Rugelach: Three Stories and a Recipe
Part I: Making them
When I was a kid in Brooklyn, there were three bakeries: One had the best bread; another (Ebinger’s) had a famous Black-Out Cake; and the third had the greatest cookies, among them, rugelach.
In our house, where my mother neither cooked nor baked (she did and still does use the oven as a breadbox), rugelach were always bought from bakery #3 – it never occurred to me that they could be made at home. Then one day, I caught my mother-in-law in the act of rugelaching.
I watched her, awestruck, asked for the recipe and made the cookies in my peanut-sized kitchen soon after. (Click here to read the story and get the recipe.)
In those days, my major baking tools were a mixing bowl and wooden spoon and they’re what I used to make the dough. Hand mixing is still a fine way to make this easy dough, but nowadays I use a food processor, which mixes the dough in an instant and keeps it cool and supple.
Here are a few tips for making the dough:
- Take the cream cheese and butter out of the refrigerator just 10 minutes before you’re going to use them – they should be still cold and only a tad soft. (If you’re making the dough by hand, the cream cheese and butter should be softened until they’re spreadable.)
- Give the dough a leisurely chill in the fridge before rolling it out. Two hours is a minimum chill, overnight is even better.
- Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface. This is an easy-rolling dough, so you’ll ace it first time out.
- Warm whatever jam you’re using until it liquefies, then cool it a bit; you don’t want the hot jam to melt the dough.
- Chop the nuts and fruit for the filling. The rugelach themselves aren’t very big and the dough is thin, so the filling should be generous but not super chunky.
- The best tool for cutting dough is a pizza wheel; second best is a sharp chef’s knife.
- Refrigerate the cookies after you’ve assembled them – they’ll hold their shape a lot better if you bake them when they’re cold.
- Under heat, the butter in the dough and the jam and cinnamon-sugar in the filling are exuberant bubblers and dribblers, so use a lined baking sheet. This is a perfect job for a silicone baking mat or nonstick aluminum foil.
Part II: Making them ahead
The assembled cookies freeze perfectly (I prefer to freeze them unbaked) and it’s a good thing they do because my mom, who had been in for the weekend, was dreading her flight back to Florida and I hadn’t had a minute to make her anything that might sweeten the trip. Happily, there were rugelach in the freezer.
While she was packing, I pulled out the frozen cookies,
brushed them with egg wash, sprinkled them with sugar, then baked them – no defrosting necessary.
They were still a little warm when I tucked them into her carry-on bag.
Part III: Re-making them
Last December, I had a rugelach-making fest with Michele Norris, a host on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, in her Washington, DC kitchen. We made the cookies (click to listen to us baking), had a lot of fun, and then, as we were cleaning up, Michele asked what else she could do with the dough. I’d always thought of rugelach dough as dough for making rugelach, but I tossed out the fact that it’s sugarless and said that it would probably take to bunches of fillings.
In an instant, Michele, a very creative cook, was off and running and thinking of savory ideas – savory as in ham, cheese, bacon, dried tomatoes, hot-pepper jelly and on and on and on.
In the more than 30 years that I’d been making rugelach, I’d tweaked the recipe – I added chocolate, changed the jam – but I’d done nothing major and certainly nothing as radical as taking the pastries from sweet to savory or as serving them with cocktails or soup instead of coffee or tea.
Since Michele spun these terrific ideas, I’ve made chutney rugelach and tapenade rugelach and I’ve got a goat cheese rugelach in my head and some thoughts about riffing on a pissaladiere. My mother-in-law may have introduced me to making rugelach, but Michele made me rethink them.
I’m going to be making savory rugelach over the weekend and maybe you’ll be rugelaching too – if you noodle with the fillings, let me know what you do.
So that you don’t have to scroll, here’s the recipe again.