Guest Post: Mema’s Mandel Bread

In my last post, you met Caleb’s friend, Jordan and his mom, Robyn. I asked Robyn to write a guest post about her grandmother’s mandel bread recipe – known also as mandelbrot. This post kicks off a new tradition of including the stories of other families cooking in their kitchens or sharing stories of family food traditions. If you would like to contribute to a future guest post, please let me know – you could write about cooking with your kids, share memories of cooking with your mom when you were a child, or just some fabulous food memories from childhood. I would love that! I hope you enjoy Robyn’s story as I did. Happy Holidays! Warmly, Anya 

By Robyn Barfield

I’m not a writer or a blogger, and I’m certainly no great chef; however, I do love to eat and talk about food. So, it seems I should have no problem sharing my grandmother’s recipe for mandel bread (a Jewish dessert) and telling you about the memories it conjures up every time I make it.

I think of myself as “semi-Jewish.” Both of my parents come from Jewish families, but my Jewish upbringing consisted of no more than eating at my grandparents’ house for the Jewish holidays. At this point in my life, married and a mother to 2 boys (Jordan-4 and Evan-1), I don’t consider myself religiously or culturally Jewish. But when the Jewish holidays come around and I hear people talking about Jewish dishes and traditions, it is always a happy reminder of my grandparents, especially my maternal grandmother who I called “Mema.”

Robyn’s “Mema”

Anya thought I could tell you about making mandel bread with my Mema. The thing is, I can’t actually remember making it with her. Mema really wasn’t much of a cook. She obviously did cook some – the taste of her mandel bread, turkey tetrazzini and brisket are perfectly clear to me. But my favorite food memory of Mema is something that requires no recipe.

My sister, Dana, and I spent the night at Mema’s house once a month. Mema always slept later than we did in the morning, so she left breakfast waiting for us in the fridge – a bowl of corn flakes covered with saran wrap accompanied by a glass of milk to pour on top. After eating our corn flakes, Dana and I would wait anxiously for Mema to wake up so she could make us breakfast #2, something we thought of as a real treat. What was this very special second breakfast?  Frozen Lender’s bagels toasted to perfection with melted butter spread on top and a mug of hot chocolate!   Frozen or not, when food is delivered with love, nothing tastes better.

When Anya and I discussed getting together to make latkes, I said I’d make Mema’s mandel bread recipe since it’s the only Jewish thing I know how to cook. I love making (and eating) mandel bread, as it brings me back to a time when I was a little girl sitting with Mema in her yellow kitchen. My son, Jordan, helped me make the mandel bread. As we made it, I shared stories with him about Mema. Jordan measured and poured all the ingredients, but when it came time to mix all the ingredients by hand, he let me take over. He has apparently inherited the tidy gene from his Dad.

Jordan helping make the bread

In honor of my sweet, sweet Mema, who died peacefully 3 days after I told her I was going to be a Mom, here is her recipe for mandel bread. It’s biscotti-like, but way better in my opinion!  Mema’s recipe, not surprisingly, says nothing about mixing dry and wet ingredients separately, but you can go ahead and do that if it makes you feel better! 

Mema’s Mandel bread (made with walnuts, not the more traditional almonds)

¾ c oil

3 eggs

¾ c sugar

3c flour

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

½ small pack of walnut pieces (that’s what her recipe says!  We used ½ c)

1 c golden raisins

More sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Mix all the ingredients (except for the extra sugar and cinnamon used for sprinkling) thoroughly.

Shape the dough into 4 oval patties.

Bake at 350o for 30 minutes.

Take the Mandel bread out of the oven and slice it (I slice into 1-1 ½ inch slices).

Sprinkle the sliced Mandel bread with sugar and cinnamon (as little or as much as you want. I tend to sprinkle generously.)

Put the Mandel bread back in the oven for 20 minutes with the oven turned off.