Category Archives: Cookie

Easiest Holiday Cookies EVER: Mandelbrot (Jewish Biscotti)

To commemorate the holidays, all of the families in Rhys’ nursery class were asked to bring in a dish that is meaningful to their holiday celebrations. My first thought went to lefse, a thin Norwegian flat bread made from potatoes. When I was growing up, the best part of the holiday buffet table was always Nana’s lefse. She spread them with a thin swipe of lingonberry jam, and rolled them into tight cylinders. Nana’s lefse were more tortilla looking than other lefse I have seen, which look almost like lavash in size and thinness.

When I was 16 my Nana passed away and over the course of a decade, my grandma passed down Nana’s recipes and cooking equipment. I put dibs on the recipes, her Jell-o molds and tins of various design (fish, tubes, Bundts, grape clusters), and Nana’s coffee pot. I also inherited her lefse pin (a large rolling pin with striations in it so the potato dough doesn’t stick) and like a total moron, gave it away. Ugh, that stupid decision still gnaws away at my soul and makes me want to cry. So when I spotted a lefse pin on sale at Sur la Table a few weeks back, I snagged it and thought myself the luckiest person alive.

Of course I’d make lefse for Rhys’s holiday party. Of course! I picked up lingonberry jam at a small Swedish sweet shop in the West Village. I had the potatoes ready to boil. I looked in the recipe box at Nana’s recipe at to my shock, it was a recipe FROM THE BACK OF A LEFSE MIX!!! No way Nana! Devastated (I mean, it’s like learning your mom’s mashed potatoes come from potato flakes!), I turned to the internet and discovered this lefse website and quickly became intimidated–would I need a lefse boogie board to roll out the dough? What about that lefse stick? A lefse grill? Did Nana have all those lefse toys (somehow, in her itty bitty Chicago kitchen without even a proper counter–she did all of her cooking prep work on a formica kitchen table)?

Okay, by now it’s nearly 10am and the party is at 2:30. In between which I have to drive and deliver my dad to Delta at the airport. Lefse was quickly escaping my grasp…should I try anyway? I quickly envisioned myself happily ricing potatoes, making the dough, rolling the super thin pancakes, the dough sticking, the frustration growing, the dough tearing, flour getting everywhere, nothing working, and me throwing dough across the kitchen, stomping my feet, and having a full-on potty-mouthed tantrum. Okay, skip that. I made mandelbrot instead.

Mandelbrot is known as Jewish biscotti. It is usually made with oil instead of butter and with almonds. Mandelbrot was probably the first baked good I ever made and the recipe has been the same since I was old enough to lick the dough from a spoon: butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour, salt. Done. no leavener, no nuts, no oil. My husband is not a huge fan. He thinks they’re boring and kind of plain. I think they’re quite simple, semi-sweet, tender, buttery, and lovely. “Can’t you dip them in chocolate,” he asked? I glared at him. “You dip them,” I threatened. That ended that conversation.

This is a simple cookie. You make the dough, shape it into two long flat rectangles on a baking sheet (like biscotti) then bake it off. When it’s blonde and just starting to brown around the edges, you slice the bricks into 3/4-inch wide pieces, and then turn each on its side. It bakes for another 20 minutes (flipping the cookies over midway through). These are delicious with coffee, tea, or just out of hand. It’s a straightforward cookie without sprinkles and frosting and chocolate drizzles or dragés. And this time of year, a little simplicity is kind of a nice thing.

Mandelbrot Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, beat the butter with the sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is airy and light, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, increasing the mixer speed to medium-high between additions to ensure the batter comes together before adding the next egg, and scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt. Mix on medium-low speed until just combined.

3. Set a parchment paper or silpat-lined half-sheet pan (18- by 13-inches) on your worksurface so the long sides are at the top and bottom and short sides are to the left and right. Place half of the cookie dough on the lower third of the baking sheet and place the remaining half on the upper third. Fill a bowl with cold water and set it next to the pan. Dip your hands in water and pat the dough out into two long rectangles. The rectangles should be about 1/2-inch thick and about 15 inches long. Re-wet your hands as needed so the dough doesn’t stick. Smooth out the top and square off the corners as best you can.

4. Bake the two long rectangles until they are golden and spring back to light pressure,  about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway through. Remove the pan from the oven and slice each rectangle into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Remove the rounded ends of each slab (these are a treat for all of us impatient bakers–they’re super yummy hot, yum!) and turn the sliced pieces on their sides.

5. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cookies are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer, turning the cookies midway through if you like. Remove from the oven and cool. They keep very well  in an airtight container for up to ten days.

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Filed under Baking, Cookie, Dessert, Holiday, Recipe, Uncategorized

Midnight Brunch Spoiler! Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread!

