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Yesterday I baked "Mandel Rohr" cookies and today I made toffee bars. Although mandel rohr (German for "almond pipe") are an old family recipe, my mother didn't make them at Christmastime. (She would make six or eight types of cookies for Christmas: brown cookies, spritz, mandel kranz, chocolate kisses, anise drops, ....) But I really like them, and so does Lucy. I sometimes think about making them at other times of the year, but I usually don't get around to it. [The first time I made them, though, years ago, was to celebrate officially getting my PhD from the University of Minnesota (I had been living in California for five or six months at that point). I cut some in the shape of the state of Minnesota. At least one of my friends refers to them as "Minnesota cookies".]

Often my brothers will send me some home-made Christmas cookies, so I will get some of the traditional treats, too. And I'll send them some mandel rohr.

Mandel rohr require finely grating a half pound of almonds and some sweet chocolate; as usual, I did that the night before. Yesterday morning I mixed the dough; then I rested before doing the rolling out, cutting and baking. Handling the dough can be a little tricky since it can easily turn crumbly. The traditional way to bake them is to cut the dough into strips, three-quarters to one inch wide, about five inches long, and drape them over special mandel rohr pans. These are half pipes, about four inches in diameter and 14 inches long. I inherited my pans (I have two); I don't know if any others exist. (You can use an inverted loaf pan; I did that once and it worked OK.) This makes the cookies an interesting, three-dimensional shape. Which makes them bulky to store, and fragile to ship. I also just role out some of the dough and cut it with cookie cutters. How is it you can feel the thickness of the dough just by feeling the surface of the dough? Do you feel the resiliency of the dough? Is your hand (or hand and eye) really able to judge how far it is above the working surface? I've never quite understood it, but I can certainly do it. Once the dough is cut and on the pans, either traditional pipes, or two-dimensional shapes, the pans go in the oven. You have to be a little careful because they will burn pretty easily, especially the cookies near the edge of the pan. Once they're out of the oven, you dust them with powdered sugar.

Besides the pans, I also inherited the grater I use. It must be older than me. It works very well, but somewhere along the way I lost the wooden block for pressing the material in the hopper. I keep meaning to fabricate a new one, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

The mandel rohr recipe must be from my mother's side of the family. I don't know if it goes all the way back to Germany (my mother's mother's ancestors came from the Prussian provinces of Posen and Saxony), or if it's something they picked up in Watertown or Milwaukee. If you google "Mandel Rohr", you get nothing.

Toffee bars are a lot easier: mix up the dough, spread it in the pan and bake. I use my own recipe, based on a couple of cookbook recipes and some experimentation. I melt milk chocolate on the top after taking them out of the oven--that is one detail preserved from the way my mother made them.


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April 2014

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