I love to bake. I make pain au chocolat that my mom, bless her heart, says rivals what she’s had in Paris. But you can’t forget your roots, can you? In my family, baking tradition is very much rooted in humble mandelbread.
Whenever I explain to people what that is, I call it Jewish biscotti. After all, the concept is similar: a twice-baked loaf cut into slices.
The name comes from the Yiddish words for almond, “mandel,” and bread, “brodt.” Of course, in one of those funny twists of fate, my family’s recipe, origins unknown and recorded in my grandfather’s slanted handwriting, does not call for almonds – unless you count the generic suggestion of “nuts” as a mix-in. Our mandelbread is practically foolproof and a breakfast addition perfect for staving off mid-morning hunger pangs.
Before I learned to bake anything else, I helped my mom with mandelbread. When it came time to mix the wet and dry ingredients together, she’d always defer to me or one of my brothers. She said it was because we had the strength of youth. I think there was more to it than that. (Although now that I am over 30, I have to admit that this step is roughly akin to stirring concrete.)
The beauty of the recipe is that unless I have let my supplies slide, I always have the ingredients: eggs, sugar, canola oil, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla and mix-ins. I make a batch maybe every other month and always have some in the freezer.
Mandelbread is the BuzzFeed quiz (“What’s Your Mandelbread Style?”) of baked goods, especially when it comes to those mix-ins. I tend to stick with chocolate chips, or sometimes dried cherries and chocolate chips. My dad favors the chewy, neon-colored dried fruit more often found in fruitcake.
How long you bake it is also open to interpretation. The more time it spends in the oven, the crunchier it gets. My mom likes her mandelbread softer, closer to a butter cookie consistency. My grandpa likes it crunchier, a la biscotti, and to his daughter’s dismay has been known to toast it even after it’s fully baked. I’m somewhere in between, though more and more I have found myself in my grandfather’s camp.
He’s 94 now, and between his mother, wife, daughter and granddaughter – not to mention his own baking – he has seen many batches of mandelbread. So I can’t argue with his feelings on the topic.
“I like it any way,” he says. “Any way you make it is good.”