By any other name…

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

When I was in high school we lived in a very charming old New England town just outside of Boston. There was even a town green which, as part of a charming tradition, was the location of our high school graduation ceremony. (We wore white dinner jackets instead of caps and gowns. Very picturesque.) It was a town full of charming areas to hike, a wonderful, progressive high school (it had a smoking lounge for the students), and some families could actually trace themselves back to relatives who came over on the Mayflower.

The one thing it didn’t have was a lot of Jewish folk. This was quite a change from the city we lived in prior, where you were either Irish or Italian Catholic or Jewish. WASPs? No.

That’s why I was taken by surprise when a friend invited me to a party at her house where my eyes and nose spied her Mother in the kitchen baking Mandel Bread. For all intents and purposes that was the same as waving a banner that said, “We speak Jewish.”

While I have never defined myself by my religion, it is an inescapable fact of being human that we are drawn to the familiar. I think it may be related to the reason we enjoy watching the same movies every Christmas, and listen to the same songs over and over again. There’s comfort in the familiar.

That’s also why you can call them Biscotti all you like, but they’ll always be Mandel Bread to me. And yes, I do have my high school friend’s Mom’s Mandel Bread recipe.

However, semantics betray me. Mandel Bread actually refers to a twice baked almond slice cookie. (Mandel=Almond) Most of the Mandel Bread I bake have never been near an almond. The one at the top of my blog that serves as a link to the subscription page is Cranberry Orange Cornmeal.

Admittedly my biscotti / mandelein are a rustic affair. The basic drill for baking this type of cookie is to mix the batter, shape it into a very flat loaf and bake it. Then you slice the loaves and return the slices to the oven to toast. There have been times when I may have gone overboard with the toasting and ended up with very hard cookies. Great for dunking, but perhaps not so great for eating as is.

I used to send these to an elderly aunt who lived in a nursing home. She called me and after effusive thanks mentioned that the cookies were a touch too hard, and asked if I couldn’t make them a touch less hard. I was happy to comply, but after another round of cookies produced the same request I was forced to ask her to clarify, which she did by explaining, “We’re old. You’re gonna break our teeth.”

I’ve always struggled with the toasting part. Too much or too little, it never seems as though I get it exactly right. Just what is exactly right?

A couple of weeks ago I was eating dinner with a couple of friends to whom I have forgotten to send a “Thank You” note for the dinner. (Thank you!) At the end of the delicious meal the waiter deposited a small plate of biscotti on the table and the rest of the world (for me) disappeared as the biscotti absorbed me. They were notable for being crispy, not crunchy, and not hard, but not soft either. They were, in a word or two, just right. (Goldilocks would have loved them.) There was also the faintest hint of almond. Hmmm.

This past weekend I was in the baking aisle of my local supermarket where I spied a box of Almond Paste. Just under the words “Almond Paste” on the front of the box was a picture of biscotti. And on the back of the box was a recipe for Double Almond Biscotti. Ah. Light bulb moment.

Let’s start with the Almond Paste / Marzipan question. Not the same thing. Marzipan is a kind of almond paste, but not vice-versa. Marzipan has more sugar and is often used for modeling into shapes. Almond paste is kind of like a very sweet vegetable shortening. (Very sweet. It’s about half sugar with slightly less fat per gram than shortening or butter.) Did I mention that it makes the best biscotti (and now, truly Mandel Bread) I have ever baked?

I followed the recipe as written (with the exception of substituting chocolate for sliced almonds—wouldn’t you?). As a test I slightly over-toasted them in the second baking. Instead of becoming forbiddingly hard they remained engagingly crisp, yet dunkers would still be very pleased.

They are, uh, were, the most perfect biscotti / mandel bread I have ever baked. I haven’t tried it yet but I suspect that you could substitute your preferred gluten-free flour (like my favorite, Cup4Cup) without sinking the ship.

I’ll be making these again.

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Here’s the Chocolate Almond Biscotti recipe

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