I’d never had rugelach until I moved to Boca Raton. As a
lapsed Catholic from bible-belt Virginia, the only question of faith was which Christian denomination you belonged to. But I don’t live in Virginia anymore and Boca Raton has a huge Jewish population!! Consequently, restaurants and food emporiums catering to Jewish tastes have been rolled into the broader culture here, in the same way Latin flavors have permeated our environs. Can it be long before I’m ordering a hot pastrami in rye empanada or a plantain latke? Sounds good to me!
Anyway, I digress. I was at a Jewish Deli with my co-workers having lunch and they ordered rugelach for dessert. Holy cow! Little bites of sweet, nutty heaven! It made me want a Jewish grandmother.
Since that wasn’t an option and no one would lend me their Grandmother, I had to make my own rugelach. I didn’t have a generation of experience to call on, so I sought advice from my idol, Julia. I adapted this recipe from the Baking with Julia cookbook. I read over the recipe once or twice — decided I wasn’t making my own lekvar (what is that???) and would sub in some apricot and strawberry jam instead — like they did at the restaurant.
Making the dough was a snap – I don’t say that lightly — you know me and pastry. But it came together easily in the stand mixer. I divided the dough, wrapped the two halves and set them in the fridge to chill.
However, rolling and filling the dough wasn’t nearly as simple. After a lot of trial and error and four letter words (proof of why I’m a lapsed Catholic), I made it work. And I also made some changes and notations to Julia’s instructions, so you won’t have the same meltdown I did.
The key to rolling out the dough is to generously flour (NOT LIGHTLY) your work surface and flip the dough every 2-3 rolls, adding more flour if necessary to assure that it doesn’t stick. Roll the dough to about 1/4″ thickness and use a pizza cutter to trim it into an even rectangle. Then spread it with your favorite jam and the uber-cinnamony nut and sugar mixture. Roll it up like a jelly roll and chill until very firm (overnight for me).
When I was ready to bake, I just brushed the logs with an egg wash, cut them into 1″ pieces and rolled them in the leftover sugar-nut mixture and finally baked them.
Some of the jam leaked out but after a minute or so of cooling, the gooey jam firmed up and I was able to trim away the nasty bits. Anyway, these cookies are supposed to be rustic, right? I brought an oversized tin of these to a family dinner to get feedback and I can’t adequately describe the hand-to-mouth frenzy that ensued. There were no leftovers, and there were repeated requests for more cookies. I must’ve done something right!
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) butter, at room temperature
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon, divided
- 2 1/2 cups toasted walnuts or pecans
- 1 cup strawberry preserves (or any type of preserve you like)
- 1 cup apricot preserves
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
- In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese with the paddle attachment. Add the salt and sugar and beat until light and fluffy at medium/low to medium. Reduce speed to low and add the flour in 1/2 cup increments until just combined. (Don't overbeat).
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and work it into a ball. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and and press each into a rough rectangle shape. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
- Put the granulated sugar, brown sugar cinnamon and the nuts into the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse together until the nuts are finely chopped, but still have some texture. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a mini prep food processor, pulse the apricot preserves until smooth and transfer to a bowl. Rinse the food processor and process the strawberry preserves until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
- Generously flour your work surface. Working with one piece of chilled dough at a time, place the dough on the floured surface. If the dough is very cold, let it soften for 5-10 minutes before you start rolling it out. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 x 5 inches. Continue to check that the dough isn't sticking to the work surface. If you need to re-flour and flip the pastry, do it so that it doesn't stick. (note: it needs to be at least 5 inches because you're going to roll it up to hold in the jam etc.) Use a pizza cutter to even up the sides and edges.
- Spread about 1/2 cup of jam evenly over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle 1/3 - 1/2 cup of the cinnamon, nut mixture over the top of the jam and lightly press it in with your fingertips. Starting on the long end, roll the dough, jelly-roll like into a cylinder. Wrap the cylinder in plastic wrap, place on a baking sheet and refrigerate. Continue with the remaining rectangles of dough, spreading them with jam and sprinkling with the cinnamon-nut mix and rolling them up.
- Refrigerate the logs of dough at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. Reserve the remainder of the cinnamon sugar mixture for rolling the cookies in.
- Arrange the oven racks to the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare two large baking sheets with 2 pieces of parchment each (to prevent the bottoms of the cookies from burning). Set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk together the egg and milk for an egg wash. Set aside. Add the cinnamon nut mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
- Working with one roll of dough at a time, brush the dough on all sides with the egg wash. Use a serrated knife to cut the roll into 1" slices. Toss each slice in the cinnamon sugar mixture, lightly pressing the coating and nuts into the cookie. Arrange the cookies a few inches apart on the parchment paper.
- Place one cookie sheet on the top shelf and the other on the bottom shelf. Cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, then swap their positions in the oven -- moving the top pan to the bottom and vice versa and turning them 180 degrees. Bake for an additional 10-12 minutes until rugelach are brown.
- Remove from the oven and cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet before using a thin spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. When the cookies reach room temperature, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week and can be frozen for up to a month.