The petit four queen

Efrat Libfroind has a thriving business selling upscale, intricate petits fours and chocolate creations around the country.

Efrat Libfroind 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Efrat Libfroind 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Efrat Libfroind got married 20 years ago, she didn’t even know how to make an omelet, she recalls. Today she has a thriving business selling upscale, intricate petits fours and chocolate creations around the country and instructing others in the art of fancy confectionery.
“I guess I did have something in me,” she says. “I love very much – since I was a little kid – aesthetic, nice things. By me, all the baking is very, very decorated. Not just a plain cake – it will always be decorated.”
Libfroind, 40, who lives in the haredi Romema neighborhood of Jerusalem, balances her growing business with teaching, writing regular cooking columns, taking care of seven children – including a newborn – and working on the launch of a new kosher Hebrew food magazine.
Seventeen years ago, Libfroind went on vacation in New York with her husband – who studies full-time in yeshiva – and, on a whim, signed up for a two-month intensive pastry course at a prestigious culinary school. She took to it immediately and, after returning to Israel, dived straight into the next steps needed to make a livelihood in the pastry arts.
“First I continued learning all over the place,” she says. “I went to France, I went to Germany, I went to Spain once, once in Italy – mostly in France.”
But the high-end intensive workshops she participated in were not kosher, so Libfroind couldn’t sample her intricate confections, no matter how tempting they were.
“That part was really hard,” she says.
“But it’s something that you know you can’t taste. If you just decide that you can’t and that’s it, then you can’t. Some of the teachers were very nice and kind and some were really not nice” about it.
Libfroind recalls returning home from her trips abroad, distributing gifts to her children – who range from three months to 19 years old – and then sitting down to convert recipes from non-kosher to kosher and from dairy to parve.
Once she had expanded her skill set, Libfroind began teaching courses to other haredi women. Then, 13 years ago, she opened her business, selling petits fours, cakes and other miniature desserts. Soon she became known around the country as the petit four queen, selling thousands upon thousands of the miniature artistic creations each year. As the business expanded, she brought in several haredi women to work with her and moved the operation from her home to a nearby kitchen.
“In the beginning it was very hard for me to give them things to do,” she says. “I used to say, ‘OK, don’t do that, I’ll do it,’ because I didn’t trust them.” But today she’s happy to delegate when she can and to focus on other projects, like the kosher magazine she’s launching for Purim next year.
“I think it’s a shame. It’s Israel, a Jewish nation, and there isn’t even one kosher magazine. It’s just insane,” says Libfroind, who will serve as the editor-in-chief and the publisher. The magazine, which is titled Buffet, will come out every two months and will feature some of the top chefs in the country, who she says were happy to create kosher content for her.
As her business grows, she has become in demand outside the kosher community and she says over the past year she has worked increasingly with secular Israelis.
“The reactions that I get from there are even more than the frum [observant] people,” she marvels. “They say, ‘What, is this real? Are you really frum? You’re probably hozeret b’tshuva,’” she said, using the phrase for a woman who grew up secular and became religious later in life.
Almost two years ago, Libfroind published a book, Kosher Elegance, highlighting her unique food creations and stylings.
It was published in Hebrew and its first run sold out after a month before it was translated into English and sold in the US.
“It was my dream for years and people kept telling me for years, ‘Please, write a book,’” she says. “I wanted it to be something really, really special; mine has to be different.” The book – a weighty tome that includes a full-page, glossy color photo of each dish – broke kosher cookbook norms with its chapter organization, intricate presentations and emphasis on desserts.
The chapters range from simple brunches and hors d’oeuvres to whimsical layers and sushi (a variety of foods presented in roll or stacked form). There are recipes for five-ingredient chicken and a 22-ingredient, four-step chocolate halva roulade.
“I can’t even explain what it was like to hold the book,” she says. “It was like giving birth, like having a baby.” And while she’s currently in the “thinking” stage for a second book, right now she’s focusing on the magazine, her business and her family. She also travels to Europe regularly for special courses with top chefs and to pastry exhibitions, as well as to New York twice a year to teach courses there.
And while she isn’t quite your typical Israeli foodie, there is one indulgence she shares with much of the country.
“I never miss an episode of Master Chef.