Living in a more rural part of Florida, there isn’t exactly much in the way of good Jewish food down here–no fresh bagels, no matzo ball soup, no latkes, and more importantly, no rugelach.
Now I’ve discovered that even though I take it as a given, not everyone has had or heard of rugelach before, so just in case: rugelach is essentially a Jewish pastry/cookie with some sort of sweet (usually fruity) filling. Whenever I’ve had rugelach before, I never had just one kind–there was always a selection. So in keeping with both that and my inability to make up my mind (committing to one flavor and being tied down?), I made three different kinds of rugelach. The first is a fairly traditional filling of apricot, golden raisins, and walnuts. The second is a bit sweeter, with honey, dates, and pecans. Finally, the third: chocolate hazelnut. I was inspired to make rugelach after seeing a delicious looking post on Smitten Kitchen and it just seemed right with Chanukah approaching (well, it was approaching when I actually made these). Plus, dessert hadn’t included any cookies, so this seemed like a good start. I’m also including this as my entry in Food Blogga’s “Eat Christmas Cookies” event (I know, not quite Christmas, but somebody has to light the menorah, right? 😉 )
This was my first time making rugelach, so I did some reading and encountered some nice approaches to making it and a plethora of flavor combinations. In making it, I discovered that working with the dough was surprisingly difficult. All that cream cheese makes for a very tacky dough, and if it isn’t kept really cold and you don’t work with it really quickly, things will get messy and awkward in the blink of an eye. The price I paid was a number of pretty sad looking rugelach (e.g. some of them lost shape in the oven), but they still tasted great. Next time, I know that I need to give the dough more time to chill.
So with that in mind, before you do anything, make the dough so it has the time it needs in the fridge. This dough will yield around 50 cookies, and I figure 2-3 per person is a good sized dessert serving.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the pastry-ophobes out there, making this dough isn’t as intimidating and full of black magic as some other doughs might be. The first step is to chop the butter up into pieces and cream the dairy items in a food processor, so go ahead and beat the cream cheese and butter chunks until well mixed and creamy. Aside from getting everybody talking, this works a lot of fluff and air into the dough so that your end result isn’t flat and lifeless. Once you have a silky smooth mixture, add in the sugar and salt, pulsing some more to blend this in evenly. Finally, add in the sifted flour, pulsing as you go until everything is well mixed.
At this point, the dough is pretty tacky, and if you’ve handled it, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’re going to shape something out of it. Transfer the dough from the food processor to a lightly floured surface. Divide it in two (or three or four–how many different kinds of rugelach are you making?) pieces, forming a ball out of each and then wrap each in plastic wrap, letting them sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Don’t cheat and cut this time short–you’ll pay for it.
Now, with the dough resting, on to the fillings. I made a mistake with the fillings that is 100% due to laziness and I am pointing it out here so that you don’t do the same. I thought, hey, with all of this time waiting for the dough to chill, why not get the prep out of the way? I just mixed each filling together and had them ready to go for later. This is all fine and good, but when you have to spread this tacky filling out evenly over a very thin sheet of even tackier dough, you’re either going to start pulling holes in your dough left and right (check) or you’re not going to spread the filling very evenly (and check again). The lesson learned: brush/spread the “wet” components on the dough first and then add the remaining dry ingredients (which you can prep ahead) on top of that. Things will go much easier.
So with that in mind, each of the three fillings I made are below. Each one of these makes enough to use up all of the dough–I divided each of these by three and worked with the amount of dough prepared above, so plan accordingly.
Apricot Raisin Walnut
- 1 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup apricots preserves
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
This is a pretty traditional rugelach filling, and if you’ve never had it before and it sounds only so-so to you, you really should try it. This is traditional for a reason–it just has the perfect combination of sweet, crunch, chewiness, and strong fruity flavors. My wife was not at all excited about this flavor when I told her, but this was also the first flavor that we ran out of in the coming week. I’m just saying.
