Jewish I am not, but I know a good cookie when it comes my way. Usually one to roll my eyes at cutesy sounding recipe names (don’t get me started about bird’s nests and snicker doodles), I almost stopped watching the segment on The Martha Stewart Show when the demonstration of these “ruguh-love” cookies came on before heading off to work. Apparently, the mother-daughter duo and creators of these cookies renamed them because their customers had an equally hard time pronouncing and remembering the name “rugelah.” Admittedly, so do I. So I let “ruguh-love” slide, just this one time. Full disclosure: I have never eaten a “real” rugelach before, so this could be the most ludicrous incarnation of this cookie you have ever seen. If so, I am sorry to have added to the cookie confusion. But while you’re here, would you like to try one? Raspberry jam and cinnamon sugar cannot be all that bad…even if it challenges tradition.
Rugelach (or rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, rogelach) is a Yiddish word for this traditional Jewish pastry. They can be made with or without dairy (this one uses butter and cream cheese), savory or sweet (cinnamon sugar, anyone?) and yeast-leavened or not (no yeast here!) but are usually formed in a crescent shape with some jam, dried fruit and nuts. Martha Stewart, rugelach trendsetter that she is, had a guest on awhile back who created a pinwheel shaped rugelach that is next on my list to try.
The assembly of most rugelah recipes is fairly straightforward, but require a little patience and time. The cream cheese dough must be chilled (both for ease of handling and for proper cooking) and the rolling, dipping and dusting in melted butter and cinnamon sugar got a little gloppy, but tasted pretty satisfying when it all came together as a finished cookie. Plus, the apartment smelled so amazing last night that when I woke up this morning a full eight hours later (a girl needs her beauty rest) the wafts of buttery cinnamon sugar still hung in the air. The outside coating of baked sugar provides a light crunch but the second and third bites yield a soft, pillow-y center that will have you reaching for a second (or third) cookie to go with your morning coffee. And lunch. And afternoon snack.
For the dough:
1c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8oz cream cheese
2c all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
For the filling:
2c raspberry preserves*
about 1/2c chopped walnuts
For the coating:
1/2c plus 2T sugar
2t ground cinnamon
1/2c (1 stick) butter, melted
Mix together the butter, cream cheese and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer** fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the flour slowly and mix until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Flour a work surface, dump out the dough and form into a round, flat disk. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and form each piece into a flat disk. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Move an oven rack to the center position and preheat to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unwrap one piece of the dough and place on a floured surface. Gently flour the top and roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Spread some of the preserves in a thin, even layer across the entire piece of dough, going all the way to the edges. Sprinkle a quarter of the walnuts over the preserves. Using a knife or a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 8 equal wedges. Starting with the long end of one of the wedges, roll the dough until it reaches the small point at the other end and gently pinch the tip to make sure it stays in place. Dip the rolled cookie into the melted butter, shake off any excess then dip in the cinnamon sugar and shake off any excess. Place on a baking sheet, tip side down. These do not expand much during baking, so you can place them about 1-inch apart.
Repeat the process for the seven remaining wedges and then repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough in the refrigerator. Put one of the sheets of cookies in the refrigerator while you bake the other one. Each tray of cookies should be perfectly finished in 35 minutes and may cool on the cookie sheet, atop a cooling rack. Let the cookies cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
*Feel free to substitute your favorite flavor of preserves.
**A hand held mixer will also work for this recipe.