If You Give A Jake A Cookie
Laura Hurwitz didn't know the recipe for a fourth career would include eggs, margarine, and Nestle chocolate chips. Until, that is, she realized it had been sitting fragrantly under her nose for years.
Hurwitz is the founder and CEO of Jake's Mom's Cookies, a young, chip-studded small business that has grown from her East Rock home to an East Street kitchen. After months of experimentation, beta testing and ingredient tweaking, she is expanding the business to include not only partnerships with local coffee shops, but a suite of fellow female baker-collaborators from around the region.
“Chocolate chip cookies, specifically, are what I make," she said in a recent interview for WNHH’s “Kitchen Sync” podcast. “I’ve learned to make them well over the last 30 years. And I pretty much suck at other stuff.”
But her dedication to that one product goes back years, to Hurwitz' childhood in New Haven. Born and raised just miles from her current home, Hurwitz began her love affair with chocolate as a kid, when her mom set up a rotating, weekly cookie schedule. It was fairly simple: The family had money for one store-bought package of cookies a week, and her mom wanted to economize while making three kids happy. So Hurwitz got to choose the brand one week, her sister would choose the following week, her brother the week after that, and then the order would reset.
Maybe in another household, that process wouldn’t have reached political heights. But Hurwitz lived for her weeks, when she gravitated toward Oreos or Chip’s Ahoy cookies, creamy and dunkable or crisp and smudged with milk chocolate. She savored those seven-day stretches, she said, because she knew what was coming in the interim—her brother and sister opted for Fig Newtons and Nilla Wafers, cookies that made her mood crumble.
“It’s like the people who love Necco wafers or Swedish Fish,” she said. “It’s like: Why?"
"With Oreos, you could get a really creamy bite. You could have the edge of the cookie. You could take the top off and eat the cream. For me, cookies were this wonderful pleasure, and if you were limited to this one brand a week, you had to make it good.”
By the time she was a young adult, she said she knew she wanted a different cookie regimen for herself and her family. Married during her junior year at Yale University, Hurwitz took her first post-college career with the Ford Modeling Agency in New York, spending multiple days a week on “Go Sees”—shoots where models would compete with each other for magazine and advertising work—while her husband trudged through medical school at Columbia. It was stressful, she said—models spent days trying to beat out people they knew, all while walking around Manhattan in toe-pinching, leg-squeezing high heels. When she came home, baking became her refuge.
“I just, I loved handling the dough,” she recalled. “I would get home, and I would just get in my pajamas and fire up the oven … it was me, and the stove, and cookies.”
But they were never a business plan. As Hurwitz’ cookies got her through modeling in New York, and then a move to California, and then back to New Haven, they remained a pastime. She experimented with Nestle’s standard recipe, baking for extended family as her own grew from just two adults to two adults with two kids. She continued working, in a job with Yale’s admissions office.
And then, in the late 1980s, she became pregnant with triplets. In a year, Hurwitz went from being a mother of two to a mother of five. In that same year, she and her husband had moved from Hamden to Bethany, to an old farmhouse that needed some serious repairs. She took a leave of absence from work. And then, she said, she realized “there’s like no going back with five kids.”
“It just isn’t going to happen,” she said. “So I was home a lot, and … one of the things I really enjoyed doing was baking. It was something that you could do with everybody home. The kids could get involved … and the house always smelled good.”
It meant, she added, that her chip-nibbling, flour-dusted sous chefs took on new significance—and so did the recipe. If baking was something she did with her kids—five became six—she decided that she was going to make the recipe “just the best it could be.” She beta tested, adding more flour and subbing in margarine—she is fiercely dedicated to Fleischmann’s—for perkier, chewy cookies instead of the pancake-like ones that the standard recipe turned out.
