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Baking Mandel Bread, From Generation to Generation

When it snows, I bake. This past snowstorm, I wanted to try something new (and old), mandelbrodt or mandel bread. An Eastern European Jewish dessert, which literally means almond bread, is in essense Jewish biscotti. Biscotti means “twice baked” in Italian and the double baking processes — once in a loaf form and once after being sliced into individual cookies — results in a crunchy strong cookie, which of course can be softened by dunking into coffee, milk or even hot chocolate on a cold day.

The cookbook I pulled from my shelves had a tasty-looking recipe but was a bit vague about this so called double baking process (while I love baking, my weakness is often technique). YouTube videos can be helpful, but this time I decided to call my grandmother. Who else but a Jewish grandmother in upstate New York would be the expert to baking yummy Jewish treats in a snow storm? She advised: First, the dough is sticky so wet your hands when handling the loaves. Second, for the second baking, lower the temperature to 300 degrees and then bake on each side for 5 minutes.

The recipe in the “Kosher Palette” calls for either pecans or almonds and I made two batches, one with pecans and the next one with almonds. The almonds, the true mandelbrot, bring out a different but equally delicious flavor and a bit crunchier texture. Why just stop at almonds and pecans? One of the vendors at our farmer’s markets sells all different types of biscotti; could I bring the Jewish cookie to the next level? Creamsicle biscotti with orange zest and walnuts; or peanut butter chocolate; or dries cherries and cashews? Could I even attempt a savory mandel bread? Above all, what would my grandmother think about this re-invention?

The making of my snow day mandel bread resulted in more than a delicious cookie. It was a lesson learned in family traditions. Online recipes and cookbooks can do a great job, but nothing brings food and family together like multi-generations in the kitchen. My grandma recently gave me a copy of the Hadassah cookbook with notes and comments in the margins. The strength of passing down traditions from one generation to the next lies in the ability to take something simple and old-fashion like mandel bread and make it better. Spicy chocolate chip mandel bread, anyone?

Mandel Bread (courtesy of Kosher Palette)

Yields 3 to 5 dozen

Vegetable cooking spray
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ – ¾ cups chopped pecans or almonds
½ cup chocolate chips
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1) Preheat oven to 350. Coat two baking sheets with vegetable cooking spray; set aside.

2) Combine oil and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl, stirring to blend. Stir in eggs and vanilla.

3) Combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to egg mixture. Stir until well blended. Stir in nuts (and chocolate chips).

4) Divide dough into 4 pieces and form 4 loaves. Place two loaves on each prepared baking sheet.

5) Combine 2 teaspoons sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle evenly on loaves.

6) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes; turn off oven. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes; slice to desired thickness. For harder mandel, return to turned off oven after slicing. Mandel sticks freeze well. Grandma Gilda’s Version: Bake until bottom is slightly brown. (around 25 minutes). Turn oven to 300 degrees. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes; slice. Bake on each side for 5 minutes each side.

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