Mandelbrot is just part of the story

Mandelbrot - cooling

A recipe is a list.
A recipe is a blueprint.
A recipe is a map.

The thing about an old family recipe is how it can help you reconstruct a memory and make it present. How just reading it is like reading a memoir of your own childhood, written as you lived the moment.

A recipe is an artifact.
A recipe is a thumbprint.
A recipe is a photograph.

An old family recipe is a thing. A scrap of paper, an index card, a notebook page. It was scratched out on the back of a paper bag, or on the top sheet of the pad that sat by the telephone. It was ripped out of a magazine. It bears the evidence of being handled. It’s splattered, creased, greased. It preserves your mother’s handwriting, and your grandmother’s annotation: “From Shirl.”

A recipe is a whistle.
A recipe is a signal.
A recipe is a telephone.

The recipe is a practical thing. It directs and points. If it’s a good recipe, it stands by your shoulder and tells you just how much to stir that batter, just how dark to bake that bread, just what shape those cookies should be. Have always been. It tells you when you can trust your own judgement and when you must be exact.

A recipe is a thread.
A recipe is a story.
A recipe is circle.

The old recipe is a connection between the you that was and the you that is, between the people you loved and who loved you enough to cook for you, even when they are no longer here. If you’re lucky, it draws a thread from you back to a person so distant in your past that you never knew her. But she cooked this recipe for her little girl, who maybe grew up to be your grandmother.

An old family recipe is one tale in the long manuscript of things that made you you. It’s a story you recite as you follow it. It’s a story you put into the hands of your own children and tell them, “Eat this. Taste this. Remember this. Tell this.”

My sister and I are working on a project this year. We’re collecting our favorite family recipes, along with those of our extended family, to create a bound memory of tastes. Some of these recipes (like the one on this page) are childhood favorites, and some are ones that we’ve developed as we’ve lived on our own, feeding ourselves, our friends, and our families. If you’re reading this and you’re related to us, you’ll probably be hearing from us; we want your recipe memories, too!

In the meantime, let’s start with our grandmother Martha’s Mandelbrot (also called mandel bread). Mandelbrot is Yiddish for almond bread. It’s a twice-baked cookie, pretty much the Jewish version of biscotti. It’s nutty. Not too sweet. Something you’d make to serve with coffee when the “girls” came over for mahjong. Or something you’d hand a teething toddler. Or something you, if you were me, would bake on one of your wistful days when you could have used a hug from your grandmother.

Mandelbrot - chilled overnight

Mandelbrot - after first bake

Mandelbrot - sliced after first bake

Mandelbrot - ready for second bake

Mandelbrot - cooling


In process

Martha’s Mandelbrot


1 cup whole almonds
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Toast the almonds in your oven or in a dry skillet.* (If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry; it’s not hard. Read how to do it here.)
  2. When the almonds are cool, grind them in a food processor to the texture you like. I like small crumbs, not powdered but not big chunks. I like to see flecks of nut in the mandelbrot.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ground almonds.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla.
  5. Combine the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix gently until all of the flour is absorbed. This should form a pretty stiff dough. You need it to be stiff so that you can form logs with it. If it’s too wet, add more flour. If it’s so dry that it won’t hold together, add a bit of water.
  6. Divide the dough into three equal portions.
  7. Form each portion into a log about 6 inches long and and about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter (you don’t have to be a stickler here; use whatever length and diameter sounds good to you!).
  8. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and put on a cookie sheet or sheet pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and as long as overnight.
  9. 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  10. Unwrap the logs, place them on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet (spaced at least 3 inches apart), and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the pan from the oven and slice the loaves while they are still warm. Slice to whatever thickness you like. I sliced mine about 1/2 inch thick.
  12. Return the slices to the cookie sheet, either on their sides or edges, for a final bake. The mandelbrot won’t rise during this second bake, so you can kind of crowd them together on the sheet, as long as they aren’t touching.
  13. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until they’ve turned the shade of light golden brown you like.
  14. Remove from the sheet and let cool on a cooling rack.

The mandelbrot will easily stay fresh in a cookie tin for a week. They also freeze beautifully.

* Martha’s recipe makes no mention of toasting the almonds; this is how old recipes change as they travel time, I suppose.

Let’s raise a glass

The cocktail

The citrus

The drowsy cranberries

Here we are again, my old friend November. You’re a formidable foe, but you’re on the way out for another year and I’m still writing.

So, here’s to you, November, and your relentlessly grey skies, your bare branches, your frozen water bucket mornings, your summerish deceptions, your early dusks, your inevitable lurch towards winter. I raise a glass to you.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

For this Thanksgiving, M concocted a festive little cranberry punch for us, the very which I’m sipping as I write this.

We’ve tentatively named it the “Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail” (spatchcocking being an old technique—renewed in popularity recently—for preparing a turkey where you remove the bird’s backbone and flatten it like an open book before cooking it).

M has graciously written up the recipe for us (below). May you drink it in good health. And may it make you pleasantly spineless for an hour or two.

Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail

Yield: About 8 drinks

To prepare the drowsy cranberries

Note: If possible, make the drowsy cranberries a day or so ahead of time so they’ll be nice and potent.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
3 tsp orange zest
3 tsp grated ginger
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup light rum

  1. In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, cloves, orange zest, and grated ginger.
  2. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the fresh cranberries to the sugar-spice mixture.
  4. Turn heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.
  5. Remove from heat and let stand for an hour.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to move the cranberries to a sealable jar.
  7. Use a fine strainer or cheesecloth to pour the syrup over the cranberries (discard the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger/zest bits).
  8. Add 1 cup of light rum to the jar.
  9. Seal the jar and let steep as long as you like.
  10. Chill well before using.

To prepare and serve the cocktail

1 bottle Prosecco
Light and dark rum, to taste
1 orange
1 lime
1 lemon
Mint leaves

  1. Pour the chilled syrup into a pitcher or bowl (reserve the drowsy cranberries).
  2. Add 1 bottle very cold Prosecco.
  3. Top punch with alternating small glugs of light and dark rum, to taste.
  4. Serve alongside: ice, mint leaves, the drowsy cranberries, thin slices of orange, lemon and lime.

Family Recipe ~ Pearl’s Waffles

Today, blogger, writer, and fellow Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge baker Cheryl Tan is celebrating the launch of her new book, A Tiger in the Kitchen, by inviting fellow bloggers and cooks to write about a favorite family recipe.

As those who love to cook know, it’s hard to beat the excitement and challenge of mastering a new, exotic recipe. We scour shops and websites for special ingredients and hard-to-find equipment, get variations on recipes from books and blogs, lurk on forums to see what others have already learned. We test and tweak a recipe, subjecting our families to endless variations on the same theme, trying to get it “right” (some of you may remember my year of trying to make the canelés I craved).

That kind of cooking is great fun. It’s a hobby (and sometimes becomes a career). It takes hours and days and maybe months just to get the one dish figured out. And when you conquer that recipe, you feel a real sense of satisfaction — and probably a little bit tired — and then you wonder:

Okay, well, now, what’s to eat?

Enter the humble family recipe. The one you grew up with. The one you know in your bones. The one you take for granted and take for comfort. The one that, if you do have a printed copy (which is probably hand-written, scribbled quickly on notebook paper while your mother dictated it over the phone), is so splattered and smudged, you can barely read it anyway.

That’s my grandmother Pearl’s waffle recipe.

It’s about as basic as it gets, and yet… Pearl loved to entertain in a high style. A master of gilding the lily, she never did anything simply. As I child, I didn’t much like anything she cooked because she always tinkered with her recipes to add just one more ingredient that would send it over the edge from perfect to overdone and “doilied”. She could ruin a basic, delicious oatmeal cookie by adding dried fruits soaked in brandy. She never seemed to understand why my sister and I, having earlier excitedly announced that we LOVED such-and-such food, would turn our noses up at the kid-unfriendly version she set before us.

But some things she did right, and one of those things was waffles. Her recipe has no exotic ingredients, but, as always, she went the extra mile and made it different by whipping the egg whites and then folding them into the batter. This one extra step makes the crispiest, fluffiest waffles I’ve ever had.


When Cheryl posed the idea of posting a family recipe, I knew right away that this was the recipe to choose because it’s not just the recipe that makes this a family recipe, it’s the tools I use to make it — things owned by my family and my husband’s: the special egg (or cream) whipping tool belonged to my husband’s maternal grandmother; the little frying pan I always use to melt the butter belonged to my maternal grandfather’s mother; and the little electric waffle iron that makes only two waffles at a time is one of those things my husband and I bought together years ago.

Waffle Equipment

When I use the whipper and the frying pan, I always think of the women who held them before, and I wonder what they cooked for their families with them, and I imagine them beside me, making breakfast for my little family on a snowy Sunday morning.

And even though my other grandmother, Martha, doesn’t contribute directly to this recipe, I think of her, too. Because she’s the one who taught me about the glory of a waffle-and-ice-cream sandwich, eaten at dusk on a summer evening, while sitting on blue plastic chairs, on the front veranda of her Toronto home.

Pearl’s Waffles

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups milk
2 eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons butter

  1. Melt butter. Put aside to cool.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine milk and egg yolks.
  4. Quickly stir in flour mixture.
  5. Add melted butter.
  6. Beat egg whites into peaks.
  7. Fold egg whites into batter.
  8. Cook on waffle iron (I cook them at the highest setting to get the deep brown color and crisp texture).
  9. Eat straight from the iron, before anyone else has a chance to get their hands on it. If you must be civilized and sit down to eat, drizzle first with real maple syrup.

Note: These waffles freeze and reheat well. After cooking them, allow them to cool fully, then put in freezer bags and put in the freezer. Warm them in a toaster or toaster oven.

To see Cheryl’s family recipe and see links to other family recipe posts, visit her blog. Congratulations, Cheryl!

Now… what is your favorite family recipe? Post a link in the comments here or on Cheryl’s blog. Share the family recipe love!