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Grandma’s Baking, Mandel Brot

Tue Jul 8, 2008

Mandel Brot

Grandma Janette’s Mandel Brot

I’ve often joked that the only differences between Jews and Italians are red sauce and Jesus. The cultural similarities are countless, right down to the cookies. Jewish Mandel Brot (not to be confused with the trippy, mathematical fractal images called Mandelbrot) are a twice-baked, cinnamon and sugar dusted, nutty cookie perfect for dunking in a piping hot cup of coffee. It is almost identical to Italian biscotti, which literally means “twice-baked.” Biscotti are nutty and occasionally chocolate-dipped cookies perfect for dunking in a frothy cappuccino.Not the cookies of fancy patisseries, these are the cookies of grandmas. They are not complicated or impossible to duplicate, but they require you to get your hands a little dirty—to infuse the dough with love—and to understand their texture. They are meant to last, though they rarely do because it’s hard to eat just one. I’ve made biscotti before, but I’ve been holding out on the mandel brot. I wanted to learn how to make it from my grandma, the pro. And last week I finally got my chance.It’s not often you can gather four generations of family together for an afternoon of baking—especially with grandmas and aunts scattered across the country like powdered sugar across a giant cake. But last week my grandma, two of her three daughters, two of her three granddaughters (myself included) and one of her two great-granddaughters gathered in my mom’s kitchen for Bakefest 2008. The goal was to learn how to make my grandmother’s two most famous cookies, her rugelach and her mandel brot.Group Shot

Clockwise: My cousin Dawn rolling out the dough. A mandel brot log with dark chocolate chips. Dawn and my Grandma discussing baking. My Grandma and Aunt Sharon putting the finishing touches on the last log.

Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is never easy. My grandmother lamented that she usually used a food processor to mix the dough instead of a stand mixer, that her eggs were much smaller than the ones my mom bought and that I forgot to bring my sieve, to sift the flour and baking powder. Her recipe wasn’t precise, like baking bread. It didn’t require a scale with micro-measurements, but it was particular. And she was telling us from memory.

Grandma Janette’s Mandel Brot
3 ½ cups flour
3 ½ tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
7 oz finely chopped walnuts
cinnamon and sugar

Sift flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl so that baking powder is evenly distributed among the flour. Cream eggs, sugar and oil in a stand mixer, food processor or by hand. Add almond extract. Slowly add flour and baking powder mixture, letting the dough absorb it fully before adding more. Add nuts. Be careful not to overmix. When the dough comes together it should be pliable. Form into a large ball and cut into pieces, between two and four pieces, depending on how long you’d like your cookies to be.

Roll dough into a 10-inch log, pat lightly to flatten and place on a greased cookie sheet. Score the log lightly, every ¾-inch. Sprinkle top with cinnamon and sugar and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and slice mandel brot along score marks. Like flat and return to oven to brown, flipping once to darken evenly on both sides.

My grandmother taught us a few variations on the recipe, adding a sprinkle of cocoa powder to the dough for a more complex flavor or folding chocolate chips into the center of the log for a sweet surprise. We each (aunt, cousin and I) made a loaf, my grandmother watching over our shoulders, giving instructions—don’t work the dough so much, add a bit more cocoa powder, you don’t need to score them so deep, it’s just to making cutting them easier—all the while.It gave me a chance to see my grandma in her element, conducting the symphony as it were, of pots and pans and rolling and cooking. I’ve never seen her assert so much authority, but this was serious business, this cookie making, this sharing years of hard work with her family. And when it was done, we all poured glasses of milk and crunched down on part one of a legacy, warm and comforting through and through.Next up…Grandma’s Rugelach

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6 Responses to “Grandma’s Baking, Mandel Brot”

  1. dawn Says:

    That was such a great day! I have been checking your site all week just to hear what you had to say! Thanks for all the great pictures.
    Dawn 🙂

  2. Roz Says:

    You are one lucky person to have your grandma baking next to you! I got my Mandelbroit recipe from my mother-in-law and there isn’t much difference in the ingredients, though I use almonds, not walnuts. After the first baking and slicing, I put the bisquits in a cinnamon and sugar emulsion and spread it on both sides of the bisquit, then re-bake. Mandelbroit is always a big hit!

  3. Leah Greenstein Says:

    Thanks, Roz! I count my blessings every day. I’ve seen Mandel Brot with almonds, too (my friend just brought me some from Zingerman’s). The cinnamon and sugar emulsion sounds delish.

    I should be posting my Grandma’s rugelach recipe tomorrow; please check back!

  4. Sherine Levine Says:

    Similar to what my mother used to make. She would use almonds since “mondel” literally means almonds in Yiddish. And we prounced it mondel broit. My sister makes it now.

  5. Leah Greenstein Says:

    It’s funny, I found that out while I was researching it, and most recipes I found used almonds, but my grandma likes to go against the grain. She called it mandel bread, i also only just learned the brot or broit part. Though like lots of Yiddish transliterations, I found about five different spellings.

  6. Kaye Sacks Daly Says:

    My recipe for mandel brot is similar but uses 3 cups of flour and 2 tsp. of baking powder. The dough is very sticky and so is put in the freezer for an hour or more and then made into long loaves. I do not score it, but let it cool somewhat and then slice it and toast on both sides. I have used the traditional almond (mandel in Yiddish) but have also used chopped walnuts in the recipe. I do not add cinnamon and sugar at the end. The finished product is crisp and easy to eat with the fingers.

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