For Baldwinite Heidi Riegler, there is nothing better than watching someone taste her confections for the first time. “There’s such a sense of joy when you have a customer taste your cookie,” Riegler, in a thick Austrian accent, said, “and the face of that person changes and they smile. It’s really nice.”
But she added that she’s giving Baldwinites and others more than just a sweet treat — she’s helping her culture survive, and teaching new customs to people who may be unfamiliar with them. “I feel like I’m giving something back in a sense,” Riegler said. “A lot of the people, either they have Austrian ancestors, or they traveled to Vienna and they loved the culture. So they will come here and give the cookies to their children of grandchildren.”
All this has been done out of a small, modest storefront at 782 Merrick Road in Baldwin, where Riegler has been baking thousands of Linzer cookies, cakes and strudels for three years. What started as a hobby for the Austria native has now turned into a full-time job — and she’s preparing for one of her busiest seasons.
Riegler, owner of the Baldwin-based Vienna Cookie Co., has been preparing Easter breads (a sweet, yeast-risen dough that sometimes includes an egg in the middle) and cookies ahead of the holiday. An Easter basket, a popular item at her shop, includes the bread alongside a Linzer cake (similar to the cookie, but larger), Linzer cookies, sugar cookies and snack-sized Bundt cakes. A bag of chocolate eggs and gummy rabbits finish off the basket, which can be brought in store or online at viennacookiecompany.com.
Although Linzer cookies are more well-known, Riegler encourages new customers to go for the cake version instead. “Everybody who has tried that has fallen in love with it,” she said. “We do farmers’ markets and have people who just come for that.” The Linzer creations are filled with one of three jams — apricot, raspberry or lemon curd.
Like most Austrians, Riegler has been baking most of her life. “Everybody kind of bakes around Christmas,” she said. “You started with your mom and grandmom. That’s how I learned it.” Born in Graz, Austria’s second-largest city behind Vienna, Riegler worked in public relations for years when she moved to the United States.
Her baking career started not with her own creations, but with her mother’s. “When my mom came here for my wedding,” Riegler said, “she baked almost 2,000 cookies. Everybody was next to the cookie table.” The Baldwinite had her mother’s recipe, a family tradition that had been passed down from generation to generation. So, she decided to start making them herself. At first, she only baked during the holidays and kept her public relations job.
That changed about three years ago, when she attended the annual Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center. There, she landed wholesale accounts with several businesses — including Williams-Sonoma, a kitchenware retail company.
Landing the accounts allowed Riegler to turn baking into her full-time job. “I just wanted to do something else,” she said of the career change, “something with my hands and a little more creative.” Most of the baking is done by her, though during the busier season she employs help in the kitchen.
Customers can also get a behind-the-scenes look at Riegler’s creations. The Vienna Cookie Co. hosts baking classes during the week, and those interested in attending can sign up by visiting the store’s website. The classes started with strudels and grew to include other treats. “It’s a small, intimate group of people,” she said of the classes.
Most of Riegler’s business, she said, is done through shipping products ordered online. But customers can visit the store on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.