Fontainebleau Fantasy

Miami Mandel Bread

Where do the poinsettias go after the holidays are over? During the holidays they seem to decorate every surface that hasn’t otherwise been claimed by things green, red or ersatz-snowy. Here in New York, discarded Christmas trees are still lining the streets—the delay in the mulching trucks collecting them is due to the abundance of real snow this year. All over the world, Christmas lights have long ago been wrapped on a spool and stored way in the back on the top shelf of the closet until next year. Tree ornaments have been safely tucked away in their boxes.

But the poinsettias just mysteriously disappear…hmmm.

Another holiday item has been hanging around my kitchen and until a few days ago it seemed it had no intention of leaving. I’m referring to a little crate of clementines that Santa (or one of his elves) left for me. They’re delicious but for a while there I had the spooky feeling they were magically replacing themselves as I ate them: the crate just never seemed to get empty.

Well, now I can finally see the wood slats on the bottom of the crate, and it feels like a race: can I finish the clementines before they go bad? Should I be suspicious that they don’t seem to have aged a bit? Perhaps there’s a portrait of them in an attic somewhere in which they have become dried and wrinkled?

I have no answers to these questions, merely recognition that clementines are not merely a holiday treat, they are actually in season all winter, the bounty of millions of Spanish citrus trees. I was staring at them the other day and asked them (politely), “Is there anything I can do with you other than peel and eat?”

This conversation dovetailed nicely with the fact that January (a/k/a “The Monday Morning of The Year”) is drawing to a close. I’ve been a good boy and now I deserve a cookie. (By “good” I mean I ate well in an effort to reform bad habits collected during the holidays.) (By “cookie” I mean…cookie.)

Mind you, I’m not looking to dive back into the gluttony pool; I just need a little something sweet (but not too), and crunchy (very). If I can perhaps fulfill this requirement without straying too far from my current healthy habits, well, yahoo.

My first thoughts went to Angel Food Cake. While it has no fat, in this case it also has one great downfall: it’s not crunchy. Good material, wrong fit. But while my mind was on Angel Food Cake I remembered the old advice about day-old Angel Food Cake: slices of it are great toasted.

It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of the biscotti – one even serves above as the button for the Butter Flour Eggs subscription form. Biscotti also go by the name Mandel Bread, especially when referring to the almond (mandel) variety. Biscotti or mandel bread usually refers to an eggy, slightly rich batter baked in a loaf, then sliced and toasted. Some folks refer to this as a twice-baked cookie.

I’m sure you’re way ahead of me here. Why not toast skinny slices of Angel Food Cake into skinny blonde biscotti? Nifty idea, thanks!

So here’s what I did: I made a small recipe of Angel Food Cake batter and mixed in some toasted, sliced almonds. As I was about to pour the batter into a loaf pan I spied the clementines waiting patiently on my kitchen counter. In a (relatively) thrilling flash of inspiration (okay, you had to be there) I applied the working side of my microplane to three of the ever-youthful clementines. Folding the batter carefully (so as to not leave a crease) I distributed the rind evenly.

After cooling the loaf thoroughly I sliced it into slices less than ¼” thick and toasted them on a rack in a 300 degree oven.

I won’t lie to you here: I’m not a paragon of self-control.  So I’ll admit that there weren’t a lot of these left to share with friends, family, or co-workers because I inhaled them. They are like Clementine-scented, almond-studded crack. But I’ve given them the unlikely-but-eminently-more-evocative name of “Miami Mandel Bread.”

I think it has something to do with the fact that in my imagination I can see a frilly-capped, apron-ed waitress throwing these on the table with the coffee at the Fontainebleau Hotel back in 1965—when the place was hot, but long, long before it was cool (not that I’d remember.) My big, blonde, and quite imaginary Aunt Sylvia would’ve passed me one and explained, “They’re good…and dietetic too!”

They’re skinny, the Clementine rind make little “pops” of citrus in your mouth as you chew, and they remind me of losing weight so you can go to Miami and lie in the sun. And the writer in me likes the alliteration of Miami and Mandel. Yes, the almonds add back some of the fat that the lack of egg yolk and butter deducted. But it is healthy fat along with a fistful of minerals that you know you need. Gracious, these are practically health food. (Yeah, yeah, I know…)

What can I tell you? This has been a really cold winter. Can you blame me for having Miami Beach on my mind?

C’mon down!

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Click here for the recipe for Miami Mandel Bread.

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