‘From the Gegent’ is a series of articles featuring businesses, services and the people behind them in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Presented by Mica Soffer, owner and publisher of community news service COLlive.com and neighborhood directory gegent.com:
There is art, and then there is edible art.
Rifki Turner, a resident of Crown Heights and proprietor of Rifki’s Petite Treats, is responsible for some of the stunning baked creations you will see at many parties and events.
“You Dream it, We Bake & Create it” is the motto of her business, that provides customized confections for birthday parties, Bas Mitzvahs, women’s events, bridal showers and practically any occasion.
There are the textured Tzitzis cookies for an upshernish, melt in your mouth peanut crunch with dark chocolate ‘topper’ coin for a Bas Mitzvah, Glenfiddich whiskey-themed cupcakes, and vanilla cupcakes with handmade, all edible, “iPhone” sugar toppers.
But rather than simply calling it baking, Turner considers her detailed and even tedious work a form of storytelling. Each cookie, cupcake or cake is decorated painstakingly by hand, shaped, crafted, painted and embellished, one at a time.
“It takes a lot of hard work to do what I do, but I love it. I love enhancing people’s simchas and special occasions,” she says.
“A batch of 12 cupcakes will depict something special and momentous with each cupcake, including a tiny miniature item perched on the top. We’ve had varied orders for them, such as one customer who ordered a set for a 10 year anniversary, or a chosson who ordered a special batch for his bride.”
Being a one-person-band, she is the one who answers the requests, discusses the ideas that the customer has in mind, comes up with a concept for the baking and decorating, and creates the delectable art by hand.
“I’m not great at delegating,” admits the British-born Turner. “The baking and decorating aspect is pretty much me. The actual art is something that only I can do anyways, so most of the work is done by me.”
For inspiration and advice, Turner is part of a Kosher Bakers group on Facebook. “We connect to give each other inspiration,” she says. “We laugh, we vent, we cry and support each other in challenges we all share in this business. We bounce ideas and support off each other. It’s really amazing.”
“I’ve always loved cooking,” she says. “I make huge holiday meals for 100 people all the time. My mother, Mrs. Miriam (Inge) Sufrin from Stamford Hill, London, always baked for N’shei events and likes to ‘patchke.’ As a teenager, we had home economics in school, but somehow I could never recreate the recipes at home. Only later did I learn how to cook well and really began to enjoy it.”
Her business got started around 17 years ago when her sister-in-law asked her to team up to do cooking demos. “Our first gig was at a Jewish school in Boro Park and we quickly grew to traveling to Chabad centers and doing quick and easy Yom Tov meal demos, such as Chanukah Latke workshops and Rosh Hashana meal prep,” Turner recalls.
“Soon, people were asking for dessert workshops and demos for parties and events, such as tiramisu, chocolates, and other desserts, since those were always the most popular part of the demos, and received with the most excitement from participants,” she says.
In 2004, Turner began to do in-house cooking and baking classes for high school girls. “The girls really loved the classes, and it’s recently come full circle for me,” she says. “I recently met a woman who said she still has the recipes from my class and another woman who asked me if I still do classes so she could send her teenage daughter.”
In 2007, a student told her about a “new” social platform called Facebook. “At the time you could only sign up if you had an .edu email account. I was somehow able to sign up, and so I built up a popular presence from Facebook’s very early days. This was an important part of my business and really put me on the map, and it helped me to get the bulk of my publicity and orders.”
The switch from cooking demos to customized baking happened when she saw a cookbook from the Peppermill home goods store on 16th Avenue in Brooklyn. “I was fascinated by these beautiful cookies,” she says. “I said, I have to try to make these cookies.”
Turner started with making a batch of cookies for her niece’s Bas Mitzvah. “And the rest is history,” she says. “People were constantly asking me to bake for their events. At first, I didn’t want to, but with each time I made something special for a family member, the requests kept coming in. “It just kind of exploded from there,” she says.
Turner also does cookie and cupcake workshops for Bas Mitzvahs, dessert demos for Chabad Houses, and events like bridal showers, which has added to her popularity.
“I really love that aspect of my business. I give a little demo and participants get to make their own fondant designed cookies to create and take home. I love the interaction with so many different people from so many different places, and everyone is having a great time,” Turner says.