Molly on the Range Marzipan Mandel Bread

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Mandelbrot is the Jewish or Eastern European version of biscotti. I grew up avoiding it at Jewish holidays, because it always struck me as stale and tasteless. Many years later I fell in love with Italian biscotti, probably around the time I discovered that drinking coffee was the key to my existence as a professional pastry chef. I often made biscotti to serve at the end of meals and jammed it full of almonds and lots of other tasty sweets. Not at all boring, stale or tasteless. It seemed utterly unrelated to the mandelbrot of my youth. Then last weekend I went to a brunch to celebrate the Molly Yeh’s new book, Molly on the Range, and there were lovely platters of Mandel Bread. The cookies were studded with chocolate and topped with colorful sprinkles. The brunch was perfectly prepared from her book and I tried everything. The Dukkah Donuts, Caramelized Challah Waffles with Brisket, Token Salad and Spinach Feta Rugelach were all super familiar foods to me, but Molly put her mark on them and elevated each one. They have all the comfort of my grandmother’s recipes, but a twist that makes them…better.  At the end of the meal I got a cup of coffee and I realized I hadn’t tried the Mandel Bread yet. Here goes, 30+ years of avoiding these cookies and I decided to trust (reluctantly) that Molly wouldn’t disappoint. Not only were they not disappointing, I loved them! Three of them. I am a complete sucker for marzipan and that was my first bite. It is such a lovely texture in the midst of this crunchy cookie. “Mandel” means almond in Yiddish, so they have to be in there, but how freakin’ clever to use marzipan instead of whole almonds. I wanted to dump them in my purse for later, but got the book instead and made them the very next day.

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Molly is as lovely and generous as she seems on her site. It was such a pleasure to meet her and to eat all of the amazing food from her book.  (more…)

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Hamantaschen

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Before I moved to Minnesota, my husband and I lived in Burlington, VT, which we considered a suburb of Montreal. When our small college town felt as if it would pop at the seams, we’d jump in the car and drive to Canada. We’d make the rounds of foods we couldn’t find in Vermont, like Montreal bagels at Fairmont, smoked meat at Schwartz’s and hamantaschen at a Jewish bakery, the name of which, I am sorry to say, has escaped me. The bagels and smoked meat are specialties of the city, and reason enough to visit Montreal. Hamantaschen can be found in any city, at most Jewish delis and bakeries, especially during the holiday of Purim. Making these triangular cookies is easy and in my humble opinion, better than most that I’ve sampled, including those in Montreal. The dough I use is the soft, rich, tender variety, the same one I use for rugelach, as opposed to the firm, crumbly, shortbread style dough, which is also common with this cookie. This dough is simple to work with and has a lovely texture and lemony flavor, which is a great partner to the poppy seed filling. Just like a rugelach, there are as many fillings as there are ovens, but the most traditional are poppy seed and prune. I went traditional here, but added some other dried fruits to the mix. If my fillings are not to your liking the cookies are fantastic with raspberry preserves, chocolate, apricot, lemon curd or anything else you are craving.

The shape of these cookies is said to represent the three-cornered hat of Haman, the diabolical villain who tried to take down the Jews in ancient Persia. Other stories say that hamantaschen (which translates “Haman’s pouch”) symbolizes his purse, which he tried to use as a payoff for permission to destroy the Jews. Haman’s sinister plans were thwarted and the story ends well with the celebration of Purim, where these tasty pastries are normally served. But, I think you should enjoy them way more often than that. (more…)

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