Mandelbread – or mandelbrodt, literally, almond bread – was my first solo cookie. Eight years old and alone with cousin Dana’s 3 x 5 card, the mess should have meant disaster. But they came out well, happy and fragrant, a miracle. I kept baking.
Mandelbread are the Jewish biscotti – maybe a little sweeter, crisp but not rocky and always baked twice. It’s an easy dough to mix and rolls like shiny buttered clay.
Mandelbread loaves are good for small hands.
And it’s fun to watch the cookies get sliced by bigger hands.
In the oven, they smell like a bakery – one room with racks, where the night kitchen fogs the sidewalk with cinnamon and flour. A shop where someone holds your hand and the first cookie is free.
A sprinkling and back to the oven. For big eyes, a second wait…
…and they’re done.
They will go to the new baby’s house. They will get dipped in your uncle’s coffee, unwrapped in the dorm, munched over papers. They will comfort on the funeral table. Mandelbread is a cookie you can’t live without, but of course that’s because I never have – and why would I want to try? Every family has that plate of something and to me, the humble slice is plainly perfect.
Mrs. DuBois’ Yummy Mandelbread
This recipe is adapted from a favorite and extremely dirty spiral-bound community book. It was proudly contributed by one Mrs. E. DuBois, who dubbed them Yummy Mandelbread. Thanks, Mrs. DB – they are.
1/4 lb (one stick) butter, softened at room temperature
1 heaping tablespoon soft shortening *
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup toasted whole almonds, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Use an electric mixer to cream the butter and shortening. Stop to scrape the bowl and add the vanilla and almond extracts. Continue beating butter mixture until creamy and well-combined. Add the sugar and eggs, one at a time, to smooth.
In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients to blend – flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating on low speed until dough is just combined. If using chopped almonds, add nuts to dough and briefly mix, just long enough to evenly distribute.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to smooth. Divide dough into four equal parts. Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a cylinder, each about as long as your cookie sheet and approximately 2″ wide.
Transfer dough cylinders to prepared cookie sheets (greased or parchment-lined), two per sheet and spaced at least 2″ apart. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the cylinders slightly, working down each length until done.
In a small bowl, mix equal parts cinnamon and sugar to make about 1/2 cup. Add a generous dash of nutmeg and mix to blend.
Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over each rolled dough strip. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until strips are golden and just firmed up. Remove from oven and cool until safe to handle.
Using a thin serrated knife, cut each strip on the diagonal to form approx. 18-20 pieces. Arrange cut pieces on the cookie sheets and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Return cookies to oven until golden brown and tops appear dry, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully and do not over-brown. Cool on racks and enjoy!
Mandelbread keeps very well at room temperature, sealed in plastic bags, up to a week. For longer storage, they freeze beautifully.
* resist the urge to omit the tablespoon of shortening. Mandelbread are frequently made with vegetable oil or shortening – Mrs. DuBois actually named “Spry” – so as to remain kosher, using neither meat nor milk. Many modern versions use butter, but a small amount of shortening keeps the cookie texture light. Crisco’s soft “sticks” measure easily and mix well.