In my family, food is synonymous with tradition. Despite having not lived near family in over a decade, I know I am never more than a recipe away. When anyone dear to me is under the weather, matzah ball soup is always the answer. As I bow over the hot broth, adding carrots and celery as tradition dictates, I reminisce about every holiday meal that began with the same soup and know that the warmth and love I feel are passed on to the one I will feed.
This mandel bread recipe, handed down from my Great-Grandma Hannah, evokes similar feelings. It recalls the story I have heard dozens of times: me, as a toddler, rapping on her door when I’d visit, calling “Nana Hannah, Hannah Nana!” until she greeted me at the door. I think of my mother, who will predictably make her grandma’s recipe for every single holiday and family occasion. I know, miles and years apart from these women, that we are all connected when I prepare this family staple.
In sharing this recipe, I share a piece of myself and those who came before me. It might be a slight departure from my typical baking practices, but I can’t deny tradition.
For those unfamiliar with mandel bread, I often describe it as a softer version of biscotti. The simple dough, studded with walnuts, is rolled out and filled with jam, then folded and twice-baked to produce a cookie with a crunchy exterior and sweet, soft center.
Mandel bread, with the lovely stripe of sweet jam running through its center, looks laborious and complex. However, its appearances are deceiving and it is actually quite simple to prepare, leaving you feeling accomplished and looking like an expert baker.
Once the dough is mixed, start by dividing it into 3 or 4 balls. One at a time, roll out each ball into a rectangle approximately 6 inches by 10 inches. A trick that I learned from years of helping my mom with this task is to roll it out on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to ease the steps that follow. Spoon one to two teaspoons of jelly down the center of the rectangle. Then, lifting the waxed paper, gently fold one side of the dough over the center.
Peel back the paper, then repeat with the other side of the dough to form a large slab, carefully pinching the edges so the jam doesn’t leak in the oven.
After baking for 30 minutes, the now lightly browned slab is sliced into approximately ¾-inch thick fingers that are flipped sideways to reveal the sweet filling.
The cookie sheet is returned to the oven and the cookies are broiled on each side to become brown and crispy. They will brown quickly, so keep a close watch on the oven.
My tradition is to eat the crunchier end pieces first because, by my calculations, they don’t count as whole servings so I can eat as many as I want.
Family recipes like this one keep me connected to my relatives across the country and help me feel at home, wherever I am.