Well-done roast beef dinner along with assorted pies, pastry and chocolate treats meant my Adman stepfather’s clients had paid up and the bank account was fat. When the client list was lean, so was dinner; tuna casserole or diced hot dogs with beans meant the bank account was close to empty. Simple, plain cookies, like Mandelbrodt made from pantry staples, were the cookie jar goodies for hot dog casserole days.
It had been a long couple of weeks of tuna or hot dog & bean casseroles, and the Adman was cranky. Small enough to need a footstool to reach the sink, but hungry enough to want a second hot dog, I asked for seconds. Five mouths abruptly halted mid-chew and 10 eyeballs turned to me. The Adman frowned, squinting. I squirmed and asked again, just a little bit louder. One of my brothers kicked me under the table, but I ignored him. I just stared back at the stubborn Adman.
Silently and slowly, he slid the platter across the table to me. I speared a hot dog. As I was about to savor that first bite, he warned that if I ate the hot dog I would have to do the dishes that evening, pots and all. There were six of us in the family. That would be a lot of dishes for a kid who couldn’t reach the sink without standing on a chair, a bit of a challenge. I picked up the hot dog and watching him all the while, took a big bite (hello: apple, tree). I chewed slowly, wondering if perhaps I shouldn’t have just gotten a cookie later, instead.
Ten minutes later I was standing on a chair pulled up to the sink watching it fill with sudsy hot water. It was my first time washing dishes solo, and I was extra careful not to break the (unbreakable) melamine dishes. Forty minutes later, still at it, tears of frustration mingled with the really disgusting cold, sudsless water. I finally realized why my middle brother always paid the others to take his turn.
Right at the moment I thought I might fall asleep (and drown) with my face landing in the sink, my oldest brother tiptoed in to rescue me. I almost gave it away with a squeal of glee but thankfully he stuck his hand over my mouth. My mother, in stocking feet, minus her trademark red shoes, tiptoed in right behind my brother and began to organize my washing mess. We giggled our way through all the messy pots.
The house was no bigger than a postage stamp so even the whispered giggles would have given us away. Undoubtedly the Adman realized that almost everyone was in the kitchen helping the kid, but he pretended not to know a thing.
That next weekend the client checks were rolling in because my mother was busy making chocolate cookies, but there was still plenty of Mandelbrodt in the cookie jar. Not only did Mandelbrodt always last longer, but you could dip them in milk and they would taste awesome.
I still dunk them in milk and, these days, coffee. Mom’s Mandelbrodt is another one of those things she made without a recipe. Fortunately she wrote it down for a relative who later sent me the recipe. Mandelbrodt reminds me of those austere days. But it also reminds me of a time when I knew that prosperity was way bigger than any bank account because my mother always made sure that no matter what the month brought, the food she prepared for us was full of love. No one can be wealthier than that.
- 4 cups flour (add 1 teaspoon xanthan gum if using gluten-free flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup sugar
- Zest of two lemons (more if you really like lemon)
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
- 1 teaspoon almond flavoring
- 1 cup toasted slivered almonds
- Preheat oven to 350. Prepare two baking sheets with silpats or parchment.
- In a small bowl combine the lemon zest with the sugar and blend with your fingers. Let sit 15 minutes to infuse flavors.
- In medium bowl combine flour (and xanthan gum if using gf flour) baking powder, salt and mix well with a whisk.
- In a big bowl, combine the sugar with the eggs and whisk until incorporated. Add the flavorings. Start to whisk in the flour and change to a wooden spoon midway. Add the almonds and keep stirring. Once mixed, use your hands and turn the dough a few times making sure all the loose flour is incorporated. It will be slightly sticky.
- Drop the dough ball on a floured board and shape into a log. Cut into four even pieces. Roll between your hands into long logs — or roll them on the silpat. Pat down until they are about ½-inch tall and 2 inches wide. Place two on each baking sheet.
- Let them sit out for about 15 minutes for the dough to develop. Place in oven and immediately turn the temperature to 325. Bake about 40 minutes rotating halfway.
- Cool 15 minutes. Turn oven to 275. Carefully place each log on a cutting board, and on the diagonal, using a serrated knife, gently saw into even pieces. Place pieces cut side down on baking sheet and return to the oven. Bake about 30 minutes.
- Cool. Store in a cookie tin.
Bon appétit and happy dunking.