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Cooking with Grandparents: Janice Hill's Mandel Bread

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Janice Hill
Photo: Maria Zizka

Licensed psychotherapist specializing in marriage and family? Check. Nursery school teacher with a skill for playing guitar and singing along? Check. Talented cook? You bet. Janice Hill is the type of grandparent that new parents dream of.

When Janice turned forty and her daughter left home for college, she decided to start playing the cello again. She hadn't tried since she was a little girl. Today, she regularly performs in concert as part of the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra. At fifty, Janice learned to surf. In her Facebook profile picture, she is riding a wave that reaches over her head. Now in her sixties, Janice practices Ashtanga yoga, one of the most fast-paced, vigorous, and challenging styles. She recently traveled on a zip-and-sip retreat, where she both practiced yoga and flew down zip-lines.

Although Janice is active and playful outside the kitchen, she demonstrates a Zen-like patience while cooking with her grandchildren. I watched her teach her granddaughter, Isabel, who is three years old, and her grandson, Zachary, who is six, how to make mandel bread, following a recipe passed down from her mother. Izzy cracked eggs into a bowl, Zach whisked, and Janice counted aloud with them--20 stirs for Zach, then 20 stirs for Izzy. Her grandkids love to mix the mandel bread dough with their hands. It has almost the same texture as Play-Doh, only it tastes much, much better.

Janice says that her mother baked mandel bread as a form of therapy, slowly shaping and cutting the twice-cooked loaves, which are sometimes called Jewish biscotti. Once she even baked a batch for Itzhak Perlman when he was in Los Angeles for a concert. Whether you're a notable sixty-nine-year-old violinist or a grandchild who loves to play with dough, these crunchy cookies are sure to lift your mood.

Mandel Bread

Janice Hill's Mandel Bread
Janice's daughter, Alexandra, likes to substitute coconut oil for the canola oil in this recipe. To make cinnamon sugar, combine ¼ cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon.

Makes about 7 dozen

4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
7/8 cup canola oil
¾ cup chopped walnuts
Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and granulated sugar. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, oil, and 2 tablespoons of water. Make a well in the flour mixture, pour the egg mixture into the well, and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Mix in the chopped walnuts with your hands. Divide the dough into 6 equal loaves and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the mandel bread from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 375°F, and let the mandel bread cool for a few minutes.

Cut each loaf on the diagonal into ¾-inch-thick slices, and arrange them upright on the baking sheet so that there is a small space between each slice. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.

(Mandel bread will keep in an airtight container for weeks.)

Sprinkling Cinnamon Sugar

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