Traditional recipes don't always have to be set in stone.
That's what Miami native Michael Reiss thought when he set out to re-create the classic Jewish, biscotti-type almond cookies known as mandel bread.
"I had the original crunchy kind of mandel bread growing up, but I was never fond of it," Reiss admits. "Also, my father, a dentist, didn't recommend chewing on hard candies."
Typically, mandel bread (mandelbrot in Yiddish and German) is twice-baked to remove additional moisture, resulting in a crisp, crunchy biscuit. Reiss bakes his version only once, however, in order to achieve a softer texture. His recipe includes the traditional mix of eggs, flour, sugar, and vanilla, but instead of packing almonds, his cookie is nut-free and infused with almond extract. And each bite is studded with chocolate chips.
"It's really a cross between a cookie and a cake," Reiss says.
A general contractor by trade, Reiss sold his homemade sweets at the now-closed Gardner's Market in South Miami for a while but had limited time and means to keep pace with demand. In June, he resurrected his dormant hobby, baking out of his home kitchen. Unbeknownst to him, his daughter, Kimberly Pertnoy, posted photos on Instagram and Facebook, and within an hour, they had received orders for 15 loaves.
With demand continuing to grow, Reiss now bakes out of a commercial kitchen and ships his mandel bread nationwide. Orders have been arriving in a steady stream, averaging about 80 a week, he reports.
"I always made the bread for friends and relatives, and they loved it," Reiss says. "Now, I have people all over the country saying it's so good it's addictive, and we keep getting recurring orders."
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Reiss' wife, Denise, designs the packaging for the loaves, which are sold cut into 12 pieces of various sizes. Each loaf of mandel bread sells for $25; a bundle of two costs $45; and three loaves are priced at $60.
Reiss says the bread has a fairly long shelf life. It can be eaten cold or at room temperature and is perfect for dipping in tea or coffee or paired with ice cream.
For now, as the pandemic continues to disrupt daily life, Reiss plans on keeping his business as delivery-only. He's also working on offering a kosher version, along with egg-, dairy-, and sugar-free options.
Michael's Mandel Bread. michaelsmandelbread.com.