Recipe | The Legacy of 3 Jewish matriarchs live on in these cookies

Aunt Liz, Uncle George and Grandma Syl (left to right).

Shared by Jennifer Indig

This story originally appeared on JewishFoodSociety.org

In Jennifer Indig’s family, there are always her grandmothers’ cookies: thin mandlebread from grandma Mitzi and shortbread cookies topped with caramel, nuts, and chocolate, or turtle cookies, from grandma Syl. At every Rosh Hashanah gathering Jennifer and her husband have hosted since they started dating, cookies have graced the table. For their wedding rehearsal dinner, Jennifer’s mother Shelley baked countless cookies for dessert and mandel bread for guests to enjoy the next morning. But, in Jennifer’s family, a holiday or celebration isn’t required for these cookies to be served — there are often some stashed in the freezer, ready to be taken out of their cold home and enjoyed.

Freezing her grandmothers’ cookies is a habit Jennifer inherited. Grandma Mitzi, her maternal grandmother, always kept her thin mandel bread stashed in the freezer for friends who would come by to play bridge. When Jennifer started to take an interest in cooking and baking, grandma Mitzi shared her recipe in her Florida kitchen where she spent the winter. Mitzi would purchase all of the ingredients and have them ready for a visit, but, “She would wait until I got there because she wanted to make them with me,” Jennifer says.

Mitzi’s recipe was also passed down on a recipe card in a box Jennifer inherited when her mother Shelley passed away. It was tucked in among cards for other recipes including grandma Syl’s turtle cookies. Syl, whose full name was Sylvia, and her sister Liz (who family lore says invented this recipe) always kept these cookies on hand in their freezers. When Jennifer and her family arrived in Tucson for the family’s annual Thanksgiving celebration at Liz’s home, her father Alan would “go to see if the grandma Syl cookies were in there,” Jennifer says.

When Jennifer delivered her first child, her mom was gravely ill with cancer, but insisted the family host a baby naming. Unable to bake or to attend because of her illness, Shelley’s best friend came over the day before to drop off sweets. Sadly, Shelley passed away a week later. More recently, when Jennifer’s brother had his first child, the family once again hosted a baby naming. “I know, had my mom been alive, she would have baked all of these recipes,” Jennifer says. “That’s the way she would have given of herself for this event.”

Living in New York and planning to fly to Chicago for the naming ceremony, Jennifer diligently baked and froze batches of grandma Syl and grandma Mitzi’s cookies, along with a recipe for Kermit or raisin walnut cookies from her sister-in-law’s grandmother Carole Lindes. “So there were cookies represented from all of these generations,” she says, even though her grandmothers and mother couldn’t be there.

Jennifer, who gave birth to her son this week, had already mentally prepared to make cookies for the freezer for her son’s bris later this year. Those plans were halted by the pandemic. Still, Jennifer plans to bake cookies when she returns from the hospital. Of course, they will be popped into the freezer, ready for when family comes to visit.

Grandma Mitzi’s Mandelbread

Makes: About 45 cookies
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes active + 4 hours inactive

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups pecan halves

Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two medium 9 inch x 5 inch loaf pans with non-stick spray.

2. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.

3. Place the butter and sugar into a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until combined well. Add the eggs, one at a time and make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and mix. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add the pecans and mix until the pecans are distributed evenly throughout the batter. Place half of the batter into one loaf pan and the remaining batter into the second loaf pan. Spread the batter in both loaf pans to make the surface smooth.

4. Transfer the loaf pans into the oven and bake for about 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick placed into the loaf comes out with some crumbs. Invert the loaves onto a rack to cool. Wrap each loaf with aluminum foil and freeze for at least 4 hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Remove the loaves from the freezer. While still frozen, slice the loaves crosswise with a serrated knife into thin cookies, about ¼ inch thick. Place the cookie slices onto the baking sheets and transfer into the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven, cool and serve.

Grandma Syl’s Cookies

Makes: About 40 cookies

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Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

For the cookie layer:

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup unsalted butter, cold

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

For the caramel and chocolate layers:

1 cup unsalted butter

⅔ cup brown sugar

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with butter.

2. Make the cookie layer: Place the flour, butter, and brown sugar into a mixing bowl. Mix with your hands until it forms a sandy dough. Place this mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the walnut pieces over the dough evenly and set aside.

3. Make the caramel: Heat 1 cup of butter and ⅔ cup brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook the mixture until it bubbles, about 6 to 8 minutes. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and is a caramel color. Pour the caramel evenly over the walnuts in the baking dish. Transfer the baking dish into the oven and bake for about 18 minutes, until the cookie layer is cooked through.

4. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. The chocolate will melt.Using an off-set spatula or butter knife, spread it into an even layer. Let cool. Cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch squares and serve or wrap well and keep in the freezer.

Kermit Cookies

This recipe comes from Jennifer’s sister-in-law’s family. Carole Lindes, whom everyone calls grandma Carole, prepared these cookies for the naming ceremony of her great-granddaughter, Jennifer’s niece. They were served alongside the recipes from Jennifer’s family, showing many generations of family all on one cookie platter.

Makes: About 40 cookies
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 ¼ cups raisins
4 ½ cups walnuts

Preparation
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour, baking soda and cinnamon into a bowl. Set aside.

3. Whisk the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add the milk and stir until it forms a smooth batter. Fold in the raisins and walnuts and mix until evenly distributed.

4. Place about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Transfer into the oven and bake for about 12 to 15  minutes or until the cookies are golden brown and set in the center. Let the cookies cool and serve.