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Moms really do know best

Especially when it comes to snacking

April 30, 2015 | Photo courtesy Ryan K. Liebe

When our friend Terry Frishman introduced us to Laurie & Sons, we rushed up to La Marqueta, the East Harlem market and commercial kitchen space sponsored by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), to meet the maker of this line of delicious, but not-too-sweet, candy snacks. We spent the morning touring the gleaming commercial kitchen and learning all about how her line of chocolate-covered toffees and baked brittle bars are made. And yes, our favorite part (after meeting Laurie) might have been sampling her products, but tastings aside, what we found was that Laurie Pauker is a mom with a mission.

Here’s the dish. When Laurie Pauker was in advertising and marketing, she was raising three young sons here in New York while catering to clients in Chicago. “It just wasn’t a great mix,” she tells us. “One day I sent one of my sons on a field trip and had forgotten to pack him a lunch. I thought I was the worst mother in the world! So I took some time off.”
 
Always a cook and a baker, Laurie had never made candy—so she decided to put her time off to good use, got herself a really good thermometer, and started making candy at home. “Toffee was the first thing I learned to make,” she says, and it’s clear that she has a knack.
 
Two years ago, Laurie attended a walk through for potential tenants at La Marqueta. Since 1936, there’s been an open-air market under the elevated tracks at Park Avenue and 115th Street. The City Council and the NYCEDC were about to invest $2 million to upgrade the space and provide an enclosed retail market and commercial kitchens for food entrepreneurs and start-ups.
 
“The place was a mess,” Laurie remembers, “but I could see their vision. While we were on the tour, there was one woman who was asking really intelligent questions. It’s unlike me to do this, but at the end of the tour, I approached her and asked if she’d be interested in sharing a kitchen space with me.” That woman was Catherine Oddenino, co-founder of Luca & Bosco fine-crafted ice cream, who now shares an incredible kitchen space with Laurie while selling her more than 49 flavors at the Essex Street Market, a sister space to La Marqueta. Laurie officially launched the Laurie & Sons brand at last summer’s Fancy Food Show here in New York.
 
Laurie & Sons (and there really are three sons: Mike, Johnny, and Andrew) currently produces five flavors of chocolate-covered toffee: Dark Chocolate with Maine Sea Salt and Tellicherry Pepper; Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate with Maine Sea Salt; the incredible Moroccan Spiced (with cinnamon and cayenne) and Black Licorice with Black Lava Sea Salt, as well as two types of baked brittle bars: Toasted Almond and Maine Sea Salt and Mayan Spiced Chocolate with Pepitas. 
 
Laurie’s toffee has an excellent texture—it’s crisp, not sticky, and more buttery than it is sweet. Every piece is hand-dipped in chocolate, which some might find tedious, but Laurie says she actually enjoys the process: “The more you do it, the faster you get at it—I find it very therapeutic; that’s when I think up new recipes.” And it’s those new recipes that really set Laurie & Sons apart—both the Moroccan Spiced and Black Licorice toffees are uniquely flavored and very pretty. New flavors (like Earl Grey Tea) are rotated in on a regular basis. The brittles are not really like classic hard-candy brittle, but more like a small, flavor-packed snack bar—with about 30 calories per bar.
 
“A lot of people make toffee and it’s good toffee,” Laurie comments, “but there aren’t a lot of good spiced or flavored toffees and I think that’s where we really stand out. With the baked brittle, my whole inspiration was having food for the boys that is not junk. By baking it, I’m able to bring in healthy ingredients.”
 
Laurie and Catherine continue to have a great symbiotic relationship: one is busiest in winter, the other in the summer; and Laurie’s broken toffee pieces are stirred into ice cream, so nothing goes to waste.
 
Most impressively, the pair regularly offer ice cream and toffee making workshops at their kitchen. “Our workshops are so much fun,” Laurie says. “I have people make toffee on the stove, so they actually walk out of the class knowing how to make it at home, and then I make a batch in the commercial cooker and pour it out on the table and let people score it. Then Catherine does the ice cream portion of it, with a lot of tasting.”
 
There are also classes of school kids who visit the kitchen on field trips, which is clearly a favorite activity for Laurie. She shared with us a stack of thank you notes from budding candy connoisseurs, and we absolutely agree with one young writer who said, “Your chocolate was delectable!”
 
You’ll find Laurie & Sons products at a number of specialty food shops around the city, including Bklyn Larder, Forager’s Market, Lucy’s Whey, Westside Market, as well as online through the Laurie & Sons website.
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