WEST VILLAGE — A West Village resident whose friends nicknamed him "studmuffin" for his baking prowess has opened a sweet catering business serving VIP customers in Manhattan, the Hamptons and beyond.
Seth Raphaeli, 39, traded in his banking career to launch Studmuffin Desserts, which specializes in bite-sized, all-natural treats like soft, spicy Ginger Grant cookies, named after the "Gilligan's Island" character. He also makes black-and-white meringue cookies called Jackie O's, which he said were inspired by a Ron Galella photograph of the first lady that hangs in Raphaeli's Morton Street home.
"It's a light, elegant, chic cookie," Raphaeli, a Baltimore native, said about his signature sweet, which he makes in a commercial kitchen in Long Island City.
The 15-year finance veteran founded Studmuffin in late 2012 after years of urging from friends who tasted his cookies, pies and cakes. He named the venture after the nickname a friend gave him.
"What do you call a guy who bakes? I think it encapsulates that with a wink of the eye," he said.
Using all-organic, non-genetically modified ingredients, Raphaeli whips up cookies ($10 to $25 per bag) and "space-cake" whoopie pies in red velvet and pomegranate ($24 per dozen) for high-end boutiques, corporate events and in-room amenities at Manhattan hotels.
Since April alone, he has has gone through 4,500 pounds of chocolate chips for his popular Sinners & Saints chocolate chip cookies, which he said took months to perfect.
The thimble-sized cookies — which have 150 calories per 11-cookie serving — are a refreshing change from super-sized sweets, Raphaeli said.
"When someone eats something small, they feel better about it."
Though Raphaeli started baking as a teen, he didn't consider it as a career option until tragedy struck. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was working in the World Trade Center's South Tower. He sprinted to safety from the 62nd floor and realized later he wanted his life's focus to be making people happy.
"What makes people happier than a baked good?" he said, noting he began taking cooking classes that year.
Raphaeli said he will open a Studmuffin retail store if he sees sufficient interest.
"That would be great," he said.