On Tu BiShvat it is customary to eat foods containing the seven species and to bless them. These are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and olives. Although not mentioned in Deuteronomy, almonds also figure prominently in this celebration, as they are the first tree to flower in Israel at that time of year. Almonds are considered to be the oldest cultivated nut, dating back 10,000 years. Some feel that the first documentation of almond cultivation was in the Torah, Numbers 17:23: “There the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds.” If this recipe looks similar to mandelbrodt, it could be the coincidence that Jews were sea traders, and sea traders took these hard, dry biscuits on board their ships for long voyages, knowing they would remain edible for months.
- Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground almonds in a 1-quart bowl and set aside.
- Cream 1 cup sugar and the oil in a 2-quart bowl on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, zest, vanilla, and almond extract and mix until thoroughly combined.
- Stir in the flour mixture and mix well. Add the toasted chopped almonds and combine.
- Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 4 portions. Lightly oil your hands and gently form each portion into a log 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Place 2 logs on each prepared sheet. Gently shape the soft dough into a uniform log that is now probably 12 inches long.
- Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.
- Remove the loaves from the oven. Let cool for 5 minutes. Slice each loaf crosswise into 1/2-inch cookies. Place cookies cut side up and bake for another 5 minutes. Turn slices over and bake for another 5 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container for 2 weeks or freeze.
- Sixteenth-century Italian sailors would bring these twice-baked cookies on long sea voyages because their dry consistency prevented the cookies from getting soft or moldy.
- The addition of cornstarch gives the cookie a dense, but smoother consistency.
- Ground almonds and oil make this cookie very hard, which is perfect for dipping into hot coffee or tea.