Sometimes life seems like no more that a series of weird coincidences. Like when I met my fabulous literary agent Angela Miller: when I left Cook’s Illustrated nearly ten years ago, I asked the formidable Jack Bishop (Cook’s editorial director and renown cookbook author) for advice on getting an agent. He gave me Angela’s name and I took that back pocket ticket with me to Brooklyn when I moved here in 2002. Not a month after the big move, I threw my back out and fell behind in my work–getting in touch with Angela got pushed to the back burner. Eight months later in the summer of 2003, the NYC blackout happened, I met Suvir Saran (who happened to be a neighbor) and like kismet, I found out Angela was his agent too. Like I said, in New York, and especially in Brooklyn, weird coincidences seem to happen.

Which is how I met Emily Cavalier, the brains behind the blog Mouth of the Border and the fantastic dinner party series, Midnight Brunch, which I am cooking for this Friday. My sister-in-law Caryn-Ann, went to the University of New Hampshire and was (still is, actually) good friends with Emily. When Emily moved to Brooklyn from New England, Caryn-Ann connected us–see, Emily was trying to figure out how to get a footing in the world of food. We met at a coffee shop in Fort Greene–I think it was 2006. God knows what I said to her–I was like a year postpartum, severely sleep deprived, and probably epically behind on work…to say I was upbeat and congenial  probably would have been a stretch to say the least! Caryn-Ann got married last summer and guess who I run into–Emily! Not only is Emily a lovely person who happens to live a whole two blocks from me in Clinton Hill, but in the five years since she moved to the city she carved out quite a niche for herself planning food events and spearheading press campaigns.

I am amazed at Emily’s indie spirit and confidence and so honored to be collaborating with her on this third installment of Midnight Brunch! We cooked up a fantastic menu that calls on ancient spice trade for inspiration–you know, the routes of Vasco de Gamma, long-ago sea pirates, and intrepid mariners who sailed around the world in search of black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. What better time than now to cook up a feast showcasing spices used throughout the holiday season. I mean, imagine apple pie without cinnamon, bread stuffing without a kick of black pepper, a holiday ham without its requisite clove studs, and egg nog without a dash of nutmeg! This Friday, 11/11/11 (can you get any more auspicious?) we’re cooking up a bevy of deliciousness–lamb “vin”daloo, Sicilian meatballs, Persian rice with pistachios and saffron, and smoky honey-glazed sweet potatoes with cilantro and peanuts to name but a few dishes (all paired with stellar craft cocktails thanks to mixologist Brian Quinn featuring SNAP ginger liqueur, Elijah Craig 12-year bourbon, and Banks 5-island rum).

When I was thinking about a cookie to accompany Emily’s cardamom panna cotta, I envisioned Portuguese and Spanish sailors returning home from a many months-long sea adventure and how, once they set foot on land, they must have been  bowled over by the fragrances of their homeland. The romantic in me went straight to the sweet perfume of orange and almond blossoms, which are so intoxicating, especially by moonlight. What better way to honor the end of the 11/11/11 Midnight Brunch journey than with these flavors. Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread is somewhere between an English Hobnob and Scottish shortbread, buttery and crisp yet nutty and toasty thanks to almonds and just a smidge of whole wheat flour. A cinch to make, it also keeps beautifully for up to a week in an airtight container, making it a worthy treat to bring along on your epic journeys this holiday season.

Orange Blossom and Almond Shortbread

Makes 16 rectangles or 32 triangle-shaped cookies

  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Zest of 1/4 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons orange flower water
  • 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Lightly coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick pan spray and set aside.

2. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they finely chopped, about four 1-second pulses. Add 3/4 cup of sugar and the orange zest and pulse to combine. Add the flours, confectioners’ sugar, and salt and process for 3 seconds to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle the orange flour water over the dry ingredients and then drizzle in the honey. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is like coarse cornmeal and rides up the sides of the food processor, about 12 to 15 1-second pulses.

3. Turn the mixture out into the pan and spread evenly. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crumble dough into a dense, even layer. Drag the back of a knife through the dough (but don’t go to the bottom of the pan) to mark the dough into 3 rows crosswise and 6 columns lengthwise.

4. Place the baking dish in the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Bake until golden brown and fragrant, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking. Remove the pan from the oven, cool for 10 minutes, and then sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Cool for another 10 minutes and then use a sharp paring knife to slice completely through the cookies where marked (for smaller triangle shaped cookies, you can also divide each cookie in half on a diagonal at this time). Cool completely and then use a knife to pop the cookies out of the pan. The shortbread keeps in an airtight container for up to one week.


Filed under Baking, Cookie, Dessert, Holiday, Press/Appearances, Uncategorized