When I tell you that this is the world’s best cookie I am willing to concede the point that perhaps it’s because it has so many wonderful memories attached to it. The recipe is from my late aunt. She referred to herself as Auntillie, while her daughters and I noted her extra-special-ness by calling her Tillie-Next-To-God. It’s improbable to state that something in life always happened, and at the same time it is true to say that Auntillie always had a batch of kamish in the cookie jar. I have very fond memories of not just eating these cookies myself – always– but of watching her sit down with a cup of tea and two cookies whenever I visited.
This particular cookie, popular among Eastern European Jews, goes by various Yiddish-ie names, kamish bread, kamish broit, mandel bread, and mandel broit. For the rest of the world, let’s just call it Jewish biscotti. Like biscotti, it is a twice baked cookie with a crunchy exterior, a dessert that keeps for a long time and that easily gets eaten before it gets stale.
Beyond childhood memories of raiding Auntillie’s cookie jar, I also lived upstairs from her as a young married person. She owned a duplex; we rented the upstairs. There was a back staircase in the building that she used to deliver bowls of freshly baked kamish. A light tap at the back door was the code for cookies. When I moved away from that duplex, and from St. Louis, she would always send a tin full of kamish to me whenever my parents came to visit me in California and then in Ohio.
Many years passed, taking with them beloved Auntillie and my mom. When my dad started to decline physically we moved him from St. Louis to Cincinnati so I could look after him. Aching over pulling him away from all the memories of home, I yearned for something, anything, to fill the void. That’s when I hit upon the idea of baking kamish for him. Since Auntillie was Dad’s sister, his love of her cookies was decades older than mine.
Beyond gathering up all the ingredients for the kamish, I also gathered up my oldest grandchild, who just happens to be named Tillie. Though she was only four and a half years old at the time, she and I tackled the recipe. After mixing up the dough, Auntillie’s instructions say to divide it into ten portions and to roll each portion between the palms of your hands to form L-O-N-G snakes. Little Tillie and I couldn’t quite pull this off! Our snakes kept breaking long before they were the right size! So, we developed a method of patting and “potching” (a Yiddish word for a gentle spank) the dough until it was the right size. We named this maneuver “platching.”
We baked those cookies in September and Dad died in October so quite frankly, I’m not sure that he was well enough to enjoy them, much less get the emotional lift I had hoped for. BUT, the making of the cookies was an emotional lift for me. And because I now associate baking them with my dad and with my beloved aunt, young Tillie and I – and her two sisters – platch annually, every September. Hence the always wonderful cookies become more wonderful with the passing of each year.
Unbaked cookies, cookies after the first bake,
cookies after the second bake, and the platching team.
With the blessing of Auntillie’s daughter, my cousin Loie-next-to-God, I share the recipe now.
The World’s Best Cookie – AKA Auntillie’s Kamish:
3 eggs beaten
1 ½ Cups sugar
1 ½ Cups vegetable oil
2 tsp lemon extract
2 tsp almond extract
1 Cup chopped pecans
3 tsp baking powder
5 ½ – 6 Cups flour
- Mix all ingredients together in the order given
- Divide dough into 10 equal portions
- Roll each portion, one at a time, between the palms of your hands, forming each into a long roll, or snake, the length of your cookie sheet
- Use two cookie sheets, five snakes per sheet
- The rolls will be thin but they will rise
- Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes, until lightly browned
- Remove cookie sheet from the oven, while still hot, slice each snake at one-inch intervals
- Turn each piece cut-side up on the cookie sheet and return to the oven for 15 minutes or so
If you want your kamish to have the extra sweetness of fond memories, add these two steps:
- When you gather up your ingredients, also gather up your best friend, favorite sibling, oldest grandchild, kindest neighbor, or similar special person to help with the baking.
- Call your cooking day The First Annual Kamish Baking Event and then be sure to repeat annually.