Chop the raisins and walnuts coarsely and mix with all of the remaining dry ingredients. Unlike me, you’ll spread the apricot preserves solo on the dough later and then sprinkle this mixture on top of that.
Honey Date Pecan
- 1 cup pecans
- ~30 dates
- 3/4 cup honey
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp rose water
My mother was always sure to serve grapes with honey during Rosh Hashana growing up (for the uninitiated: for a sweet new year), so I thought it would be keeping with a Jewish dessert to have a honeyed flavor. Dates seemed perfect for this: middle eastern, complicated flavor, and they cook down from somewhat tough into a nice, soft, honeyed texture. Combine this with some more honey and a contrast of pecans for some crunch, and you’ve got a pretty sweet combination. If you’re not one for dates or honey though, this might not be for you.
If not already pitted, pit the dates. Then coarsely chop them down (smaller than quartered) and do the same for the pecans. Mix these with everything except for the honey. You’ll spread the honey directly on the dough and then sprinkle this mixture on top of that.
I included rosewater in the glaze just to give these a light, additional sweet fragrance. Definitely not required, but its just a nice little something (and I’d just bought it and wanted to use it 😉 ).
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup hazelnuts
- knob of butter
- drop of heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup sugar
- handful of finely ground hazelnuts OR praline (which is candied hazelnuts and almonds)
Lastly but surely, a chocolate rugelach. Seems kind of like a necessity, really. Given that the other two rugelachs had some sort of nut as a side-kick, I had to keep with the theme, so for this, I used my favorite (and really, the best nut with chocolate, in my opinion): hazelnuts.
I toasted the hazelnuts before doing anything. This is simple: simply lay them out on a baking sheet in the oven on 350?F for 10 minutes, flip them over, and let them go for another 10 minutes. Take them out of the oven, give them five or so minutes to cool, and then work as much of that papery coating off as you can (I roll them around between my hands quickly, like I’m trying to start a fire. There’s probably a better method…).
Once your hazelnuts are ready, chop them and the chocolate somewhat finely. There’s not much of a “wet” ingredient to spread here, so instead, use some melted butter and a drop of cream (the idea here is that milkfats can help form something like a ganache so you can something more interesting than completely re-hardened chocolate).
Put it all together
So now that your fillings are ready and the dough has chilled in the fridge long enough, its time to put all of this together. Get a dough ball from the fridge (don’t take them all out at once–only take them out as soon as you’re ready for them so they don’t warm up more than they have to), unwrap it, and on a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper (this will make working with it a lot easier), roll the dough out until its very thin.
With the dough rolled out, take the wet ingredient from your filling (e.g. apricot preserves, honey, butter and cream) and spread it out evenly over the dough. Then sprinkle the remaining dry filling ingredients evenly over this, taking care to be uniform and not to damage the dough (which is very easy to do now–it warms up quickly!). If it seems like there isn’t a lot of filling in there, its ok–if you overdo it, it will all bleed out and burn during cooking. Less is more.
Once all of the filling is spread out, carefully and tightly roll the dough so as to form a long tube, giving you something of a pinwheel if viewed from the small side of the tube. This is where that sheet of plastic wrap/wax paper makes your life a lot easier as it helps you to lift the dough uniformly without it sticking or breaking.
Now, with a sharp knife, cut your log into ~1/4-1/2 inch thick pieces. These are your cookies.
At this point, you’re almost there. The last step before putting these in the oven (which you should preheat to 350?F) is to glaze them. In a small bowl, prepare an egg wash (2 egg whites, an equal volume of water mixed well) and in another bowl (or bowls if making separate for each), your glaze/topping (which might be a simple mixture of sugar and spice…and everything nice). Simply dip each rugelach in the egg wash, roll it around in the topping bowl, and place on some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Try not to crowd–figure you can fit about three or four cookies per row.
Transfer to the oven for about 20 minutes.
Keep an eye on the rugelach after about 15 minutes–if they start to brown, take them out early.
Slide the parchment paper off on to a wire rack and let them cool for a little while before you dig in. Enjoy!