Dona Murad and Andre Gerschel married each other three times during the pandemic: once in Bahrain, once in Central Park, once in France. These days they live with both of their moms in an apartment near Union Square (and also in Dubai), and share a gloriously complicated background.
“We both come from a multitude of mixed heritages,” the couple wrote on Instagram, “including Bahraini, Persian, Indian, Moroccan, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian.” Gerschel grew up on the Upper East Side, went to school in Canada, and until recently owned a restaurant group based in Dubai. Murad has roots in Mumbai, came to America for college, and runs a coffee roastery in Bahrain.
“It’s sort of like you always feel, ‘where am I from?’ Murad told Gothamist one afternoon last week: “Not in the sense of not belonging anywhere, more just like adopting all these cultures into one identity.” In fact, they call themselves “third culture kids,” and they bring every bit of that multi -cross-cultural energy to Librae, their brand new bakery and coffee shop located right on Cooper Square.
“We took ingredients that are very Middle Eastern, flavors that represent us and places we love, and added them to a Scandinavian/Danish pastry template,” said Murad. An early hit at Librae is the Loomi, or Black Lime, Babka, which puts the dried fruit, traditionally served in savory stews and biryanis, into a sweet setting, adding sugar and lemon custard to a dense, cupcake-sized sourdough pastry.
The croissants here are first rate, with a crackling shell and plenty of light, lovely layers inside. Librae brings out a Rose Pistachio version at times — if you see it behind the counter, order it — and their Pain de Chocolate, complete with espresso glaze, is superb.
Cookies include a Tahini Rye Chocolate Chip, some Chai Shortbread and a Strawberry, Sumac, and Hazelnut Linzer that really puts the spotlight on the headlining fruit. The sleeper hit, though, is Librae’s Frog Snapper, a seeded Danish treat that’s laminated to a crisp and surprisingly sweet.
A pair of savory morning buns are often available, one with za’atar and a touch of labneh, another slathered in marmite (famously, an acquired taste, and popular in Bahrain thanks to 150 of English colonialism), ramps, and cheddar. My choice in this department, however, is Librae’s sesame-studded Jerusalem Bagel, which comes with a lot more of that tangy house-strained labneh, olive oil, and enough silk chili strewn about to bring the heat.
There are surprises, too, based on whatever’s going on at the Union Square Greenmarket that day (Rhubarb Danish was a hit during week one), and baguettes, and loaves of bread you can bring home, including an excellent Seeded Sourdough, offered thoughtfully in large and smaller sizes. Challah makes an appearance sometimes as well.
The coffee is all imported from Murad’s roastery in Bahrain, though the couple are pursuing a more local option. They also have plans to use what Gerschel calls their “big, gorgeous kitchen” for guest-chef pop ups and sit-down dinners.
“We talk about Bahrani hospitality, where coffee houses hold the same social value as bars because people don’t drink as much,” said Gerschel. “That’s why we needed a dine-in space for Librae. We want people to dwell within our walls as long as possible. We brought this space to life, in the center of Cooper Square, an amazing location, and we get the privilege to be a part of that New York City energy. Jokingly I always say ‘please come in and support your local bakery, unless you want another CVS.'”
Librae Bakery is located at 35 Cooper Square, between East 5th and 6th Streets, and is currently open on Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (646-301-6301)