An Early Taste Memory
Reading Ed Miller’s Dec. 12 Kitchen Table column about rye bread took me back to my own attempt to recreate a childhood treat. My grandma Dora was a good cook and baker, though I never spent time alongside her in her kitchen. It had never occurred to me or, I’m guessing, to my mother to even ask — she was very traditional and staid, preferring to work solo. I did, however, have the luck of being a sidekick in my mother’s kitchen, and learned lots, including my love of cooking, from her.
Still, barely any of my grandmother’s recipes were passed down to my mom, and thus to me, except for her blintzes, which my kids have enjoyed since they were young. So when I began craving Dora’s Mandel Bread, I entered the rabbit hole of trial and error in attempts to replicate an early taste memory. I tried many recipes before finding this one — the closest approximation I can imagine.
For those unfamiliar with mandel bread, it’s essentially Jewish biscotti, twice-baked pieces of deliciousness, made with oil instead of butter, and excellent dunked into a hot drink. The name comes from the Yiddish and German mandel brot, and translates as almond bread, though the recipe is adaptable to other nuts and add-ins. I often put chocolate chips in mine or dip an end of the finished bars in melted chocolate. I’m not sure that Dora would approve, but I’m grateful to her for the original inspiration. —Karen Friedman
Dora’s Mandel Bread
makes about 30 to 40 cookies
1/2 cup minus one tablespoon canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (toasting them first is nice but not required)
2 ½ to 3 cups all-purpose flour
Optional add-ins: (up to 1 cup total) chocolate chips, dried fruit, unsweetened coconut chips
Optional for melting/dipping: 8 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate
Preheat oven to 325 F while you line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray or rub it lightly with oil.
Combine the oil, eggs, and sugar until well blended. Add baking powder and vanilla and beat well. Mix in nuts, add sifted flour, and mix, then add and mix in any desired add-ins. As for the range in the flour quantity, when it is fully incorporated, the batter should have no wet spots, and will be fairly stiff but not overly dry. Refrigerate for one hour or as long as overnight.
Divide chilled dough in half and form into logs about 2 inches wide and 14 inches long. Place on prepared cookie sheet a few inches apart, as they will spread a bit. Bake for 30 minutes, then cool for about 5-10 minutes. At this stage, they should be cooked through, but there won’t be much or any browning.
Increase the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut logs crosswise or diagonally into bars (cutting crosswise will produce more but shorter bars, diagonally fewer and longer), putting bars on the cookie sheet with cut sides up. Bake for 20 minutes, turning over once midway through baking, until they are golden brown. Cool on a rack, store in airtight bags or containers. These freeze well.
For chocolate dipped: melt 8 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate in a double boiler, stirring or whisking until fully melted and smooth. When mandel bread is completely cooled, dip either one half the length or across the bottom to coat. Allow to dry on parchment, either on the counter or in the fridge.
From the Messiest Pages in the Book
These are from the sugar-stickiest, most vanilla-stained page of my old Union Square Cookbook. I haven’t changed the basics, except to roast the almonds briefly before starting in and increasing the salt a little. Scribbles point out variations I’ve tried. The best of those: instead of using aniseed and Pernod, use grated orange zest and minced fresh rosemary. —Teresa Parker
for 5 dozen cookies
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
½ cup whole almonds
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp. cornmeal
1½ tbsp. whole aniseed
1½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. Pernod
1 egg white
1 extra tbsp. of sugar to sprinkle on top
Heat the oven to 350 F while you combine flour, sugar, almonds, cornmeal, aniseed, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
Add the butter and continue mixing on low speed until the dough has the consistency of wet sand, then mix in the eggs, vanilla, and Pernod until a soft dough is formed.
Divide dough in half and form two logs, each about 15 inches long. Set the logs several inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet, flatten them a bit, paint them with the egg white and sprinkle with the extra spoonful of sugar.
Bake the logs for about 30 minutes, until they’re golden. “Firm but still pliable,” says Union Square. Remove the logs and lower the oven temperature to 325 F.
Let the logs cool a bit, then slice them — slim is good, but getting them under about 1/3 inch seems impossible. Lay them out on the baking sheet and put them back into the oven for another 15 minutes until they’re golden. They’ll crisp up a little more when they’ve cooled, which makes them perfect for dipping into coffee or booze.
A Cookie to Make People Happy
I started baking holiday cookies as gifts for teachers when my son was in nursery school. But when you start something, people come to expect it.
I started getting requests for certain kinds of cookies when I cycled different ones in and out of rotation each year, depending on my mood. And so for the past 20 years I have baked every year for gifts. Cookies go to teachers, but also clients, neighbors, friends. I choose one Sunday in the middle of December when I plow through the day methodically, like it’s my penance. I start around 8 a.m. and finish around 8 p.m., covered in flour and tears, swearing I’ll never bake again. The thing is, home-baked cookies make people happy. So I’m doing it again this year.
This double chocolate cookie is for true chocolate lovers. It gets requested yearly. I stole it from one of those grocery checkout Martha Stewart booklets and the one change I’ve made is to use fewer chocolate chips. Martha’s recipe is called “Outrageous Chocolate Cookies,” and even though I’m all for holiday excess, I think her amount really is too much. —Karrie Adamany
Double Chocolate Cookies
makes 24 cookies
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt the chopped chocolate with the butter in a bowl set over simmering water, stirring constantly so it won’t scorch (or in a microwave on low for just 20 seconds at a time). Then let it cool to room temperature.
Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, and salt.
Beat the eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed in an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and beat in chocolate-butter mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chunks.
Drop by heaping tablespoons, a few inches apart, onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are shiny and crackly, but still soft in the center, about 12-15 minutes.
Cool part way on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Do your friends keep suggesting dinner at your place? If you’re that kind of cook, maybe you ought to invite the rest of us to your table. Send a favorite recipe. If it’s made with ingredients that are in season here, all the better. Something not too complicated, something with a story to it. Send it to [email protected].