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It Really Is Never Too Late
By Rose-Edith Morgan
I can close my eyes and the aroma surrounds me. The fragrance of fresh dough baking in the oven is an experience to which any of us, regardless of our background, culture or homeland, can relate. Exactly what is baking in the oven then becomes evidence of our cultures. And thus my story begins….
As a child in a Jewish home, there were always distinct aromas coming from our kitchen, especially depending on the holiday. My mother, as wonderful and magnificent a person as she was, never would be listed as one of the top great bakers. However, to me she was. She would bake hamantashen, triangular shaped dough with a fruit filling, for Purim, sofganiot, jelly filled doughnuts for Chanukah, and the honey cookies for Rosh Hashana… always for a good, sweet New Year. But what always stood out in my memories, was the mandelbread, a twice baked dessert biscuit similar to the Italian biscotti.
Mandelbread has a long history in my family. My great Aunt Cele, my mother’s aunt, was the queen of the mandelbread bakers in our family. As a little girl in Miami, I recall my mother telling her friends how her Aunt Cele makes the world’s best mandelbread. Mandelbread, a German word for Almond Bread, is one of those words about which families can argue as to the correct pronunciation. My husband indicates, and is right, that the correct pronunciation would be “mandelbroit” . However, since it had always been pronounced “Mandelbread” in the family, it will remain as such. After all, the names we attach embrace our hearts as much as the aromas and memories from years gone by.
Mandelbread was usually baked for Break the Fast, at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. However, in my family, it was also baked for any special occasion, such as out of town company coming.The most outstanding memory I have of my mother baking it, was the incredible mess in the kitchen. There was dough all over, ingredients spread across the counters, rolling pins covered in dough, baking pans all over the kitchen, and all in all, it really looked like more work than it was worth. After all, one could just go to the bakery and buy it, and it would be significantly easier, and certainly much faster.
As I grew up and became a young mother, my time was very valuable. As with most, caring for young children, working part or full time, meeting all of the needs of everyone in the family, there was no time for baking, as we say, from “scratch”. Sure, there were the mixes that could be made with the children, and cookies to be created with cookie cutters, either from the box or the slice and bake variety. My mother would always ask me, in her gentle way, if I would want to learn how to bake the family recipe for mandelbread. I always kindly refused her. I was always too…..too tired from transporting 3 boys to 3 different soccer fields, too busy as I had to go grocery shopping, too committed to a grant I was writing at work, etc. Always just too……
My mom passed away. My sons grew up. Our family of cousins evolved into sharing holidays, and my husband and I designated Break the Fast as ours. After 24 hours of fasting on Yom Kippur, it was traditional to break the fast, at least in our family, with our cousins and friends, and a huge amount of food. One day, without really knowing why, I awoke with a deep desire to reach into my background, and bring a special memory back to life once again. I wanted home baked mandelbread at our Break the Fast. I wanted to bake it. Is it too late? Can I even find the recipe, and if so, could I ever bake it like my memories recalled?
The first thing I did was call my Cousin Nina in Philadelphia. I anxiously asked Nina if she had Aunt Cele’s recipe for mandelbread. No, she replied, she did not. However, she would ask our other cousin. Once again, no recipe. What was once a very treasured family recipe, two generations later, was now gone. I was not going to give up. Perhaps the exact recipe would not be replicated, but I was determined to continue the tradition. I had this inner need to pass onto my children what my mother had passed on to me. After much searching and seeking, I established my own recipe for mandelbread. As it is twice baked, it took much practice, to really reach a point in which I felt it was ready for public consumption.
My main motivation stemmed from my sons. I wanted them to taste and touch a little bit of their past. One thing I learned, and do differently from the past….I do not wait for special holidays or special occasions to bake it for my sons. Yes, baking it takes time, makes a mess in the kitchen, and requires exact timing for the twice baked part. All of those aspects that bothered me to the point of not wanting my mother to teach me, I now embrace. It is all part of the wonderful experience of the baking, of touching our past. And deep in my soul, I know my mother is looking down from the heavens and smiling. Yes Mom, you were right.
As I bake the mandelbread, to send off to New York where 2 of my sons attend school, I know when the package arrives, packed so carefully with parchment paper between each row, they will know it was baked, not only out of love, but out of tradition. My son who lives locally, also knows, like his brothers, that my mandelbread is a direct descendant of Bubbie’s kitchen. I have even kicked up the recipe a few notches, and now make chocolate chip mandelbread, in addition to the almond mandelbread, as my sons have a weakness for chocolate (a family gene).
Traditions are who we are. In time, from generation to generation, they may be modified, updated, or now, with the technology explosion, even shared on the internet. But they remain as the common thread in our lives. When I could not obtain Aunt Cele’s recipe, I was not going to give up. Even though I missed out on the opportunity of standing side by side with my mother, listening and watching as she taught me how to bake her mandelbread, I have learned from it. I now know, it really is never too late.
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Rose-Edith's Mandelbread Recipe
- 1 c. sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 c. oil
- 3 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 3 oz. pkg sliced almonds or 4 oz.pkg of chocolate chips
- Cinnamon and sugar mixed together
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Grease cookie sheet. Beat eggs, add sugar and vanilla. Combine baking powder and flour in different bowl. Add alternately with oil to egg mixture.Add almonds, or add chocolate chips Mix well. Form into 2 loaves. Place on greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven. While still hot, cut into 1/2 inch slices. Place back on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.
from the August 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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