Mandel Bread

Mandel is Yiddish (and German) for "almond." Brot means "bread." The truth is these cookies should be called mandelbrot, but my family always used the English/Yiddish compound. Why we mixed up the two languages I¹m not sure. A friend once suggested we just call them biscotti judaica, Italian for "Jewish cookies." After all, they look, taste, and are even made like Italian biscotti. (At least one food authority thinks they may have originated from the ghetto in Venice.) You should have seen my sister Carrie and I trying to teach my mother the word biscotti. Just when we thought she had it, she¹d flubbed the word "spaghetti" instead. Anyway, these cookies are terrific.

Mandel bread comes in many varieties. Some have chocolate chips, others are made with matzo cake meal so they can be eaten on Passover. Although I¹ve seen "mandel bread" made with hazelnuts, the phrase "hazelnut mandel bread" is actually an oxymoron. The trick is that the cookies are baked twice. First they are shaped into logs and baked until set. Then they are sliced into cookies and baked again to dry out. The resulting cookie is a little bit like a rock--in a good way. They are best dunked in coffee (an Italian might use vin santo). Despite these numerous steps, they are easy to make. My mother, who lost her sight several years ago, can literally make them in her sleep. And hers are always delicious.

Orange-Vanilla Mandel Bread
There are several secrets to these cookies, not the least important of which is using fresh, good quality almonds. My mother sprinkles the dough with vanilla sugar, available in small packets from Germany¹s Dr. Oetker or made simply by putting vanilla beans in a canister of sugar and letting them sit for a few weeks. Alternately, you can roll the cookies in cinnamon sugar before the second baking.

Yield: Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 cups whole almonds, with skin
  • 1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, about 1 small 6-ounce can, defrosted but not diluted
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Crisco (100% soy bean) vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus an additional 1/2 cup if necessary
  • 2 packages (about 3 tablespoons) vanilla sugar or 3/4 cup Cinnamon Sugar
    (page tk)
  • Special Equipment
  • 2 cookie sheets
  • Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease generously. Place the whole almonds on one of the cookie sheets and set in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, just until you can smell the scent of toasted almonds. Stir them around once or twice while toasting and be careful not to let them burn. Remove from the oven and cool. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Pulse the processor about 15 times, just until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Do not worry if they aren¹t uniform; some pieces should be bigger than others.

Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, vanilla extract, vegetable oil, eggs, sugar, and salt until well blended. Using a wooden spoon, stir in about 2 cups of the flour with half of the almonds until blended. Add another 2 cups of flour and the remaining almonds. The dough should have the consistency of loose Play-do‹it should be able to hold its shape without looking dry. If it is too wet, add additional flour, no more than 1/2 cup, until it will hold its shape.

Using a large spoon, scoop about half of the dough into a log shape down the center of one of the cookie sheets. With the back of your spoon or a flexible spatula, shape the dough into an even log about 2 inches across, 1 inch thick, and 12 to 15 inches long. Repeat with the remaining dough on the second cookie sheet. Smooth out the logs so they look uniform. Don¹t try to crowd two logs on one sheet because they will expand slightly as they bake and you will need the extra space for the second part of the baking process. If using vanilla sugar, sprinkle one whole package over the surface of each of the logs to cover. Set in the middle of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the logs are somewhat firm to the touch and look cooked through (slight hairline cracks on the surface will indicate that they are ready).

Remove from the oven and cool. Turn down the oven to 250šF.

Transfer the logs to a cutting board. To make them easier to handle, you can slice them in half on an angle using a sharp serrated knife. With the same knife, continue to slice the logs on an angle about 1/2-inch thick to produce biscotti-shaped cookies. Lay the cookies sliced side down on the parchment-lined cookies sheets (you may need an extra cookie sheet in order to have enough room). If you didn¹t use the vanilla sugar, place the cinnamon sugar in a wide soup bowl and roll the cookies as you cut them in it before placing them on the cookie sheet. Return the cookies to the 250šF. oven for 20 minutes to dry out. Turn each cookie over and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Transfer to an airtight container. The mandel bread will keep for up to 3 weeks stored airtight and will freeze for up to 2 months.

A Bissel Advice
Why Crisco oil? I just like it better. Crisco makes a neutral tasting soybean oil. As I¹ve said before, I find both canola oil and corn oil to have distinct flavors and oiliness when used in desserts (or anything for that matter). Although I usually recommend cooking or baking with peanut oil, I find the peanut flavor fights with the almonds for dominance in these cookies.

What about smaller cookies? If you prefer your mandel bread the size of petits fours, make smaller logs of dough, about 1 inch wide, and decrease the initial baking time by about 8 minutes.

Slice and dry out as directed above.