"You'll learn how your mother-in-law came up with the recipe she liked if you try the different versions," advised cookbook author Pam Anderson. So I did. And I learned. The version that called for one-third of a cup of orange juice made the dough a little too crumbly. But the following recipe is pretty darn close to Jan's excellent mandel bread (or "mandel," as she called it).
Jan did not include the instruction to bake the cookies a second time after slicing the loaf. I'm sure she would say, "Too much trouble." The result is a softer cookie that my kids like a lot. But I prefer a slightly crisper cookie, so I do a second bake, either at 250 degrees or 325 degrees for 20 minutes (flipping the slices over after 10 minutes.)
The temperature depends on how toasty you'd like the final cookie to be. One final note: Jan sometimes used maraschino cherries in the recipe. I decided to substitute dried cherries, and while they didn't add much color to the final product, they do provide a nice burst of chewy cherry flavor.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange or lemon juice
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup almond slices
1 cup dried fruit (optional)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
By hand or mixer, beat the eggs, oil and sugar into a yellow, creamy-looking mixture.
Whisk in vanilla and juice.
Combine dry ingredients and mix in by hand. (Note: I substitute 1 1/2 cups of King Arthur's mild-tasting white wheat flour for regular flour — it adds fiber but doesn't alter the taste.) The dough should be firm and a little stiff, with the consistency of play dough. If dough is too moist to handle, add up to 1/2 cup more flour.
Knead in almonds and dried fruit (golden raisins or cherries get my vote) and/or chocolate chips.
Knead into a ball. Slice the ball into four wedges.
Roll each wedge into a rope about 12-14 inches long, 1 inch in diameter.
Prepare two baking sheets with foil. Spray foil with oil.
Place two ropes on each sheet, about four inches apart. Sprinkle each rope of dough with cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Bake for half an hour. Remove and let cool.
Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees or 250 degrees, depending on your crispness preference.
When the loaves are cool, slice on a diagonal. You'll get about a dozen slices per loaf.
Lay the slices flat on the foil of the baking pan. Sprinkle again with cinnamon-sugar.
Return to oven for the second baking of 20 minutes. (Flip slices after 10 minutes.) Or, if like my mother-in-law, you don't want to bother, just dig in. They're delicious.
Jan would store her mandel bread slices in a tin, on sheets of aluminum foil. That's how she brought them to our house when she'd visit.