It was a long time before I made the connection between mandelbrot, the twice-baked cookies commonly found in Ashkenazi Jewish households, and biscotti, the twice-baked cookies of Italian provenance. It’s unclear how and when Ashkenazi Jews began baking mandelbrot, but Joan Nathan, in her book Jewish Cooking in America, suggests that the large Jewish population in Italy’s Piedmont region may have been responsible for disseminating the recipe to German friends and family.
Though the term mandelbrot literally means “almond bread,” many modern varieties abound, some with the addition of butter, chocolate chips and dried fruit. This is a traditional recipe, similar to the one my grandmother used to serve with steaming glasses of tea.
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, cooled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Preheat oven to 350F. Place eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high until thickened and slightly foamy, about 2-3 minutes. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, and reserve. Add 1 cup sugar, oil and vanilla to eggs, and beat until blended, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture and orange zest to eggs, and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add almonds and mix just until incorporated. Dough will be unified, but still slightly sticky.
Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray, or lightly grease with oil. Wet hands lightly, and form half of dough into a 10-inch rectangular loaf and place on cookie sheet. Repeat with other half dough. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until loaves are browned and firm, but still slightly soft when pressed. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove to a cutting board. Using a bread knife, slice loaves on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices. Return to oven and bake until surface is dry and edges are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Pronounced: AHSH-ken-AH-zee, Origin: Hebrew, Jews of Central and Eastern European origin.