Mandelbrot cookies are an Ashkenazi Jewish dessert dating back to the early nineteenth century. Mandelbrot are closely related to the Italian cookies known as biscotti, which were first made in the Middle Ages. The word mandelbrot means almond (mandel) and bread (brot) in both German and Yiddish. In America, these tasty little cookies are known as mandel bread. Typically mandel bread are twice-baked, which makes them crispy and crunchy. They’re perfect for dipping in your tea or coffee. Because most of the moisture is baked out of them, they also have a fairly long shelf life.
The origin of Jewish mandelbrot is a bit of a mystery, though there are many theories on how and when the cookie was adopted by Ashkenazi Jewish cooks. In the wonderful book Jewish Cooking in America, Joan Nathan writes about the history of mandelbrot cookies and their similarity to other cookies made in Europe and Eastern Europe:
“With a large Jewish population in Piedmont, Italy may have been the place where Jews first tasted biscotti and later brought them to Europe where they called them mandelbrot, which literally means almond bread. In the Ukraine, a similar cookie not necessarily with almonds but made at home, thuskamish, was served. In Italy they are often eaten as a dessert dipped into wine or grappa. In Eastern Europe Jews dipped them into a glass of tea, and because they include no butter and are easily kept they became a good Sabbath dessert.”
Today’s simple and tasty recipe for mandel bread comes to us courtesy of blog reader Beth Steiner. Beth writes a cooking blog called Someone’s in the Kitchen with Brina. Beth’s Hebrew name is Brina; her blog focuses on easy kosher recipes. Her family dish, Bubbie Ruth’s Mandel Bread, won an honorable mention in last year’s Kosher Recipe Contest. It’s a great basic recipe that uses chocolate chips to sweeten the cookies (which makes it a dairy dish, unless you’re using pareve dairy-free chocolate chips). The recipe is also quite versatile; the chocolate chips can be replaced or used in combination with other sweet “add-ins” to enhance the flavor of the cookie. Since mandelbrot literally means almond bread, the most traditional add-in would be chopped or slivered almonds. Other options include chopped walnuts or pecans, dried or candied fruits like raisins, white chocolate chips, or a combination of those ingredients. You can also add ¼ cup of cocoa powder to make brown-hued chocolate mandel bread.
Of this recipe, Beth said:
“My father’s mother, Bubbie Ruth, was an amazing cook and baker. One of my favorite memories is working in her kitchen, patting rolls of mandel bread dough into the baking pan. She would always bring a fresh batch with her when she and my Zadie came to visit from Florida. After Bubbie died in 2002, my mom took over the recipe and always stores it in her special mandel bread tin. She would send it to my sister at college and once sent me a huge batch when I was living abroad in Israel. Bubbie Ruth’s Mandel Bread is a staple at every family gathering. I have her KitchenAid mixer and every time I use it to make her mandel bread, I feel close to her all over again.”
For today’s blog, I used my KitchenAid mixer in memory of Beth’s Bubbie Ruth. You can use an electric hand mixer if you prefer. Note that I’ve included a Soft Mandel Bread Variation at the end of the recipe for those who prefer a softer version of this cookie.
A special thanks to Beth for sharing this delicious recipe with the Shiksa in the Kitchen blog!
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- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (you can sub chopped nuts, candied fruits, etc.)
- Ground cinnamon and granulated sugar for dusting
You will also need
- Electric hand or stand mixer, mixing bowl, plastic wrap, cookie sheets
- Mix together oil and sugar until combined, then add eggs one at a time. After the eggs are combined, add vanilla.
- Sift together all the dry ingredients and add them slowly to the sugar/egg mixture.
- Once the dough is smooth and sticky, pour the chocolate chips in and mix.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours (at least 2) or overnight.
- Lightly oil your hands and form 4 long rows with the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I line the cookie sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup). Each strip of dough should be 3-4 inches wide. They will spread out a lot during cooking, so make sure you leave enough space between the rows.
- Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. While mandel bread is baking, in a flat shallow dish, combine ¾ cup of sugar with enough cinnamon to turn the mixture light brown. It’s best to eyeball this – it shouldn’t be too brown or too white.
- Take the mandel bread out and turn the oven down to 250 degrees F. Slice the mandel bread into biscotti sized pieces.
- Roll each cookie into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Put the pieces back on the cookie sheet on their sides.
- Bake for another 15 minutes until they’ve achieved the texture you desire. The longer they stay in the oven, the crisper they will be. If the slices are big or wide, you might need longer than 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it and don’t over-bake, as this cookie tends to dry out quickly. Store in an airtight container.
- Soft Mandel Bread Variation: I’ve had a few blog readers ask for a “Soft Mandel Bread” recipe. This is a bit of a contradiction in terms, since mandel bread are traditionally twice-baked to achieve a crispy texture. However, you can use this recipe to make a softer cookie by only baking it for 25 minutes and skipping the second 15 minute baking cycle (which in essence “toasts” the cookies). Just make sure your cookies have baked all the way through after the first baking cycle – if the center of the cookies appear moist, bake for another few minutes until fully cooked. Keep a close eye on the cookies to make sure they don’t over-bake. This will give you a “soft” mandel bread cookie.