In an effort to refine a family recipe, Professional Instructor and Pastry Chef Cece Krelitz invited us to taste a bit of delicious history. Here are her creations, along with my own story about family and making people feel welcome.
(All photos by Victoria Neer and Camine Pappas)
When all my Great Aunts came over after church to giggle and sip cold drinks, it was my job to go out to the garage and get the six-packs. It was summer in Utah. And my grandparent's dairy farm was a wonderful place to spend those long, warm evenings. Which is why, even on this important errand to gather the beverages, I couldn't help but linger for a few seconds, taking in the aroma of dried alfalfa and the English Leather cologne clinging to my Grandpa's old coat and overalls.
Soon I was pouring the amber liquid over crackling ice, marveling at how much foam exploded into the top of the glass. I could hear them all roar with laughter in the next room, and I knew I had better bring in that Pepsi-Cola "right quick," as they used to say, before my Aunt Velda would lovingly call out to whomever was in the kitchen, "Kid, I need a Peps...!".
"I'm coming!" I would respond, already entering the room with the tall, etched glasses arranged perfectly on my Grandmother's silver tray. And as each clasped onto their cold cylinders of delight they broke rank only long enough for that first, long, cold sip.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was being taught how to make folks feel at home. I was learning that being a hostess was the best job of all. And that having family around, sitting in a circle, partaking of something delicious, and talking about things that no one was supposed to overhear was the perfect recipe for joy. And this is why I was inspired by Cece's journey.
This was going to be a glorious day of cookie tasting. Eight variations of Cece's family recipe for Mandelbrot were on display and we thought, this rolled cookie that is resplendent with butter, and chocolate chips, nuts and brown sugar has so many expressions that it couldn't possibly have a single, perfect, quintessential cookie type. Perfection depends upon what's in your kitchen. Or your heart. Only science plays a larger part in the end-game of flavor.
The term Mandelbrot, with a number of variant spellings -- and called mandel bread in English-speaking countries and kamishbrot in Ukraine -- is a Jewish cookie popular amongst Eastern European Jews. Cece is on a journey to sell her version of them for profit. And we all know you need a test kitchen, and taste testers. And it was here -- while we felt them melt on our tongue and made notes about texture and pleasure -- where she regaled the beginning of her inspiration. Speaking about how her mother made these and presented them to family whenever they visited, which is why THIS cookie is the one chosen to launch her business. She smiles as she shares with us that while family or guests partook, she learned serving these cookies is HOW YOU SHOW LOVE.
It would be wrong to say that we didn't stuff ourselves silly, or that we didn't experience a bit of guilt noshing all the way through every cookie before offering accurate feedback. But that's not the point. The point is we weren't concerned about calories, we only cared about having joy.
Today the art of sharing old recipes is all but forgotten. We've become overly excited by the never ending flavors that taint the filling of an Oreo sandwich cookie, or ignore the list of unpronounceable ingredients in a seemingly innocent Pepperidge Farm confection. Which is why none of us balked at trying all eight Mandelbrot variations. Because we knew that homemade is the best nourishment of all.
Interested in contacting Cece? Visit her blog at: ckbakesblog.com.
This recipe is from my second cousin, who writes in the recipe, "...this is so stinking good! The best chocolate chip cookies you will ever have.." And she was right. It is recipe she got from a friend of hers as a child. They're soft, rich and the perfect chewy consistency. Basically, the cookie all other cookies will be measured against. Simple, pure, traditional. Not over-foofed, not understated. Makes about 40 cookies...just the right amount for ONE serving!
Comforting. Rich. Delicate. Buttery. Pretty! Melt-in-your-mouth. Timeless. I. Want. One. Now.
Need I say more? There's so much to say about the delectable, easy and classy Russian Tea Cakes, or Wedding Cookies as some may call it but I chose just a few words that describe it best. Make some tonight.
(We made them small, and cooked for only 10 minutes. PERFECT.)
Click here to download the recipe from allrecipes.com.
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.