A hobby that was turned out by the batch gained celebrity status in the neighborhood. As the family moved from Bethany to Hamden’s Spring Glen neighborhood, Hurwitz would leave a jar of fresh cookies in the kitchen, her back door unlocked. The scent traveled; Neighbors slipped in at all hours of the day, grabbing cookies and running out before the family could spot them.
“A lot of them would talk about it years later,” she recalled. “They would say, ‘You didn’t know this.’ … And I did know, but I didn’t know the extent.”
She still had an inkling of how far the cookie fixes went. Located close by, Hurwitz’ dad would stop in each day to take two cookies. Overtly, he would take one, munching on it as he visited with family. But afterwards, he would take a second cookie, and squirrel it away in the pocket of his khaki pants, where “they would have this big butter stain on the pocket.” It was a defense mechanism: Hurwitz’ mom kept him on a diet, and would check his breath for the scent of sugar and chocolate chips.
Her kids grew up. A writer and poet, Hurwitz resumed work, this time teaching at Hamden Hall and tutoring in her free time. The small business idea bounced around her mind, but remained somewhere in a corner—it seemed like too much of a logistical hassle. It was only after a push from her son Jake last summer that Hurwitz decided to give it a try.
“He [Jake] heard me hemming and hawing,” she said. “He said: ‘Listen. Why don’t we test it. We’ll see what happens.’”
In July of last year, he and co-host Amir Blumenfeld had an episode about the cookies on their podcast, “If I Were You.” The test: to see how long it took Hurwitz to get to 50 orders, via the power of her son’s suggestion. The response went viral: In 42 hours, she was overwhelmed with national and international requests, people who were asking for shipments by the dozen.
“That’s when I realized I just had to do this,” she said. Jake’s only ask in return: that his payment come in the form of fresh cookies, shipped from New Haven to his current home in Los Angeles.
Since then, Hurwitz has ironed out her business strategy, and started looking ahead to expanding her cookie kingdom in a way that supports other female bakers. After a three-week break in August, she worked on a Limited Liability Company (LLC) status, churning out a new website where orders could come in.
She came up with more biodegradable packaging for the cookies. She secured commercial kitchen space, swapping fresh cookies for rent at Koffee? on Audubon’s East Street kitchen. After a surprise check-in from the State Inspector, she retooled her label, listing ingredients as they appeared by weight.
It's been a sharp learning curve, she said. During one of her first sessions in the commercial kitchen, she overestimated baking time for a high-powered oven, parting with a whole batch of burnt cookies after 10 minutes proved to be five minutes too long. As she expanded batch size, she experimented with 50 pounds of margarine from Restaurant Depot—only to find that it rendered the sweets “totally inedible.” She’s struggled with time crunches, racing the clock when the number of orders exceeds the number of hours she has with a 20-quart mixer.
But there have also been victories, she said. Lots of them. Like touching the dough, and knowing if it's ready for the oven. Or walking into Koffee? and Cafe Romeo, and seeing her cookies for sale behind a glass case.
Now—and with two vegan daughters very much in mind—she is working to expand options for customers with food allergies, gluten sensitivity and dietary restrictions. Already, she has a number of monthly cookie subscribers. With the expanded business, those customers will have a choice to try another baker’s products.
She said that it’s part of her philosophy that “everyone has a story, and everyone has a favorite cookie they do really well.” This month, she is beginning the series with Buffalo-based baker Jane Licata, who specializes in nut-free chocolate biscotti.
“I could just get people’s recipes and do them myself, but I just think it would be so much more fun to welcome other bakers into the kitchen and have them do their cookie of the month,” she said.
She is also striving to bring as much joy into the world, through her ingredients and her final baked products, as she can muster. It’s because, she said, “I would love to make a cookie that is cruelty-free in every way.”
Laura Hurwitz is host of the weekly podcast “The Easy Chair.” Find it here, or wherever you get your podcasts. More information about Jake’s Mom’s Cookies at the business’ website. To listen to the partner episode of WNHH’s Kitchen Sync where this interview appears in full, click on or download the audio above.