26 August 2010

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

Mandelbrodt doesn't quite fit into the category of cuisine that my dad refers to, lovingly, as Jewish soul food. It stands apart from traditional eastern European Jewish dishes like potato latkes, creamed herring, chopped liver, and tzimmes , with its blatant lack of even a single ingredient of the holy Jewish soul food trinity: garlic, onion, and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Despite these shortcomings, mandelbrodt (translated literally as 'almond bread') holds a special place in my sentimental heart, mostly because my grandmother made them on holidays as a special treat. She'd transport the cookies from Houston in a wax-paper lined tin that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and potpourri like everything of hers did. I loved them.

I hadn't had mandelbrodt in years and for some reason recently had a craving for some. The craving sent me digging through my binder of family recipes where I discovered that it certainly wasn't just my grandmother who had a fondness for these dry, biscotti-like cookies. Among the recipes I found no less than four takes on mandelbrodt, all slightly different, from several women of my grandparent's generation on both sides of my family. I'm guessing the dessert's popularity and sticking power has to do with the fact that it uses relatively inexpensive, easily-obtainable ingredients, can be made in large batches, requires no refrigeration, and gets better with age.

When I baked up my first batch recently, I decided to go with Mrs. Harry H. Berman's (aka Aunt Buck, my mom's great-aunt from Chattanooga, TN) version. I liked the look of her recipe and I liked Aunt Buck. In addition to Harry Berman, she went through several husbands in her life, and in her youth was a formidable fisherwoman. By the time I knew her she was an old woman who wore a wig--a fact that fascinated me endlessly as a kid. She gave me little diamond earrings. Surely her recipe for mandelbrodt would be awesome.

The basic process of mandelbrodt-making is to mix up an eggy batter, roll or spoon it into a log or multiple logs, partially bake and then slice the logs, and then bake the slices, turning once so they become golden brown on both sides. Then, while the cookies are still warm you toss them with cinnamon sugar. They are especially tasty with a cup of coffee or tea, or dunked into bowl of ice cream.

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

**be warned--this recipe makes a lot of cookies--probably 4 dozen, depending on the size 'logs' you make. the good news is that they keep well in a covered container and will earn you sugary kisses when you pawn them off on friends

4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blanched almonds (I used toasted whole almonds and chopped them up a little)

(cinnamon sugar coating--I eyeballed this--I don't like it very cinnamony but you can make this to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Measure, then sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat first five ingredients thoroughly, then add sifted dry ingredients and then nuts. Beat thoroughly.

Using a tablespoon (Buck specifies a tablespoon--I say use whatever spoon you want), spoon mixture onto an ungreased cookie sheet making about 4 strips (or logs) about 1 1/2 inches apart (I made 2 larger logs rather than 4 small ones). Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or when firm and slightly brown on bottom. Remove from oven and slice into small slices diagonally. Loosen from pan with spatula and then turn each piece onto a sliced side. Return to oven and brown for about 15 minutes or so. Remove from oven and flip each cookie over to the other side and bake for another 15 minutes. When golden brown on both sides, remove from oven, let cool slightly. Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a large ziplock back. While the cookies are still warm toss them into the bag with the cinnamon sugar, seal, and gently shake around to coat the cookies. You may have do do this in several batches and will have leftover cinnamon sugar.

Will keep well in a covered container for at least a week.

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