Claim to Fame

T he cranberries in a piping hot cranberry orange almond scone from Kathy’s Famous Cookies nearly melt in your mouth. “Moist—imagine that” says the description on the menu, and you don’t have to.

But Kathy’s is famous—at least locally—for its cookies. Owner Kathy Klein opened the business in 2000 as a wholesale operation selling to local grocery stores and markets. She spent the first six years baking just one kind of cookie: a Jewish favorite from childhood called mandel bread, which she describes as similar to biscotti. “It’s not a bread at all, it’s just the very way you shape it and form it, it’s kind of in a flat loaf,” she explains. “But I make it different than anyone else, … and everyone loved it.”

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Today the original Kathy’s Famous Cookies treat is branded as Molly’s Mandel Bread in honor of Klein’s mother, who gave her free reign as a child in the kitchen, where she learned how to bake through trial and error. Her parents would have people over when she was a kid, she says, “and I’d be in the kitchen, unbeknownst to them, just baking… improvising or ad-libbing on any recipe and bring[ing] it out, and I loved everyone saying, ‘Oh, Kathy, look what you baked!’” she says with a laugh. “That’s how I did it. No one restricted me.”

When she started her business, “I only intended on selling one product—one cookie,” Klein says. But eventually one of her wholesale clients at a coffee house in Westport asked her, “‘Do you make other kinds of cookies?’… I go, ‘Yeah, sure’… I started making all kinds of cookies: chocolate chip, toffee, double, oatmeal, every flavor,” she says. Then she was asked to make biscotti—“Never made it in my life!”—and muffins and scones. She looked up recipes, tested them and tweaked them to her satisfaction, expanding her repertoire as she went.

For a time, Klein shared a kitchen and retail space with a custom cake baker, then went out on her own in a “totally hidden spot” on Milford’s Melba Street. The bulk of her business was still wholesale, but “people found me,” she says.

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Today Klein’s biscotti can be found in New Haven at Cedarhurst Cafe and in Hamden and Branford at Common Grounds coffee shops; her packaged cookies are at Elm City Market in New Haven, Amity Meat Center in Woodbridge and in numerous Fairfield County locales as well as Shoprite, Adams and Big Y supermarkets. Klein’s brand new retail space in the Adams Hometown Market plaza off New Haven Avenue in Milford offers up jars and bags and plastic containers of sweet treats from cookies and scones to muffins, biscotti, cupcakes, cake truffles, lemon squares and brownies. Sometimes, Klein says, she dreams up new flavors as she’s falling asleep at night. The biscotti, lined up in oversized glass jars along one counter, are a good example of her culinary creativity: papaya coconut topped with white chocolate and shredded coconut; pistachio chocolate chip coated in chocolate; cranberry oat white chocolate. The list goes on—much of it in shades of chocolate.

The Kathy’s Famous Cookies retail shop walls are painted chalkboard black with bold pink writing listing the menu options, and a sparkling chandelier lends a lavish touch. New customers who wander in need to be educated: Kathy’s isn’t so much a bakery—no bread, no cakes or pies—as a sweet shop. “I do cookies,” she tells one newcomer. The dreamy scent of cookies baking says it all when you open the front door.

Speaking of the oven, it’s hot all day long. If you call ahead asking for something particular, Klein will have her staff pop it in the oven for you. She insists on the freshness of her product: “If we bake it today, we sell it today,” she says. “If we sell 12 cran-orange almond scones, we put 12 more in [the oven.]”

Klein works hard, keeping her shop open and her clients supplied seven days a week. The shop’s posted hours are “just a guide,” her website says. “Most often we are here way past the closing time. If the open sign is [on] we are here!” It hasn’t always been easy, especially in the earliest days of Kathy’s Famous Cookies, when Klein was raising her two small sons, now grown.

Her products have grown with them, but Klein says she never gets tired of baking. As for that original mandel bread, it’s still a top seller. “Most coffee houses that I sell to don’t call it that,” she says. “They call it cinnamon, chocolate chip and almond biscotti.” Presumably, they also call it “delicious.”

Kathy’s Famous Cookies
1365 New Haven Ave, Milford
Mon-Fri 7am-6pm, Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 8am-4pm
(203) 878-5712
www.kathysfamouscookies.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter at KathyLeonardCzepiel.com. Her favorite New Haven scene is a packed summer concert on the Green with dinner from the food trucks, and she loves that there’s always something new to discover here.

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