Pregnancy and breastfeeding afforded me the luxury of eating anything I wanted without gaining weight; it was a welcome reprieve from counting calories daily and thinking: “If this enters my mouth, how will it effect my “bottom” line? Now that Z is well on his way to being a tall, sporting toddler, stepping his almost two-year-old feet on his new scooter and climbing everything in sight (yikes!), I can no longer eat with impunity. And my bottom line is saying, “perhaps we should rein it in now, Mama?”
These rugelach are unequivocally worth making taste and time wise. Just be careful, they’re deceptively easy to eat hand over fist. Better to cherish them slowly and wistfully, knowing there are so many more left to stretch through your fall days.
Their tender and flaky texture may remind you of croissant. They are made with a good amount of butterfat, and if you cut into one, you’ll see those croissant-like pastry layers. With many store-bought rugelach, I have found that the flavor of jam is in second and even third place to the large nut pieces entwined in the folds, or the flavor is dominated by an overly sweet orange glaze, the shiny stuff entices one to take a bite, but hits your tongue first and overwhelms the rest of the cookie. These are foolish pursuits and always lead me to disappointment. Except for one exceptional experience at a closeby neighborhood bakery, great rugelach are few and far between unless you make them yourself.
In the last month, before Rosh Hoshanna (Happy Jewish New Year!) until now—Sukkos, I have made this rugelach dough 3 times. I’m confident that I’ve learned some things that definitely don’t work, and as importantly, I’ve discovered exactly what I like and don’t like in my rugelach cookies.
I love jam and I love crunch and I love the pastry part. So I was looking for a perfect balance to all of these components. Part of the problem with jam heated and fit into a thin tube of dough is that it will get squeezed out, so one compensates by either adding more nuts as mortar to hold the filling in place, or adding less jam to avoid the oozing quality. Both choices are unsatisfactory solutions to me, but my decision in this recipe is to accept a little more ooze (which can easily be cut off at the end of baking if you want to avoid unattractive rugelach) if that means actually tasting jam amidst the nuts—walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts. (If you’re allergic to nuts, shelled hemp seeds would make an excellent substitute for the nuts as they impart a sunflower seed flavor.)
I must warn you that patience is necessary to make these rugelach. If you can muster the wherewithal to forge through multiple rounds of chilling the dough, chilling the rolled disc with filling and then again before the egg wash, then I think you’ll find the journey worth it.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons sour cream or whole milk yoghurt
confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)
In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse for a few minutes until you see the texture resembles coarse meal. Add chunks of cream cheese and sour cream/yoghurt until the batter starts to form a rough dough (do not over process). The dough is really wet and sticky, but this is exactly what you want to get a flaky and tender dough. Divide the dough into 6 balls flattened into discs and saran wrap each disk for 1-4 hours. I find that splitting this into 6 instead of the usual recommended 4 balls lets me roll the dough to a perfect 1/4″ thickness for 8 slices per disc.
The saving grace of a dough that is a challenge to work with is that you can make this ahead of time and in fact, if you read the recipe through, you’ll find it can be broken into other steps if you’re pressed for time. The 2nd time I made this, I left the dough in the fridge overnight and a 1/2 day with no detrimental effect to the texture or flavor. The 3rd time I made this, I went even longer, and it rested in the fridge for 3 1/2 days before I had chance to roll and bake. I wouldn’t suggest leaving the dough in the fridge beyond 4 days, though.
blackberry chocolate filling
(makes enough for 6 rolled out circles)
1/2 cup walnut pieces* (recipe below if you only have walnut halves on hand)
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup seedless blackberry jam
Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips until melted. Stir in the jam and combine. Once the chocolate and jam are mixed, add in the nuts and keep at room temperature if you’re spreading the first disc shortly, otherwise cover and refrigerate until ready for use. I prefer this filling to have a hint of chocolate and not overwhelm it and for the walnuts to serve as background. Adjust all three ingredients to your palette. Seedless raspberry jam also makes a great pairing with the chocolate.
(makes enough for all 6 rolled out circles)
7 ounces dried apricots
1/2 cup of orange juice (or enough to cover the pan)
1/2 cup of water
2 tablespoons orange brandy (optional)
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnut pieces* (recipe below if you only have walnut halves on hand
In a saucepan, place apricots, water, orange juice, sugar, salt, vanilla, and orange brandy and let cook on medium until most of the liquid has evaporated and the apricots have become nice and plump. In a food processor, blend the apricots and liquid until you get a fine paste, reserve into a small bowl and add in the nuts.
