CHICAGO — Inside the tiny bustling bakery, the owners of Masa Madre are on a mission. Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vazquez Felgueres have been whipping up traditional Jewish pastries with a Mexican twist for about four years at The Hatchery on the Near West Side. They bake babkas and challahs with unique flavor profiles.
“We mostly try to bring in flavors that are a mixture of Jewish or Mexican backgrounds,” Felgueres said. “And we also do challahs with different toppings.”
But as the Jewish holiday of Purim approaches, their daily delights change.
Masa Madre is selling triangle-shaped cookies called hamantaschen.
The pastries are eaten to celebrate the story from the Book of Esther in which the Jewish people triumph over Haman, who tried to kill them centuries ago.
The story resonates today, as Russia assaults Ukraine.
“There’s a lot of helplessness,” Unikel said.
Unikel’s great-grandparents left Ukraine and settled in Mexico. She never imagined history repeating itself with others being forced to abandon their homes.
“We’re trying to use this an excuse to create awareness of what’s happening and raise money and funds for a Polish humanitarian organization that’s helping Ukrainian refugees,” Unikel said.
This year, Masa Madre is donating one-third of its profits from hamantaschen sales to help Polish Humanitarian Action. It’s an organization giving food, diapers and other necessities to refugees from Ukraine. Masa Madre is one of many bakeries around the world donating to the cause.
The owners said it’s deeply personal.
“It feels like a circular thing is happening and not in a great way,” Unikel said. “We’re doing something that’s very small but it feels like we’re just trying to make people understand they can help in all sorts of ways.”
“People are excited to find a way to be able to help through something that’s accessible and easy,” Felgueres said.
More information at Hellomasamadre.com
Their flavors are unique. You’ll find guava, caramel and peanut marzipan hamantaschen. The combinations are typical in Mexico, where the young bakers were born, but they’re unusual in Chicago. Part of Masa Madre’s goal is to introduce Chicago to their favorite flavors.
Masa Madre doesn’t have a storefront, but they have pickup locations around Chicago.