Marcia Rittmaster and her family have New Year’s plans this evening. Sundown marks the beginning of Rosh Hashana, commonly referred to as the “Jewish New Year.” Rosh Hashana is the first of 10 days specifically set aside for reflection culminating in the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.
Marcia and her husband, Larry, have been married 48 years and have three sons and four grandchildren. The youngest grandchild, 4-year-old Ella Rittmaster, regularly spends time in Marcia’s kitchen, cooking and baking with her. “My favorite thing is making scrambled eggs,” Ella says. “But I like sprinkling the cinnamon-sugar on these (unfilled mandel bread) and then eating them.”
Residence: Overland Park
Occupation: Recently retired religious school and youth group director at Congregation Beth Torah, community volunteer.
Special cooking interest: Preserving Jewish traditions through food.
What does Rosh Hashana mean to you? Rosh Hashana literally means ‘head of the year,’ and it is a time of reflection and anticipation. The 10 days between Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, are known as the Days of Awe. During these days, we are called to seek the forgiveness of people we have wronged during the past year.
It’s traditional to eat something sweet at this time of year in hopes that the year to come will be sweet as well. We include the traditional apples and challah bread dipped in honey, but I think the mandel bread must go with this holiday because it’s sweet — or because that’s when Aunt Ethel made it!
Tell me about your Aunt Ethel Firestone, from whom this recipe comes. My mother passed away when I was 14, and was ill for about three years before that. She was one of six sisters, who were all very close. My father and I moved around the corner from my Aunt Ethel when my mother became ill and she was the one who “raised me.” Each of my mother’s sisters had their own specialty when it came to the foods they made, and I never heard them argue in all of the years I knew them. Although they would have been happy to share recipes, if you wanted mandel bread, you would just mention it to Aunt Ethel and she would whip you up a batch. If you wanted brownies, you called my Aunt Ida, and on and on. Instead of calling them by name, a friend of mine called my aunts by the recipe they were known for instead: Aunt Mandel Bread; Aunt Brownie; Aunt Chicken…
So Rosh Hashana wouldn’t be the same without Aunt Ethel’s mandel bread? Every Rosh Hashana, my family can count on me to make Aunt Ethel’s Mandel Bread. No one else makes it — that’s my job and I love it. My grandchildren — Ella, Samantha, Mikaela and Jonathan — have helped with coating the mandel bread with glaze or cinnamon sugar. There are many, many recipes for mandel bread, which can also be called mandelbrot, but I have no idea where my Aunt Ethel got her recipe, and I don’t know anyone else who makes filled mandel bread. Aunt Ethel came up with that idea on her own, and I make both kinds. Actually, we have three kinds, as one of my sons doesn’t like nuts, so he gets mandel bread with no nuts or filling. My son and daughter-in-law live in L.A., and I have a niece who lives in Chicago, so if they can’t be with us for the holiday, I mail them mandel bread. This mandel bread has been sent to Alaska, Hawaii and the Caribbean, so no one goes without mandel bread at Rosh Hashana in our family.
Do you share the traditions of your Jewish faith by the food you make so lovingly for your family? I love to cook for my family — the Jewish holidays and Thanksgiving are my favorites. There’s nothing better than to see everyone gathered around the table enjoying traditional foods. When it’s not holiday time, it’s just my husband and me. We tend to eat simple meals. Grilled chicken or fish, a lot of hearty salads in the summer and a lot of soups in the winter. Like my aunts, I am known as the soup maker in the family. My sister, Judy Hellman, never makes soup because she knows I will share. I’m always dividing up the pot of soup between my sister and my kids. Every once in a while, I will get a call with a special request for chicken soup with matzah balls and I am always happy to fill the request. It’s truly my pleasure to see my family eat what I cook or bake, and in that way, I suppose I am like my Aunt Ethel, too.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Aunt Ethel Firestone’s Mandel Bread
Makes 4 dozen, 1-inch pieces
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the filling:
3/4 cup apricot preserves
1/2 cup white raisins
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
To make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer, beat eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Slowly add dry ingredients, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough forms.
Divide dough equally into 4 parts, wrap each dough segment tightly in plastic wrap, and allow to chill overnight in refrigerator.
To make the filling: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse preserves, raisins and pecans together until filling becomes a homogenous mixture.
To assemble: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly coat 2 baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray. Cut 4 pieces of waxed paper to 12-inch lengths and set aside.
Remove 1 of 4 blocks of dough from refrigerator and roll onto 1 piece of waxed paper into a “log” that is shaped about 4 inches in diameter by 12 inches long.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, create an indentation or “well” down the center of the 12-inch length of dough. Carefully spoon 1/4 of the prepared filling into the indentation. Then, pinch dough together on top to seal filling inside. Place on prepared baking sheet by using the waxed paper to help transfer unbaked mandel bread. Discard paper.
Continue process with a fresh sheet of waxed paper until all dough and filling are used. Bake 2 mandel bread “logs” on each baking sheet.
Carefully place in oven and bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes.
Make the glaze by stirring confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk together. Glaze should be a thick, pourable consistency, but not too runny. If initially too thick, add more milk, 1 teaspoonful at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.
Drizzle the top of baked mandel bread with glaze. Using a serrated knife, cut into 1-inch pieces while still warm. Allow to cool completely and glaze to set before storing in an airtight container.
Per piece: 140 calories (37 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 13 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 60 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
To make unfilled variety (yields 5 dozen, 1-inch pieces): Mix 1 cup finely chopped pecans into dough. Omit the filling and glaze. Divide dough into 5 equal parts and refrigerate overnight.
Roll out dough on waxed paper into “logs” that are 3-inches in diameter by 12-inches in length and place on baking sheet. Use directions above for preparation/baking specifications and continue rolling process until all dough has been used. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.
While baking, stir 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons cinnamon together in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
Remove from oven and, using a serrated knife, carefully slice into 1-inch pieces while still warm. Quickly coat cut pieces in cinnamon-sugar mixture and place pieces back onto baking sheet. Return to oven for 5 to 7 minutes to “toast” pieces and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Per piece: 93 calories (49 percent from fat), 5 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 11 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 46 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.