In my house growing up, we had two cookie jars. One was traditional looking (photo in this post) and sat out on the counter. It held all the things my brothers and I took in ZipLoc bags in our lunch boxes and also were occasionally allowed to have as an after school treat. Most of the time, they were homemade treats but as my mom got busier (she went back to school to get a nursing degree when my youngest brother was just a baby), often times that cookie jar held store-bought cookies. We didn’t care – sweet was sweet.
The other cookie jar was just a large glass jar with a white screw-top lid and it sat in a cabinet beneath the stove. There was only ever one thing in that jar and it was Mandlebrot. We pronounced it “mandel bread” and it was one thing my mom made consistently throughout my childhood. Like all good bakers, she was always trying out new cookies, cakes, and brownies, but she made Mandlebrot several times a month. It was my dad’s favorite after-dinner treat and I have very clear memories of him going down to that cabinet, taking out the jar, unscrewing the lid, taking two pieces onto a small plate, and sitting at the table with the paper or The New Yorker. If my dad likes something, especially if it is sweet, he tends to suck on it rather than chew it. He could make those two slim cookies last for the better part of an hour.
My relationship with my father’s favorite cookie was a little more complicated. There were a few problems. First, there is no chocolate to be found here which is problematic for a chocolate lover. Second, there are lots of nuts to be found here and (let’s say it all together, shall we?), I don’t like nuts in my sweets. Third, these aren’t very sweet. To my adult palate, that is actually welcome but when you are nine years old, cookies are supposed to be sweet. The thing that kept me coming back to sit at that table with him and take my own Mandelbrot out of the special jar was the texture.
The ends are crisp, almost a little smoky tasting. I am the person who likes the slightly burnt kernels in the popcorn bowl and who, back in the days when I ate marshmallows around a campfire, used to burn them black, eat off the outer black part, and burn them again, so I like those edges. But the middle is what really brought me back each night until that jar was empty. Soft, a bit chewy even with the nuts giving you a pleasant crunch.
After not having Mandelbrot for close to 20 years, I recently asked my mom for the recipe. She wrote it out in her lefty-looking handwriting and I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing I know a thing or two about baking. Copied off a 3×5 card from her ancient recipe box, it offers next to no instructions besides ingredients, baking temperature, and baking time. Having made my fair share of biscotti, I was able to figure it out. Having waited 20 years to make them, I am now officially kicking myself for not making them 19 years sooner.
This is a sophisticated cookie. Not hit-you-over-the-head-with-flavor cookie. Perfect with an afternoon cup of tea or served alongside a cheese plate. I make so few of the recipes from my childhood since our dinners were mostly focused around meat. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with all of you.
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Makes about 3 dozen
Traditionally, this recipe is made with either almonds or a mix of almonds and walnuts. I used pistachios and walnuts in this batch because I was out of almonds. Use what you have. I also over-baked this batch a bit, so be sure to watch yours carefully.
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
3 cups flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1½ cups almonds or a mix of almonds and walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 375ºF with the racks in the middle and bottom position. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix together the eggs and sugar until combined well. Add the extracts and mix to blend again. Pour in the oil and carefully mix so that you don’t splatter oil. Sprinkle on the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined. Stir in the nuts by hand with a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. The dough will be sticky, almost the consistency of Play-Doh.
Scoop out roughly a quarter of the dough and form it into a log about 2-3 inches wide and an inch or so high. Use a rubber spatula to help you guide it into shape. Repeat with the rest of the dough, placing two logs on each sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until barely golden brown.
Remove the sheets from the oven and allow to sit for a minute. One a time and using a serrated knife, cut each log into ½-inch thick slices. Lay the slices back on the baking sheets and put them back in the oven. Bake for 7 minutes, remove and flip all the cookies over, and bake for another 7 minutes. You want the cookies to be barely golden brown around the edges but still pale in the center. Remove the cookies to a rack and let them cool completely.