Hold onto your hats – and scarves, gloves, etc. (okay, bad joke) – this may shock you: I never really liked mandel bread, or mandelbrot, a quintessential Jewish food. I grew up eating lots of matzo ball soup, brisket, and all the typical dishes, but rarely had mandel bread and when I did I found it too bland and dry.
Then, about six weeks ago, I was working on an article for the Pioneer Press Newspapers (read “The Family Cookie“) about a new company that sells only mandel bread. During the interview they offered me a sample to try. I couldn’t believe it – this biscotti-like cookie was delicious! It had a crisp buttery texture (although no butter was used) and was subtly sweet. They offered many flavors but I found myself drawn most to the almond, the traditional flavor (mandelbrot literally translates to “almond bread”). I liked it even better than the chocolate chip, if you can believe that.
I started to wonder if I could make this myself, and if it would be as good. This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to try so I could bring it to my family’s early Hanukkah celebration. And I got my answer: yes, I could make a very good mandel bread that my family quickly devoured, and no, it wasn’t as good as the professionals’.
But it was awfully fun to make. My recipe is below if, like it is for me, the journey is the reward (if not, order yours and make your life easy).
The only complaint about the mandel bread was that it tasted sort of like the almond cookies given for dessert in Chinese restaurants, although I believe the relative who said this meant it as a compliment. I have to say I agreed a little – I think I went too far with the almond extract so I changed the recipe to use half as much.
Very Mandelly Mandel Bread (as in very almondy)
Makes: 3 dozen
1 cup sliced almonds
3 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
7 fl oz vegetable oil (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread the sliced on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake until the almonds begin to turn golden, about 3 to 5 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately take pour the almonds into a bowl to cool. Set aside.
Combine the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, 3/4 cup or 6 fl oz vegetable oil, vanilla and almond extracts. With the mixer running on slow speed, slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until well-combined then stir in the almonds. Add additional oil as needed, 1 teaspoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it comes together (note that the dough will still be somewhat dry and crumbly). Divide the dough into four equal pieces and shape each into an 8″ x 2″ log. Set the logs 2″ apart on an oiled or silpat covered baking sheet.
Combine the cinnamon and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Lightly sprinkle it over the logs. Bake until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool for five minutes then slice each log into 3/4-inch thick slices using a serated knife.
Arrange the slices on the baking sheet with one of the cut sides facing down and sprinkle with more cinnamon-sugar. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool for 3 minutes, then turn the pieces over. Again sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then set the cookies on a wire rack until completely cooled.