Umber’s vision was to make American-style pastries, executed with French technique, and elevated with a touch of cosmopolitan flair. To bring it to life, she teamed up with Shelly Barbera, a classically trained pastry chef with stints at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Le Bernardin, and Brooklyn Fare under her belt, and began developing new items with the company’s mission statement in mind: “Mah-Ze-Dahr transports the curious on a delectable journey of mystery and desire.”
Take, for example, the Mah-Ze-Dahr doughnut. Far from a greasy carbo-bomb, their version is a rich brioche dough, filled with a vanilla bean-flecked pastry cream, then rolled in vanilla sugar and served, rather charmingly, with the munchkin-sized doughnut hole balanced on top like a jaunty little beret. Or, there’s the Mah-Lo-Mahr (their take on the popular Mallomar cookie) involving a cinnamon-and-clove spiced speculoos biscuit piled high with vanilla marshmallow and dipped in bittersweet chocolate before being lightly garnished with edible 22-karat gold. “We want to make things that look familiar, but have a component that might not be a part of your every day,” says Umber.
Her most personal item is nisu, a lightly sweet Scandinavian bread with cardamom-infused yeasted dough, which in Umber’s version, is dusted with pearled sugar and folded into the traditional, beautiful braid. It’s a nod to the Finnish nanny Umber had growing up, who instilled a love of baking early on. “She’d bundle me up and put me on the counter while she made nisu and told tales, so storytelling and food became linked for me at a young age,” says Umber.
The story of Mah-Ze-Dahr added a new chapter in fall of 2016, when three-and-a-half years after launching online, Umber and Shelly opened their first brick-and-mortar storefront in New York’s West Village. “The brand was developed very intentionally as a global product, so we approached our first physical home very thoughtfully to make it feel luxurious, but still comfortable and approachable,” says Umber. That meant installing quartzite counters, dove gray banquettes, and a herringbone ceramic floor that looks like finely polished wood—all details that could easily translate for potential future locations in the United States and beyond. This is all secondary, of course, to the gorgeous display case, carefully filled with a jewel-box array of pastries both sweet and savory.
The increased space has given Umber and Shelly the opportunity to centralize all production under one roof (in addition to the storefront, they continue to sell online) and to experiment with new menu items. Even while expanding, Umber strives to keep her original mission statement in mind. “We never want anything to be one-note,” says Umber. “We’re always mixing textures, flavors, and colors. Nothing about a person is monochromatic, so why should our pastries be?”