Friday, January 21, 2011

The Best Black & White Cookies Evah! This Bakery Must Be Saved!

"Willie, I need to talk to you about something."

These words came across telephone lines and an ocean. Willie is my high school nickname bestowed on me by my dear friend since 7th grade, Nancy Hirsch. Nancy is a hurricane force of creativity and talent with a huge, loving and fun personality to match. She owns a successful public relations company in NYC and has many interesting, high end and extremely talented clients.

Nancy lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Every morning before work she goes to her neighborhood bakery "Mother's" for her morning coffee and bagel and assorted baked goods. 

"Willie, you have to taste these black and white cookies at my neighborhood bakery. They are the best ones you will ever have. Ever. Lemony cake with amazing icing. I know you will be blown away. I get them right out of the oven."

She swears one of the secret weapons of her business is sending their famous black & white cookies out with her pitches to media outlets. Without fail, the black & white cookies always prompt a return call.

A few weeks ago Nancy arrived for her morning bakery run and was kibitzing with the owners. Because that's what you do in a kosher bakery. You kibutz. She learned they might close. The reality is the neighborhood has changed, their clientele is dying off, sales are way down and the landlord is tripling their rent. 

This is what has happened to NYC. The multi-generational family owned shops have disappeared. There were people who came here looking for a better life and built something substantial and (they thought) permanent. However, the city has been sold out to developers and the once technicolor fabric of the city has paid the price dearly. Family owned German Delis, Hungarian pastry shops, Polish restaurants, all have been pushed out to make room for banks, chain stores and glass towers. 

This is not what New York is about people. This is the anti New York. New York was never generic. It was special. You can find the same cranberry bliss bar at every corner Starbucks. Big whoop. Seriously. Real old fashioned bakeries and business with their specialties and heirloom time worn recipes have been wiped out. These places were integral and critical to what made New York well, New York.

"Willie, when you get to New York, I am going to take you up there. You will not believe how incredible their baked goods are and you have to meet the two ladies in their 80's who have been working there for 50 years. It would be great if you could write something on your blog but I'm taking them on pro bono. Willie I am going to save this bakery. It's just not an option for it to close."

I told you, huge personality and a heart to match.

Shortly after I arrived in NYC last week Nancy whisked me up to Mother's to meet everyone and to taste everything. The family is lovely. I met Beth and Daniel (mother and son owners) and Hilde one of the two ladies Nancy mentioned. They insisted we sample everything. 

Mother's has been the neighborhood for 50 years. It's an old school kosher bakery that sells Challah, bread, chocolate babka, three kinds of rugelach (apricot, cinnamon and chocolate) and so many wonderful assorted goodies. The black and whites are unparalleled in my opinion (and I'm a jaded New Yorker at heart.) 

Hedy and Hilde 86 and 89 years of age respectively came to America as German Jews fleeing Kristallnacht at ages 13 and 16. Settling in the Bronx both sisters have always worked at bakeries. Still referring to themselves as "counter girls", the sisters were inherited by the current owners of Mother's  along with all the original recipes over 25 years ago.

When I visited Mother's, I had the opportunity to spend some with Hilde. No question, she is the star of the show. Spry as hell, her 1000 watt smile greats customers old and new. The owners confess they run everything by her, including asking her how many breads to bake for weekends. 

Hedy and Hilde have married, had children, grandchildren and have great grandchildren. Through it all they have always worked at bakeries.

They live together in a two family house and three mornings a week they walk up the hill to work at the bakery.

Hilde's husband of 65 years is home sick now but previously he would while away mornings sitting at the bakery and watching employees ring up customers, his accountant's sharp eye catching dishonest workers stealing from the register. The bakery called him their head of security.

When the bakery closed for renovation a few years back the most frequent question the owners got was not when will they reopen but would Hedy and Hilde be there when they reopen.

As for the tasting, we started off with their famous black and whites. They lived up to the hype. Just spectacular! Truly the best I have ever eaten. It was more like eating a cake than a cookie. The cake had a hint of citrus in it and the icing was just incredible. Oh how I wish I had the recipe to share with you.

Were offered chocolate rugelah right out of the oven. It was melt in your mouth divine.

Additionally a plate was put in front of us with more assorted cookies including chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, linzer cookies, rainbow sprinkle cookies and more rugelah.

Then we were offered a tour of the kitchen. 

The oven takes up the entire back wall.

There were wonderful old baking machines:

And we got a peek at them making that divine chocolate rugelach:

I spoke to some of their customers. Most have an addiction to one particular item. One man comes from Connecticut and calls ahead to make sure they set aside one dozen Napoleans for him. Actually, several of their customers I spoke to were crazy for their Napoleans. There also were the chocolate babka fanatics, the challah fans and loyal patrons who are mad for their macaroons.

For me, it was all about the black and whites and the rugelach.

But no matter who I spoke to, they all mentioned Hedy and Hilde who are alternately loved, feared, revered and respected by every regular customer.

I soon realized this post is not so much about saving a bakery as it is a tale of two sisters and how the fate of the bakery and the fate of these sisters are entwined. 

Hilde will be 90 this March. It's painful to think what will happen to her and her sister when faced with no reason to walk up the hill in the morning.

And so a plan is being formulated by Nancy and the owners for repositioning local distribution and mail orders. Most importantly, for press and an invigorated social media campaign to get the word out. To tell people to go and visit. To buy and taste and come back because you can't resist the black and whites or the chocolate babka or the rugelach. 

You can help too. Join their Facebook Page. If you live in the greater New York area, stop in. I promise, just one of their black and white cookies are worth the trip. But I am warning you ahead of their addictive powers.  

Mother's also ships everywhere in the USA. Contact them HERE.

So this is part of my effort to help my dear friend Nancy save this piece of  the NY I know and love.

And beyond the black and whites, there are those sisters to think about..


  1. I'm going to be in NY the weekend of Feb 5th. I absolutely must visit Mother's, not just to get my hands on those black and white cookies, but to show my support.

    Thanks for sharing, Lora!

  2. I especially love today's blog! Will pass it along...

  3. You had me at 'best black and white cookies evah'- they're probably my favorite bakery item and I'm definitely making a pilgrimage to Mother's next time I'm in the city!

  4. A little bit of chocolate and vanilla...for those days when you want both. It sounds like a great idea for a cookie to me!

  5. Ok now, after reading the full post, I forgive you for taunting me with those cookies and then leaving me recipe-less! I am going to get my New Yorker friend on the case in the hopes she will mobilize her considerable army of challah-loving pals to help save the bakery. Geez, this is precisely why I boycott Starbucks and all chains like it. Makes me sooooo mad!!!

  6. I loved the Chocolate Babka. Every time I visit relatives I bring Mother's chocolate babka from the Bronx, and I'm an Italian whose relatives like Italian pastry. Needless to say, the babka is always a big hit and the talk of the dessert table. It's pretty sad that the landlords rent to Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. I'm sure they hurt Mother's business. Mother's even had great coffee, far superior to Starbuck's in my opinion. A perfect companion to their apple muffins. Mother's will be missed.


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