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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nuts About Mandelbrot: Twice-Baked Almond Joy



"Recipes are not assembly manuals. Recipes are guides and suggestions  
for a process that is infinitely nuanced. Recipes are sheet music.”   
   --Michael Ruhlman, The Elements of Cooking


Call it biscotti, if you want to be fancy about it.  Make it with whole pistachios, a splash of orange liqueur. Add coconut.  Dip it in dark melted chocolate, if you must.  It’s all mandlebrot to me.

"Of course you can bake on a weeknight,the oven is usually on anyway.
-Lynne Rossetto Kasper, How to Eat Supper

Mandlebrot (also Mandelbroit) translates from Yiddish as almond bread. Jewish biscotti.   My dessert of choice.  A staple in my mother’s cookie jar, and always on hand in my grandmother’s kitchen - both of blessed memories.   My grandmother’s version was simple, yet sublime.  The ultimate coffee dunker: baked in small loaves, sliced, then returned to the oven for added  crunch.  My mother’s recipe was sweeter, lighter, the dough thinner, almost batter-like.   
I can  channel my grandmother’s recipe for mandelbrot, and when I follow it, it’s out of a jumble of memories: the buttery baking aromas of her kitchen, the fragrance of roses and  tomatoes in her summer garden, her noodle kugel and cheese blintzes ... 
 Mandelbrot vs. Biscotti


Others might beg to differ, but as far as I can tell,  the distinction between the Italian nosh and the Jewish one is in the ratio of flour to eggs and in the amount of sugar. Both start with a sticky, eggy dough.  Mandelbrot recipes produce a denser cookie, not as  sweet, nor as rich as Italian biscotti. Biscotti recipes are usually made with butter. To make mandlebrot parve (kosher for all meals with the exception of Passover), the recipe calls for oil.  Both “brots”  use liberal quantities of nuts,  ground or whole, blanched or with skins-- it all works.   

"Bottomless wonders spring 
from simple rules... which are repeated without end. "
                      -Benoit Mandelbrot (The Fractal Geometry of Nature)


So here you go, best approximation of my Grandmother’s Mandelbrot


Ingredients
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1¼ cups sugar 
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour* 
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds (optional)
A biscotti variation without oil or butter: from Mark Bittman
The Best Recipes in the World

  • 1 cup almonds or hazelnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar (add more if you like your biscotti sweeter)
  • 2 cups flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • Flour for the pans 
For an even sweeter variation add:
  • 1/2 cup sweetened coconut 
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate or more! (chopped) 
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Call me a nut:  Here’s where I begin to experiment (and go wrong.)   In my cupboard is bag of chestnut flour, (purchased in an Italian grocery), an ingredient I’m sure my grandmother never used. Out of curiosity, I chose to reduce the  flour in the recipe by a quarter cup and to add a quarter cup of the chestnut flour.  The result?  A denser cookie, and an "interesting"  flavor (that needed more sugar and perhaps a touch more salt.) My recommendation?  Stick to the recipe as it’s written above.  And if you go the "Almond Joy" route, use plenty of chocolate and sweetened coconut. You might also consider swapping out some of the standard flour for coconut flour for even more coconutty flavor.    

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet. Beat eggs, sugar, and oil in a large bowl with an electric mixer until blended. Beat in orange rind and vanilla. Sift flour with baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add to egg mixture. Stir on low speed of mixer just until blended. Stir in almonds on low speed.
2. Shape dough into 4 log-shaped rolls, each about 2 inches. Place on baking sheet. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Use spatula to smooth dough and to push again into log shape if it has spread a bit. Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar and pat to make it adhere to sides as well.
3. Bake 30 minutes or until lightly browned and set. Transfer carefully to a board and let stand until cool enough to handle. With a sharp knife, carefully cut into diagonal slices about ½-inch thick; dough will be slightly soft inside. Return slices in one layer to 2 or 3 cleaned baking sheets.
4. Bake about 7 minutes per side or until lightly toasted so they are beige and dotted in places with golden brown; side of cookie touching baking sheet will brown first. Watch carefully so cookies don’t brown throughout or they will be too hard and dry. Cool on a rack. Keep in airtight containers.  
Enjoy and thanks for stopping by.

"Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, and lightening does not travel in a straight line. The complexity of nature's shapes differs in kind, not merely degree..." The Fractal Geometry of Nature


Photo: V. Henoch 
Fractal image source: Fractal Geometry and Chaos Theory, bergen.edu 

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