recover?
One of my cake orders was a fruit-themed cake. It had a banana-flavored cake with a chocolate ganache filling and vanilla buttercream.
I didn't make my ganache ahead of time - it takes about 1-2 hours for ganache to set to the right consistency for a frosting/filling - and I was a little impatient waiting for it to completely set. Sometimes ganache is deceiving where it'll appear thick but it doesn't hold up.
I started filling my cake with the ganache and my cake layers started to slide. I started frosting around it with buttercream and put it in the fridge in hopes the buttercream would harden and hold the cake in place. In the fridge, it held up, but as it warmed up, it started to slide again.
My brain did this weird thing where instead of panicking, I suddenly remembered everything I've ever read and seen. I grabbed a long flat cake spatula, and took apart each layer. I scraped off the ganache - luckily I had extra! I made a dam, which is a buttercream ring around the layer to act as a barrier so filling doesn't come out. Then, I filled each layer again with ganache and stacked the layers.
It worked and I saved the day with my quick thinking! The cake came out beautifully and the client loved it!
What kitchen tool do you use the most?
My most used kitchen tool is my spatulas. I have a range of spatulas of different sizes and they are a must have for cake decorating. Here are some of the spatulas I use a ton:
Can you bake for people with dietary restrictions?
I can adhere to dairy, egg and gluten allergies. I can also bake sugar-free.
In regards to gluten free products, I am a gluten-friendly kitchen and not a gluten-free kitchen. I process all types of baked goods in and on my equipment. Cross-contamination of gluten is always a risk and the client should use their discretion. All equipment is deep cleaned and there are no gluten products in the process of making gluten friendly products. I will not take a gluten friendly order if the client has a moderate/severe allergy.
How can someone contact you if they want a custom baked good?
To contact me, potential clients can:
- Message me on my Facebook business page
- Message me on Instagram
- Send me an email:
crystalsconfectionsastoria at gmail dot com
- Send me a text message (my number is on my Facebook page)
I do not take orders over the phone, so those methods are the best way to contact me. You can contact me for questions, info, menus and to place an order.