Libby & Laura kosher baked goods
A young baker with an entrepreneurial spirit creates traditional Jewish cookies geared for a younger audience.
Wed Mar 16 2011
Photograph: Simone Bonde
There is a slight issue with a batch of the hamantaschen. “I get all this feedback from Jewish family and friends,” explains Laura Klibanow, who runs Libby & Laura, a kosher baking company on the North Shore. “They don’t stop with the feedback. Like, my boyfriend’s mom called me: ‘Laura, you need to see what’s in the [node:7553883 link=hamantaschen;] more.’ ” So for a batch of the three-cornered cookies, a traditional treat for the Jewish holiday of Purim, Klibanow attempted to fold the dough in a way that showed more of the filling. “I’m going back to shutting them more,” she says, stating the obvious as one of her three bakers sorts the misshapen results of that experiment onto a tray to be discarded.
Though the lopsided shape of that batch was a mistake, the “s’more” filling (marshmallow fluff, non-dairy chocolate chips, graham-cracker crumble) tucked into the hamantaschen, which are usually dolloped with jam or poppy seeds, might strike some as a happy surprise. “We make a lot of traditional Jewish products, but it’s like an edgy, different spin on it,” 26-year-old Klibanow explains. “We’re trying to appeal to a younger Jewish audience.”
The “s’mores” hamantaschen, not to mention salted-caramel blondies, are new products for Klibanow, who initially envisioned a mandelbrot (Jewish biscotti, pronounced “mahndelbread”) business. After living for a year and a half in Israel, Klibanow returned to the Chicago area, where she grew up, to get her MBA at UIC. She told her rabbi at Chabad about her idea, and he encouraged her to contact the Illinois Nut & Candy Company to rent space in its kosher kitchen. After being accepted in Jewel stores, Libby & Laura outgrew the Illinois Nut space, and now bakes its pareve (non-dairy) line of white-chocolate-cranberry-pistcachio mandelbrot, coconut-pretzel brownies and more out of Zelda’s, a kosher bakery in Skokie. “I try to do things you don’t really see in kosher,” Klibanow explains. “Kosher has such a bad rap for being an inferior product. I think there’s no excuse for kosher products not to be absolutely delicious—it should be held to the same standards as its non-kosher counterparts.” Though she spends three nights a week in the kitchen baking and much of her time developing new products, Klibanow sees herself as an entrepreneur rather than a chef. After all, her mandelbrot recipe originated elsewhere.
“I love my bubbe, but she did not make good mandelbrot,” says the brutally honest Klibanow. “And Libby’s [a cousin of Klibanow’s grandfather] just always was the best.” Libby’s was made the traditional way—rolled out in long logs, sliced, baked, then toasted again in the oven at a high temperature. “But whenever my mom made mandelbrot, me and my brothers were like, ‘Don’t put it back in the oven!,’ ” Klibanow recalls. So the Libby & Laura mandelbrot is soft and doughy, and as with the hamantaschen, Klibanow’s gotten an earful about it. “That’s like the feedback I get from elderly people,” she says. “They usually say, ‘I like hard mandelbrot.’ And I say, ‘Okay, you can always put it in the toaster.’ ”
Celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 by giving shalach manot (baskets of food) to friends, family and those in need. Libby & Laura’s baked goods can be found at the East Lakeview Jewel, 3531 N Broadway (773-871-1054) and at libbyandlaura.com.