Mandel bread, also called mandelbrot, is a type of cookie similar to the Italian biscotti and popular in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. The cookies were popular throughout the 19th century among Eastern European Jews, often consumed by rabbis, merchants and other Jewish community members. They grew in popularity, known to be a dessert that kept well and traveled easily. But what is the backstory of this Jewish baked good?
According to Gil Marks, author of the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” mandel bread is thought to have originated in Germany and traveled Eastward, like many other Jewish baked goods. In the early Middle Ages, Italians created the original biscotti by partially baking the dough, cutting it into slices and then returning the pieces to a cooler oven to crisp. The second time in the oven extracts the moisture and lengthens the shelf life of the cookie. The exact year these cookies were adopted by Ashkenzai Jews is unknown, though mandel bread’s easy preparation made it ideal for the Sabbath. Once baking powder was added, mandel bread became lighter and fluffier than biscotti. Over time, Jewish cooks began to add dried fruit, nuts and chocolate chips. During Passover, it was common to make mandel bread with matzah meal instead of flour. The Yiddish word “mandlbroyt” translates to “almond bread,” as the baked good often included almonds. Among the Ukrainian Jewish community, mandelbrot is known as kamishbrot. By the 1940s mandel bread had made its mark in plenty of Jewish cookbooks.
While traditional mandel bread is harder to find nowadays, there are still plenty of Jewish delis and companies honoring the classic dessert, such as Zabar’s, Michael’s Mandel Bread and C. Kreugers. There’s even a number of new Jewish baking companies who are adding playful, modern takes on the classic cookie. Whether you enjoy it on its own, with a cup of coffee or haven’t yet tried them, now you’ll know little more about the Jewish lineage of this beloved dessert.
Ready to make some mandel bread at home? Here’s three recipes to try: