How about a cookie that perfumes the air with a waft of warm cinnamon? And that houses floral notes of tangy tangerine, not just the zest, but a whole fruit? Yes?
Here is a cookie from my past, a traditional eastern European Jewish homey staple called Mandelbrot, meaning almond bread. Perhaps the "bread" reference refers to the logs of cookie dough that are baked first, as with biscotti. These logs are then cut into slices and the slices are then baked, also a la method for biscotti. And, like biscotti, mandelbrot are dunkable, crisp and certifiably addictive. My version makes use of a fresh, whole tangerine, seeds removed, pulverized into pulp in a food processor (oranges work too). The marriage of tangerine with cinnamon and almonds is seductive, aromatic and warmly sweet.
Mandelbrot and biscotti part ways somewhat in the construction of the dough. Where the most staunchly authentic Italian biscotti have little other than eggs to bind them, mandelbrot feature a bit of unflavoured canola oil, yielding a crumblier, more tender product than what you find in the dry hardness of biscotti. Mandelbrot could indeed be considered better biscotti, less likely to crack a tooth. And while they are certainly dunkable, you can dig right in and manage them easily in their undunked state.
recipe courtesy of The Pleasures of Your Processor by Norene Gilletz
1 whole medium orange or large tangerine (honey tangerines work very well), cut into quarters and seeds removed; 2 large eggs; 3/4 cup granulated sugar; 1/2 cup canola oil; 2 tsp. baking powder; 1 cup chopped almonds; 2+3/4 cup all-purpose flour.
Cinnamon/sugar mixture: 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Chop almonds coarsely and set aside. Quarter orange but do not peel. Remove seeds and process in a food processor until finely minced, about 25 seconds. Add eggs, sugar and oil and process for 10 seconds. Add baking powder, almonds and flour and pulse JUST until flour is blended into dough. Do not overprocess. Dough will be sticky. Remove dough from bowl with a rubber spatula onto a lightly floured counter and shape into 3 equal logs. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake logs at 350 F for 25 minutes. Dough will be cake-like and not fully baked. Let logs cool and slice into 1/2" slices with a sharp knife. Dip each slice into cinnamon/sugar mixture on both sides and place cut-side down on the cookie sheet. Return cookies to the oven at 250 F for 1 hour, until dry and crisp. Makes about 4 dozen mandelbrot. Freezes well.
There is something so quaintly charming about Jewish baking and some of the adorable names for cookies: mandelbrot, rugelach, hamentashen, kichel. Each one has an equally adorable personality which I promise to feature here soon! In the meantime, explore the sweet traditions of the Jewish kitchen with help from these titles: