How to Make Rugelach - Jim Berman
In just about every deli, there is some form of cookie as dessert. In a New York deli, the black and white cookie is king. Where I grew up in Pittsburgh, the sesame seed cookie, halavah, was the packaged slab, almost perfunctory, next to the cash register. Sure, there were the tri-cornered Hammenstashen as the holiday season dictated. And my Gummie (my grandmother’s endearing moniker) made the driest, cardboard-stiff snickerdoodles. Ever. They would shatter diamonds with the most gentle of glances. But, my grandmother made them and that was good enough for me. Once upon a time in the far too distant past, Gummie made a funny rolled cookie that resembled a sticky bun. But no bun. And no sticky. Rather, there were nuts and raisins and sugar. And the bun was more like a tangy pie crust. Upon this day, rugelach, was born unto my lexicon of kosher desserts that were not wrapped in a plastic wrapper. Over the years, I have tried to replicate rugelach with a modicum of success and a substantial nod to the past. Rich in history and as varied in stories of origin as the history itself, the name can mean anything from vines to twists to royalty. No use quibbling over it. And the shape is something of an issue, as well. Some roll the little cookie-pastries into a crescent moon shape while others, including the delis I have visited in Philadelphia go for the straight-on roll. Of course, deli means big! I remember dainty cookies; two bites and gone. Now, bigger is better. Really big.
1 lb, Butter, unsalted
1 lb, Cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon, salt
5 cups, All purpose flour
½ cup, sugar (plus a few tablespoons for ‘sanding’)
In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and cream cheese and cream on medium speed until fluffy.
Add the salt and half of the flour and mix until the flour is incorporated. Stir in the remaining cup of flour and sugar, using care not to overwork the dough. Divide the dough into two portions and refrigerate until the dough is ‘set’ to the touch, gently firm.
Remove one portion of the dough and place it on a gently floured work surface. Flour the top of the dough and roll into a ¼” thick rectangle. To ensure a uniform shape, roll top to bottom and bottom to top.
Then lift the dough, turn 90° and repeat. Brush the flour from the surface and fold the dough, in thirds, over itself. Sprinkle gently with flour and roll out to a ¼” thick rectangle, again.
2 cups, Brown sugar *
2 cups, Raisins, soaked in warm water, drained
2 cups, Pecan pieces
1 oz, Milk
1 teaspoon, cinnamon
Preheat the oven, 365° gas or 325° convection. Spread half of the brown sugar on the dough, leaving about ¼ of the dough exposed at the top of the rectangle.
Repeat with half of the raisins and the pecans. Gently press the filling to get it to ‘set’ on the dough. Using a sharp knife (or a pizza cutter, my preference!) cut strips about ¾” in width.
Roll from sugar/pecan/raisin coated surface upward to the ‘naked’ edge. Place the rolls on a double-layered sheet tray, with a non-stick sheet (like a Silpat) or quilon paper.
Repeat with remaining dough. Combine the few tablespoons set aside during the pastry making with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Brush the rolls with milk and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes in a conventional oven, about 12 minutes in a convection oven. Remove when lightly browned and the outermost pastry layer is set. Allow to cool completely as molten brown sugar is no fun to neither handle nor ingest.
There are variations on the classic. For instance, I use pecans versus the more traditional walnuts. Also, I have come across some specimens that muster an even more contemporary twist by nestling preserves, such as apricot or orange, amidst the layers of flaky pastry. Either way, the rugelach is a tradition, both around the winter holiday season and on the counter of the deli. Gummie would be proud that I am keeping the torch lit, even if it is fueled by rugelach!
* - A note on brown sugar: Make your own. It is less expensive and always available if you keep granulated sugar and molasses on hand. I use a gallon of sugar to 1 cup of molasses. Want darker sugar? Add more molasses. Making your own means you don’t run out just when you need it.