The power and love of friendship lives on in a slice of crispy mandel bread that Molly Brennan Morrissey bakes.
Molly and her husband, Joe, live in Leawood and have four adult children. Molly is busy as she teaches water aerobics and works in retail, while Joe works in the hotel industry.
Q: Do you enjoy cooking and baking?
I don’t enjoy cooking, and this mandel bread is the only thing I like to bake. My husband is a fabulous cook and was professionally trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
We love to entertain and together we make a great team as he does the cooking and I create table settings. We have a big family and we like to host family dinners. I just hosted a bridal shower and we often have friends come for dinner.
Q: Tell us about the recipe you are sharing.
This recipe came from my friend Martha and every time I make it, I think of her. It is a tribute to the power of friendship.
I have been teaching water aerobics for almost 30 years. Many years ago, Martha took my classes and every day after class, she would sit by the pool where we had long talks. We became best friends and enjoyed spending time together.
Martha made this bread often and shared it with her friends, especially those who were ill, were recovering from surgery or needed a little cheering up. Everyone loved the bread.
I started helping Martha bake the bread and we had the best time together in the kitchen. The recipe was short and did not include all the details, but I learned by baking it with her.
As time went by, our roles began to change and she would help me bake the bread. She even gave me a set of the loaf pans she used. I cherish those pans and use them every time I bake the bread. She passed away five years ago and I still miss her.
I bake this bread often and it always reminds me of her and our treasured friendship.
The bread is a traditional Jewish bread that is twice-baked so it is similar to biscotti. Others may call it Mandelbrot and may spell it differently, but I spell it like Martha did.
If sealed in a tin, a tightly covered container or sealed in plastic food bags, the crisp slices store well, making them perfect to give as gifts to family and friends. I often keep a jar with a few slices on the kitchen counter as my husband loves to snack on them.
Q: Can you share some tips that would help others set beautiful tables?
I always start with a theme and set the table a couple days ahead so there is no last-minute rush. Estate and garage sales are great places to find dishes and silverware, so you don’t have to purchase new, expensive sets.
When setting the table, feel free to mix and match the patterns, but just stay in a color palette. I love to use fresh flowers as centerpieces.
Martha’s Delicious Mandel Bread
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ heaping teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 to 5 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 long loaf pans, about 12- or 13-by-4 inches.
In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer at medium-high speed, beat together butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs.
Beat in the flour and baking powder. Add the vanilla and then stir in the pecans.
Spoon into prepared pans. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until set and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes. (If you think the bread is done, bake it for another 10 minutes; you really can’t burn the bread.)
Place on wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from pans and cool the bread completely. Turn the oven off while bread is cooling.
When the bread is cool and you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thinly slice the bread using a serrated bread knife. (Thinly slicing the bread is very important.)
Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on baking sheets. (The slices can be placed closely together and the edges can touch.)
Turn the oven off and slide the filled baking sheets into the hot, but off, oven. (Baking sheets can be placed on different oven racks.) Allow the bread to dry overnight or at least, several hours.
Store the crisp bread slices in a sealed bag or airtight containers.
Tips: You can substitute other loaf pans for the long ones noted in the recipe. Shorter but wider pans may affect the baking process so be sure that the bread bakes completely in the center of the bread. The bread pans listed in this recipe may be called by their French name, Pain de Mie or might be called a “tea loaf” pan.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants that make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published over 14 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. Email them at KCComeIntoMyKitchen@gmail.com.