2 1/2 cups walnut halves
Toast the walnut halves over the stovetop or in the oven until golden brown. If the skin starts flaking from the walnuts, use a paper towel to remove as much of the skin as you can. In a food processor, pulse the walnut halves until you get small pieces. (Do not overpulse to avoid getting them too fine). Keep walnuts refrigerated until ready for use.
egg wash and topping
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp water
Mix the wash right before you’re ready to spread it over the rugelach. You can keep this covered and refrigerated between steps and baking.
constructing the rugelach cookies
Preheat your oven to 375º. (Check your internal oven temperature or check on your cookies before the prescribed time.)
Roll out a chilled disc of dough between two layers of very slightly floured saran wrap. They should roll out to 1/4″ thickness, about 6″ in circumference. Spread the room temperature filling on the disc, leaving a little bit of space in the middle and outside edges to compensate for any filling moving out to the edges. Using a clean pizza cutter or ravioli cutter, cut the pieces into 8 slices. Sprinkle with more walnut pieces here if you want to add more. Cover with saran wrap and gently slide the filled disc onto a plate or cookie sheet to chill. The freezer will be quickest, but you can use the refrigerator, too, for 5 minutes.
At this point, you can prepare your baking sheets by lining them with silpat or parchment paper.
Once chilled, using a sharp knife to help you, give yourself some counter space on the side and place your knife underneath a slice to lift it and move it toward another spot on the counter for rolling. Roll from the widest point in and place your rugelach on the cookie sheet. Once all of the pieces are rolled, chill the cookies again for 5 minutes.
At this point, you can prepare your egg wash.
Egg wash all your rugelach and bake for 22-25 minutes. I would advise checking after 20 minutes if you don’t want burnt rugelach and adjust for 2-4 minutes if they’re not golden brown yet. Remove from the oven and if any jam has oozed out of the rugelach ends, cut them off with a sharp knife. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Continue with the rest of the chilled discs, or reserve the discs for later baking. The rugelach will keep in a sealed container for 5 days.
notes, tips, and perfection making
Using cold butter cut into small pieces helps distribute it well. I used a low fat cream cheese with no impact on texture or flavor even though a full fat cream cheese is the traditional recommendation. The third time I made this dough, I substituted whole milk yoghurt for the sour cream, using the thickest part of the yoghurt and avoiding the liquid that forms on top, again with no consequences to the flavor or texture of the dough.
If you’re making both fillings, the blackberry chocolate filling holds well, made ahead. Just zap the filling to warm it up a bit before spreading it out so it’s easier to spread. If your microwave is a little too agressive and ends up heating this up and not just warming it up, you can pop this back into the freezer for a quick chill (just don’t forget about it!). To keep the beautiful bright orange of the apricot filling peeking through your rugelach, make this spread closer to the time you’ll actually be spreading it.
rolling and cutting
Nothing speaks to perfectionists more than rugelach dough. It’s not an easy dough to work with, but if you take some time and don’t rush the process, your rugelach can come out as beautiful pastry bites. Of course, even if come out as “do not show show them to your foodie friends,” they will still taste amazing.
Since this is a dough that is meant to be wet, you don’t want to start introducing more flour to it to prevent it from sticking to the rolling surface or rolling pin, so use saran wrap below and above the dough as you’re rolling it out. You will still want to sprinkle a little bit of flour however at the bottom and on top of the dough, just to make it a bit easier to pick up from the wrap when you’re ready to roll. Use a clean pizza cutter for each disc you roll out.
Chilling the dough before handling it for the next step will make every part of this less frustrating for you. While it’s a bit fussy to keep putting the dough back in the freezer after most of these steps, it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with, especially if you’re in a hot kitchen, where it’s just necessary if you don’t want to mangle your rugelach completely. Use a sharp knife to help you lift the edge and move it toward yourself and away from the rest of the filled disc. Otherwise, when you start rolling, your rugelach will start catching the filling from the nearby slices. Spreading the egg wash on the chilled rugelach is also a lot easier (and if you’re not averse to it, your finger is also a good substitute for spreading the wash). Use the softest brush you have to spread the egg wash. At this point you can either sprinkle with cinammon sugar or when they’re done, use confectioner’s powder instead. On my 3rd attempt at these, I much preferred the confectioner’s sugar for it’s more festive look (also, they just tasted better!)