Rugelach: Love and Sweetness Rolled Into One
Courtesy of Ronnie Fein
People rhapsodize about s’mores and write odes to chocolate chip cookies. But come Jewish holiday time and what dessert wins the day?
Rugelach. By a lot.
Rugelach, the pastry once familiar mainly to Ashkenazi Jews but now ubiquitous throughout the land.
Rugelach. Butter-rich, sugar-dense, flaky-crumbly crescent cookies. Stuffed with jam and raisins. Fragrant with cinnamon and nuts. And sometimes with a swirl of chocolate.
I defy anyone to say no to them.
Rugelach are not only mainstream but are eaten year-round and of course you can buy them in bakeries and even packaged in supermarkets. During the Jewish High Holiday season, thoughts go to grandma and how wonderful it was to feast on the ones she actually made by hand at home and you think, “I wish I had grandma’s recipe!”
Well folks, I am grandma. I have a good recipe. I make this recipe every year for Rosh Hashanah and by Yom Kippur they’re already gone, so for the last several years I’ve doubled up on the first batch and hide some in my secret place in the freezer. Otherwise I have to make more so we can have some at my annual break-the-fast.
In days gone by – like when my grandma baked – rugelach were made from yeast dough. The benefit was that the dough was parve and therefore more versatile. But dairy-based rugelach like mine have become more popular over the years because they are so fabulously rich and flaky and they have a salt-like tang that goes perfectly with the sweet fillings. They are also much easier to prepare. Of course if you need a non-dairy version you can use substitutes such as tofutti.
You have to plan ahead when making rugelach because the dough must be cold in order to roll it properly. Wrap it well and it keeps, refrigerated, for several days. I’ve even frozen unbaked dough for as long as two months.
Classic rugelach are crescent shaped: roll sections of the dough into circles, spread the surface with filling, cut the circle into wedges, and roll each wedge starting with the widest side. There’s an easier way to shape them though: roll each dough section into a circle, spread with filling, roll the dough jelly-roll style and slice into bite-size pieces. They taste exactly the same.
I usually stuff rugelach with some combination of jam, cinnamon, and raisins. But there’s no magic formula. Use what you like: chopped nuts, shaved chocolate, candied cherries, crystallized ginger, dried cranberries, orange peel, halvah, toffee chips. I bake them plain, but if you like fancier, brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with crystal sugar and/or finely chopped nuts.
Ronnie Fein’s recipes appear in The Jewish Week Food & Wine each month. She is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher in Stamford. She is the author of The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher. Visit her food blog, Kitchen Vignettes, at www.ronniefein.com, friend on Facebook at RonnieVailFein, Twitter at @RonnieVFein, Instagram at RonnieVFein.