I’m an Ashkenazi Jew. My fiancé is Italian-American. Our ancestral food cultures—meat-and-potatoes kosher versus Mediterranean Treif City—have just about nothing in common, beyond the fact that both of our people eat bread and drink wine. (When it comes to the latter, his people’s is definitely better.)
But there is one dish that connects our respective backgrounds, the center of the Jewish-Italian Venn diagram: a dry, almond-speckled cookie that old ladies of both the Catholic and the Jewish persuasion have been pushing on reluctant kids for billions of years (rough estimation).
Yep, biscotti are pretty much the exact same thing as mandel bread, also known as mandelbrot—a nut-studded, crunchy, barely sweet cookie that’s baked twice, once as a loaf and the second time in slices.
The two-tiered drying process yields a treat with heroic shelf life, if not one of the most flavorful pastries you’ll find—though there’s also something to be said for a dessert that doesn’t make your teeth ache with an onslaught of sugar.
And hey, as biscotti/mandel bread/mandelbrot go, my grandmother’s version is pretty damn good. Bad biscotti are bland and hard enough to chip an incisor; Nonnie’s are addictively crunchy, tasty enough to eat alone, but also mild enough that they won’t clash with your strongly flavored hot beverage of choice. (Oh, and they’re pareve!)
The recipe is also so simple that I imagine it’d lend itself well to any number of adaptations—using different sorts of nuts, swapping in new and exciting spices, even spiking the dough with, say, a heaping half-cup of cocoa powder. (Yeah, you’re going to want to do that last one.)