Mandelbread, or mandelbrot (or mandelbrei, as I knew it as a young child), is an Eastern European and Russian Jewish twice-baked cookie. In some ways it is like its cousin, biscotti, the famous Italian twice-baked cookie, but mandelbrot is richer in eggs and fat and bakes up into a softer, more delicate cookie, with a toasty exterior that pairs as well with hot teas, as biscotti does with espresso.
Although I have a bit of an emotional attachment to mandelbrot (which my Great Aunt Cele made year-round), the real reason mandelbrot remains one of my favorite cookies is because the texture is so inviting. After slicing, that second bake makes it toasty where it's been sliced. It's crisp on the edges from that first bake, and even with all that baking, it's still easy to bite (I'm looking at you tooth-breaking biscotti). It also keeps at room temperature for up to six days, making it great to bake on the weekends and have on hand during the holiday season for tea breaks, coffee-fueled brunches, and a treat to have on hand when friends or family stop by.
Bake Mandelbrot Twice for Crisp, Tender Cookies
Mandelbrot is a cookie that is baked in a log shape the first time until it's about 95 percent done, then cooled on a baking tray until it is just barely warm to the touch, and then sliced and baked again. The outside should be a light caramel brown and crisp, and the center, although forgiving under a sharp, serrated knife, is anything but raw or soft.
Just like biscotti, the first bake is key. If it's not baked enough the first time around, your mandelbrot will never toast up properly. If it gets a wee bit too cooked that first time, the only issue will be that the mandelbrot will crumble a bit more at the edges when cut. Don't worry at all — this is a rustic, homestyle recipe and most mandelbrot has a few broken edges here and there.
How to Customize Mandelbrot
In this recipe, many different types of nuts work very well, including slivered almonds, skinned hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts. By the way, when it comes to adding nuts, I am a huge believer in making the time to toast nuts to add richness and depth by waking up all those volatile nut oils. You can also substitute any dried fruit or any citrus zest for the ones used here. I like my mandelbrot with toasted chopped hazelnuts or almonds and dried apricots or dried Mission figs.
Change the mix-ins, not the dough: Since the dough has brown sugar in it, which is rather unusual for a mandelbrot, I wouldn't play with anything (like flours) except the add-ins, or the cookie could easily bake up way too soft or way too hard.
This recipe has many make-ahead possibilities. The dough can be refrigerated for up to one day before baking. It might take an extra few minutes to cook through in the first bake, 42 to 47 minutes. After the dough logs are wrapped in plastic, they can also be well-wrapped in foil and frozen for a month. They will be just a bit drier than if baked right after the quick chill. Defrost in the refrigerator and bake as directed.
How To Make Mandelbrot
What You Need
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 scrapes from a whole nutmeg
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup mild-flavored oil, such as canola, or 3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange (about 2 tablespoons)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup toasted, salted, coarsely chopped walnuts
Stand mixer with paddle attachment or electric hand mixer and large bowl
2 rimmed baking sheets
Long, sharp serrated knife
- Combine the dry ingredients: Sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a mixing bowl; set aside.
- Mix the sugar, eggs, and flavorings: Place the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, oil or butter, vanilla, and orange zest in the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer and large bowl.) Mix at medium-low speed until fully blended and slightly foamy, about 3 minutes.
- Add some of the dry ingredients: Add about two-thirds of the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix at low speed until just combined.
- Flour the cranberries and walnuts: Add the cranberries and walnuts to the remaining flour mixture and mix gently until well-coated.
- Add the fruit and flour mixture: Add the flour and fruit mixture to the egg mixture and mix at low speed until just combined.
- Shape the dough and chill: Tear one large piece of plastic wrap and place on a work surface. Scoop half of the dough into the center and shape into a 12- by 1 1/2-inch log that is 1 3/4 inches high. Wrap completely in the plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough. Refrigerate until completely cold, about 30 minutes.
- Prepare for baking: 15 minutes before you take the dough logs out of the refrigerator, arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Spray 2 rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray and line them with parchment paper; set aside.
- Bake the first time: Unwrap the dough logs and place one in the center of each of the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 18 minutes. Rotate the sheets between racks and from front to back. Bake until the outside is a pale golden in color and has expanded in size to about 13 by 2 to 2 1/2 inches, 18 to 25 minutes more. The mandelbrot will be about 95 to 99 percent baked through and often cracks during the first bake.
- Partially cool the logs: Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes on the baking sheet.
- Cut the logs into cookies: Transfer the logs to a clean, dry cutting board. Using a long, sharp serrated knife, gently slice each log on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. You will have about 24 cookies from each log. Using a flat spatula, gently transfer each slice cut-side up back onto the baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart.
- Bake the cookies again: Bake again until the cookies are toasted, the cut edges have a light golden crust, and they are ever-so-slightly firm to the touch in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely.
- Storage: These cookies will keep at room temperature, tightly covered, for up to 6 days. They will firm up a bit each day.
- Make ahead: This recipe has many make-ahead possibilities. The dough can be refrigerated well-wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 day before baking. It might take an extra few minutes to cook through in the first bake, 42 to 47 minutes total. The dough logs can also be well-wrapped in foil and frozen for up to 1 month. They will be just a bit drier than if baked right after the quick chill. Defrost in the refrigerator and bake as directed.
- Other oils: Using a different oil in this recipe doesn't change the texture and is a great opportunity to use a fancy, flavorful oil, like toasted walnut or extra-virgin olive.