Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Fractal Geometry of Jewish Baked Goods

I am having a mandelbrot crisis.  All because I started blogging about rugelach and hamantaschen.  Bam! 

You can't talk about rugelach and hamantaschen and not mention mandelbrot.  So I started thinking about baking some mandelbrot, but I wanted something easier than my mandelbrot with fruit.  Most mandelbrot is made with oil, which renders it pareve, or neutral, for anyone who keeps kosher.  That means they could enjoy the mandelbrot after a meat meal or a dairy meal without having to wait the requisite number of hours.  But my recipe is made with butter, and the dough is not easy to handle.  Dough made with oil is much easier to work with, and I'm all about easy.  Finding a recipe for mandelbrot made with oil is easy.

Another problem is that I can't eat almonds.  Very hard for me to chew, so I avoid them.  Since "mandel" is Yiddish for almond, this begs the question of whether what I would be baking is really mandelbrot, but I can fix this with almond extract or even almond filling.

I also do not want my mandelbrot to be a biscotti knock-off.  No dipping the ends in melted chocolate.  As grandma would say, feh.

Here's the biggest problem of all:  the best mandelbrot I ever had was baked by my brother's mother-in-law.  It was a marbled mandelbrot, with both white and chocolate dough.  (No chocolate chips.  What Russian bubbe had access to chocolate chips?  Certainly not mine.  Chocolate chips are not authentic. Chocolate chips weren't even invented until 1937, and I can assure you that Ruth Wakefield was not using them to make mandelbrot.)  And I don't think there were almonds in her mandelbrot.  It was perfect.  She even made some just for me. 

Why is such a happy memory such a problem?  Well, I never got the recipe, and now it's too late.  Not because she passed away but because there was a falling out about thirty years ago and unfortunately my brother and I - and by extension, his wife and her family - no longer have a friendly relationship.

Now, it may be just a little true that I remarried my husband to get his mother's butter cookie recipe.  At least that's what I let him believe.  But there is absolutely no way for me to get this lady's mandelbrot recipe, so I am stumped.  I have looked in cookbooks and am in the process of doing internet searches, without even coming close.  Bummer.

Ho Ho Ho!  I think I found it ... another save by Sara Moulton.  I'll get back to you.

By the way, did you know that one of my very favorite actors is named Mandel?

I've been looking on and off for hours now, and I'm not completely satisfied with any one recipe, which means I'm going to have to tweak and fiddle.  I did find a great recipe for a cardamom mandelbrot, but I do not want to get distracted ... cardamom is a favorite spice of mine, but not to everyone's taste.  One year I found a recipe in Bon Appetit for a cardamom cranberry cornbread, and I made it for Thanksgiving.  Nobody really liked it except for me.  It wasn't that they disliked it ... they just didn't "get it."  I love cornbread, and I am always trying to replicate the light, sweet cornbread I used to get at The Spare Rib in Commack, New York.  The cardamom version was nothing like The Spare Rib version, of course, but it was so good I could have eaten the whole thing.  Come to think of it, I did eat the whole thing.  With sweet butter.

Okay, I'm not sure that Jewish baked goods can be described by fractal geometry, unless they contain Romanesco cauliflower, which is highly unlikely.  But sitting here having my little mandelbrot fit, I could not resist having a little fun with the Father of Fractal Geometry ... Benoit Mandelbrot.  Besides having the coolest name around (even cooler than one of my favorite actors, Mandel Bruce Patinkin) he is best known for describing what is now known as the Mandelbrot set:

Sort of looks like the chocolate dough wrapped inside the vanilla dough in a properly made mandelbrot.  Absolute genius!

At the other end of the spectrum from genius comes some of today's headlines:

Gov. Scott's attorney admits giving inaccurate figures arguing against high speed rail money

Nic Cage -- Taunted Police Into Arresting Him

Trump's Strength in Early Presidential Polls Defies Conventional Wisdom

Back to the genius side of things:  My good friend Mark is posting a one-time opportunity for all his blogging friends - and trust me, he's got friends all over the world with a variety of interests - to check each other's blogs out, network, and just say "hi!".  A terrific way to widen one's horizons and get a little free publicity as well ... thank you Mark!  I highly recommend you check out Mark's blog here.


  1. I was having trouble sleeping because in the process of recuperating from pneumonia, I developed a partially collasped lung (alectasis). Anyway, was it you in Chemistry class who told our Mr. Calabria when the auditorium was burning down that he should not attribute the smoke to the Home Economics class because they were doing sewing that week??????

  2. Good God, you have the most amazing memory. Yes, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I would have said to Mr. Calabria. I don't remember being a comedian in high school, but I guess I had my moments. Did you print out the rutabaga recipe for Tim? I'd love his feedback.

  3. He absolutely loved it. Now we need to decide how to redefine "Once in a Blue Moon" becuase all of all the yummy but calorie laden ingredients.

  4. Blue moons occur four times a year, unless we are talking about a carload of drunken frat boys performing sophomoric rituals in the dead of winter.

  5. speaking of actors named mandel, i had the honor to see howie in concert. next to gallagher i have never laughed so hard! for a germophobe he is amazing!

    and its not just drunken frat boys performing sophomoric rituals - you need to come to my bar lolol.

    thank you again for yet another outstanding article with recipes that while i may not be able to pronounce but HAVE to try!!! they look and sound utterly delicious!!