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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Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)

Up until very recently my father has been a beekeeper. He had bee hives at our home in Vermont and then drove them, full of bees to Minnesota. Due to a city ordinance he was not allowed to keep bees in his Edina yard and had to set them up at a friend’s house farther out of the city. My dad would drive out on the weekends to tend to them. His love for bees was made more complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to their sting. He swells up like a balloon when stung, but this never deterred him, even though it seemed to happen with some regularity. As a result of his love for bees I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. Growing up we ate the precious honey he collected on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. In fact, I never knew any sweetener other than honey and maple syrup before I was about 6. Sugar, in any form, didn’t exist in our house.

This cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees, which are in terrifying danger of disappearing. Hopefully more folks like my dad will step up and continue the tradition. The shape of this cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. My dad’s bees were kept in a box hive, but that isn’t nearly as romantic. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of brown-butter banana cake, walnuts and honey scented buttercream. (more…)

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Pumpkin Cake – For Halloween or Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Cake | ZoeBakes

Pumpkin season is here, which is the only reason I can send this short summer off with a smile. It is natures way of creating balance. We give up the sunny days, and get bright orange pumpkins to cheer us up. Much like zucchini, there is an endless bounty to be made from these winter gourds. Here is a spiced pumpkin cake that is absolutely delicious and needs no adornments to be appreciated. But, decorate it like a pumpkin and it becomes a centerpiece for any fall holiday table. The recipe makes two pumpkin cakes, so you can have one for home and bring one to a party.

Pumpkin Cake | ZoeBakes (more…)

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Cassata – Sicilian Ricotta Cake with Pistachio Marzipan

This cake makes me think of sitting on the porch swing in my Italian grandmother’s lanai. It was about 1973 and I would have been 6 years old and eating something sweet and spring-like. She had hanging baskets of flowers dangling from the ceiling from elaborately woven macramé; in shades of orange, chartreuse and  gold. I’m sure I was eating Jell-o, but it should have been this cake, with its basket weave icing and magical candied fruit flower. Ok, truth be told, my grandmother isn’t Italian, she didn’t have a lanai, I just like the word, and there probably was macramé, but I don’t actually remember any. But, this cake makes me wish all these things were true. Not only is it visually stunning, but the cake is so delicious I licked the plate clean.

I really made the cake with my friend Bret, who I’ve known since I taught my very first baking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill about 13 years ago. He is a dynamite chef and baker, and I love playing in the kitchen with him. We decided to make this classic Italian ricotta cake after seeing it on the pages of Saveur magazine, just in time for Easter. (more…)

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