When Elisa Marshall and her husband, Benjamin Sormonte, decided to open their first Maman café in New York they knew exactly what they wanted it to be: warm, welcoming and without a smidge of industrial chic.
“At the time, in 2014, the city was filled with all these sleek spots that were all about being cool and trendy,” says Marshall. “We wanted to create a home-away-from-home. An all-day café where you wanted to sit down and stay awhile to read a book, write, sketch or catch up with friends. A place where the first thing that greeted you was the delicious aroma of freshly baked goods.”
Their first location was in Soho, in a former art gallery with a tin ceiling, exposed brick and the original wood floors. Their parents came to help them. Together, they sanded down furniture, painted chairs, re-finished old harvest tables and painted the walls.
“It was perfect.” says Marshall, who grew up in Unionville, Ont. “It reminded both Ben and myself of the homes where we grew up. Rustic, charming and cozy.”
The menu, too, was a family affair made up of recipes passed down from their mamans, which means “mother” in French, and their grandmothers. Sormonte, who grew up in Montpellier, France, handled the savory dishes, such as a wide variety of quiches and Pissaladiere, a tart with olives, herbs and onions that hails from the south of France. Marshall, who discovered early on she had a knack for baking, handled the sweets, which included her grandma Gracie’s shortbread cookies and one of Maman’s oldest recipes, a Pistachio Loaf Cake.
The hominess of the café struck a chord with frazzled New Yorkers who soon flocked to it. Oprah discovered their Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies, and included them on her list of Favorite Things in 2017. “Our cookies put us on the culinary map,” says Marshall, who adds they have shipped thousands of those gooey treats across North America for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.
There are now 10 Maman cafes in New York, one in Toronto and another in Montreal. What followed was a natural next step, their debut cookbook called Maman: The Cookbook: All-Day Recipes to Warm Your Heart. It is filled with 100 recipes, including customer favourites, such as Lavender Hot Chocolate, Meme’s Couscous Taboule (from Ben’s grandmother Fatima) and countless sandwiches, soups, cakes, cookies and tarts, many of which are named after their staff, who contributed many of the recipes.
“We’ve wanted to write a cookbook from the time we started Maman,” says Marshall. “Our hope is that you will make wonderful memories cooking and baking with your own family – just like Ben and I did growing up.”
Maman’s Nutty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 14 (approximately)
11 ounces (310 grams) dark chocolate baking wafers (such as Guittard)
2 sticks (225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup raw unsalted macadamia nuts, sliced
½ cup raw unsalted almonds, sliced
½ cup raw unsalted walnut halves
1¾ cups packed light brown sugar
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 large eggs
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the baking wafers, butter, macadamia nuts, almonds and walnut halves and mix on low for about 30 seconds to break down the nuts and chocolate a bit. Add the brown sugar and mix on low until the butter and sugar come together. With the mixer still running on low, gradually add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, and mix until the dough starts sticking to the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and mix on low for 10 seconds more to evenly distribute the nuts and chocolate.
Turn the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper and flatten into a square roughly 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Fold the parchment paper to completely cover and wrap the dough, place in a reseal-able plastic bag, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 7 days.
Set a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Divide the chilled dough into 14 equal portions (about 3½ ounces/100 g each) and using your hands, roll each portion into a ball. Arrange 7 balls of dough on the prepared sheet pan, spacing them about 3 inches (7.5 cm) apart, then use the palm of your hand to flatten into disks roughly ½ inch (1.25 cm) thick. Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the sheet pan as needed for even baking and bake until the edges are browned but the centres are still a little gooey, 6 to 7 minutes longer.
For the most consistent results, Maman sets a rack in the centre of the oven and bakes one sheet pan of cookies at a time, but you can set racks in the upper and lower portions and bake two sheet pans of cookies simultaneously. Or, if your oven allows, you can set two sheet pans side by side on the centre rack. Be sure to rotate your sheet pans – either front to back or from one rack to another for even baking.
Let cool on the sheet pan for 10 minutes, then enjoy right away or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Excerpted from Maman: The Cookbook by Elise Marshall and Benjamin Sormote. Copyright © 2021 Elise Marshall and Benjamin Sormote. Photography ©2021 Linda Xiao. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.