In the spirit of all the Jewish holidays last week, it seemed only right that this weekend’s festivities pay homage in the form of some classic cookies of Jewish descent – the sweet, flaky Rugelach cookie. The way I saw it, if Cara and I were to be so bold as to throw a party on the final evening of Yom Kippur, the least we could do was maintain tradition in helping our friends break their fasts.
Truth be told, I don’t have a drop of Jewish ancestry in my family tree, but I still grew up making and eating these cookies for nearly every family holiday. In fact, they were pretty much my favorite holiday cookie on the menu, and I would often beg my mom to bake them with me all year round for no other reason than that I couldn’t go on without them. In our kitchen, these cookies operated under the simplified alias of “Roll-Up Cookies”, and were often stuffed with the basic magic of cinnamon, white sugar, and brown sugar. As we got older, the occasional sprinkling of chopped walnuts was added to the mix, but to this day, the flaky cinnamon crunch of “Roll-Up Cookies” always reminds me of Christmas and holiday quality time with the family.
So, for our party I decided to mix things up and put a different spin on the roll-ups, giving these “Rugelach” a harvest-season flare. I let Cara do the filling voting, and we netted out on Cinnamon-Pear-Hazelnut Rugelach.
The recipe below makes about 32 cookies, and was adapted from Bon Appetit.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 6 ounces chilled cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Bon Appetit’s recipe recommends making the dough in the food processor, but since I don’t own a food processor (or a hand mixer for that matter – which I’m aware makes me a very ill-prepared baker), I decided to go the, shall we say, rustic route in making these cookies. Which basically means my hands served as both my mixers and food processors. How do you think they did it in the old days?
Okay, so I did have a spoon to help. Combine the first three ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Next, chop your chilled butter and cream cheese into small cubes, and add to the floury mixture. Chop…
Using your spoon, give the butter and cream cheese cubes a toss in the flour to get them coated. Then, wash your hands (if you already haven’t), roll up your sleeves, and get ready to get a little bit messy.
While it can be tempting to knead and mix this dough for hours to your heart’s content, be careful not to over do it. This is essentially a pastry dough, which means you don’t want the butter (or cream cheese) to melt, and you want it integrated with the flour, but not entirely blended. This is why the butter and cream cheese must be chilled before hand, and it will help give the cookies a flaky, pie-crust or croissant texture once baked.
Once you’ve recovered from your flashbacks to Play-Doh playing days, form the dough into a four equal sized balls and flatten them out. I doubled the recipe, made one large pie, and cut it into eight pieces for easy storing.
Ball those puppies up, wrap them in some plastic wrap, and stick them in the fridge for at least two hours.
Then go do whatever it is that normal people who do not spend all day baking 100 cookies do on Saturdays… like, go on a hunt for Pear jam. As my roommate un-judgingly declared as I was up to my elbows in all-purpose flour, “Only you would spend 5 hours baking gourmet cookies for a college-themed party.” Totally normal, I’m sure…
While, the dough hardens in the fridge, you can work on assembling your ingredients for your Filling! I used:
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 12 tablespoons of pear preserves (you can use any flavor, but the combination of cinnamon, pear, and hazelnut felt very autumnal to me)
- 1 cup of chopped roasted hazelnuts
The original recipe suggests filling the cookies with chopped dried cherries, chocolate chips, cherry jam, and walnuts. Really, you can fill them with anything you like. Cara and I experimented with maple syrup (slightly messy in the oven) and raspberry preserves, and you should surely fill these roll-ups with whatever makes you smile. For me that was:
Totally worth the sixteen block walk to Agata & Valentina on the Upper East Side. For those of you within proximity, I definitely recommend checking out this Italian specialty foods shop. They have not only a brick oven and full pizza shop, but also a cheese counter where men in white hats are making homemade fresh mozzarella right before your very eyes!! Who knew such magic existed right on the Upper East? Anyway, back to the preserves…
Clearly I was obsessed with these preserves (and still am) and will be going back to the jam section of A & V as soon as I man up for that walk. For the filling, I thought toasted hazelnuts would mesh well with the pear + apple filling, so I toasted some up on the stove.
Toasting nuts in a pan is easy, but you have to be careful – walk away for too long, and you’ll scorch these, and that’s pretty much on par with burnt garlic. As in, it’s rancid. So just keep a close eye on the nuts as they toast, keep the pan moving over the flame, and let your nose do the work. Once the room starts to fill with a rich, hazelnutty aroma, they’re done.
I popped them in a hand blender for a quick chop so they would be ready for cookie-delivery…
…And prepared the rest of my filling – a bowl of white sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon (see quantities above). These three components – preserves, nuts, and sugar – would comprise your complete rugelach filling.
By now, you’ve folded your laundry and gone to the mall and come back and your dough is hardened and cooled and ready for some elbow grease rolling. Break out your rolling pin (or the most symmetrical wine bottle you’ve got – come on, it’s time to get creative!) and unwrap your first dough-cake. Sprinkle the counter, both sides of the dough, and your rolling pin with flour – you want to avoide sticking which will make this a miserable mess – and start rolling your dough. Keep turning and flipping the dough so you get an even thickness throughout, and you maintain a fairly circular shape. Don’t worry if the edges are a little ridged, like mine. You’re going to be rolling these up, so that jagged edge will eventually be the warm gooey center of a cookie, and trust me, at that point you won’t care.
Then add your toppings – spread on the jelly, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar and nuts. Sort of looks like a pizza, Max Brenner style.
Now for the fun part. Cut the sweet pizza into eight slices (or more if you’re feeling risky), and then, working from the outside of each “pie slice” in, roll the cookies up until they look like miniature croissants. Don’t worry if some of the filling leaks out – but try to be gentle and preserve as much of it as possible. It’s okay to lick your fingers, I promise.
While I often preach instant gratification, Bon Appetit encourages the “measure twice, cut once” method, and recommends you pop the raw rolled up rugelach in the freezer on a greased cookie sheet for 30 minutes before baking, so that they better maintain their shape. I obliged (unwillingly), and then retreived the frozen cookies and put them in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Cooking time will really vary on the size of your cookies, the size of your oven, and probably the alignment of the moon in conjuction to Neptune, so just keep an eye on these and check them every couple of minutes as they continue to bake. They should just be starting to get golden and puffy on top when they’re done, and will continue to cook and harden as they cool. Remove them from the hot pan and place on a cooling rack.
Proceed to enjoy a cookie or two (or ten, let’s be honest here). Share with friends and neighbors and virtual strangers, especially if you’d made a pile this big like me:
If anyone has the 1-800 number for Cookie Bakers Anonymous or the Betty Crocker Clinic, please feel free to email me at CKrupin@gmail.com. Thanks.