Hidden treasures are kept in shoe boxes. For some that might mean their favorite Jimmy Choo's or their collectible Nike's. Others keep love letters and hidden secrets. Kids keep their marble collections, Lego's or doll clothes. In my Omi's shoebox was Mandel bread, laden with cinnamon sugar and hidden between layers of wax paper. The box was brought out with tea served in tea cups, not mugs; thank you very much. We gingerly passed around the box and carefully chose a slice of Jewish biscotti.
Yes, Mandel bread is a type of biscotti and what came first? Italian biscotti or Jewish Mandel Bread? I don't know. Mandel Bread is not as crisp as biscotti, because of its higher oil content, but is baked in the same way. First the loaf of bread is baked, then sliced, then toasted on each side. It may take a bit of time, but the best part about Mandel Bread is that they age well. Well, that is if you can keep them around long enough.
Recently I attended a Bar Mitzvah in Chicago and sure enough Mandel Bread made their appearance. They reminded me of visits with my grandfather and Omi. They reminded me of walking into the apartment entrance and the numerous smells of everyone's cooking greeted us. They reminded me of plastic covered furniture and the dining room chairs pulled out, so everyone had a place to sit. Mandel bread reminded me of family photographs hanging on walls and my Papa's ribbed tank t-shirts. I even remember his muscles. My Papa had muscles.
Mandel bread reminded me of Sunday night, when we all went a visiting. I loved Sunday nights. Sometimes it seemed like a chore, but looking back brought up many fond memories in the memory bank. I'm only sorry that my family has never lived close enough for Sunday night visits. It was a good tradition and had a way of bringing us together in that tangled knot called family.
Mandel Bread was originally called Mandelbrot which was an almond bread. It was common in Eastern European countries but its precise origin remains unknown. It isn't overly sweet and it keeps well. It is perfect with tea and I presume coffee. It is easily dunked. Commonly made with dried fruit and chunks of chocolate and coated in cinnamon sugar, Mandel Bread is the perfect cookie for that lazy part of the day. It is a cookie meant to be eaten slowly.
I had never made Mandel Bread before last week. It is now on its way to my Zoe who is spending all her free time studying to take her CFA exam. It is meant to revive her when her brain starts falling asleep. Yes, it travels well. I always picture a shoe box of it sailing along with my Papa and family on the great ship Normandy, as they made their journey here in 1938. I don't know if it did, but it sounds good eh?
And now my stores of Mandel Bread are seriously depleted. I kept them in a big Zip Lock bag, but it just didn't seem the same. I want a shoe box for my Mandel Bread. I want them kept like treasure between sheets of waxed paper. I must go shopping for a new pair of shoes.
After serious research, I found that most Mandel bread recipes are very similar. Some are made with butter, but most are made with oil, so that they can be served with dairy or meat meals. Some don't have a coating of cinnamon sugar, but in my opinion those are missing something. There are many versions with various dried fruits and I came up with one using Earl Grey tea, apricots and chunks of chocolate. I love the traditional, but I think the Earl Grey variety could quickly become my new standard!
The nuts can be varied to suit your taste. I normally would have used walnuts, but I was out. I used pecans instead. You might want almonds.
Cinnamon Sugar Mandel Bread
Makes About 48
Time To Make: About 45 minutes
Time to Bake: About 45 minutes
1 c sugar
1/4 lb melted butter or 1 c oil (I used oil)
1 t vanilla or almond extract
1 Earl Grey tea bag contents (optional)
3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 c chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds
3/4 c chocolate chips
1/3 c cinnamon chips (if you an find them are also good in cinnamon version)
1/2 c dried apricots cut into small pieces (optional)
1 t cinnamon mixed with 1/2 cup of sugar OR
1/2 of contents of an Earl Grey teabag mixed with 1/2 c sugar
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine eggs and sugar. (A mixer is not needed but be prepared to stir.) Add oil and vanilla and mix well. Add flour and baking powder. Stir well and add nuts, and chocolate. Dough may be sticky.
At this point I divided my dough in half so that I could make two versions. The first is traditional and you may add cinnamon chips to that. If you want the Earl Grey version, mix in the tea and the apricots.
Now divide dough into 4 pieces. Shape each piece into an 8 to 10" loaf about 4" wide. Roll in the appropriate sugar. Place on parchment lined pans and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cut each loaf into about 12 slices. Cover each slice in appropriate sugar. Place on baking sheet cut side down. Bake 5 minutes and remove from oven. Turn over to bake other side for another 5 minutes. Now get your shoe box and store these for your next cup of tea!
More Omi Recipes:
German Apple Pancake
No Eggs Potato Kugel
Ilse's Passover Mocha Nut Cake