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Melt-in-Your-Mouth Rugelach Cookies
Rugelach are a cross between cookies and miniature pastries. They're made with a rich, buttery cream cheese dough and filled with a sweet filling. Grandma brought this wonderful recipe from her native Russia. Like most other homemakers of her day, my grandmother's recipes were in her head and didn't involve measurements. She gauged the amount of each ingredient by eye. After my mother had made this recipe dozens of times with grandma, she eventually worked out the measurements by trial and error and wrote down the recipe in the back of her favorite cookbook, which now belongs to me. And I, in turn, have spelled out the steps rather more clearly for those of you who might not have seen my grandmother, my mother or me making these.
How many cookies you get from a batch of dough depends on how large you make them. In our family we've always made them bite-sized and always will. (I think grandma may have originally intended this as a means of portion control, but if so, her scheme to limit our consumption of these scrumptious treats was a dismal failure!)
Traditionally Served on Jewish Holidays but Delicious Any Time of Year
Rugelach typically are served on Jewish holidays like Hanukkah, Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. But you certainly don't have to be Jewish to lose your heart—and your tummy—to these amazing cookies! In fact, for many years I've made them, along with several other very special Christmas cookies from my recipe collection, and packaged a nice assortment of them in pretty, doily-lined tins to give as holiday gifts to my family and friends of all faiths.
What Makes These Rugelach Special
There are many traditional fillings for rugelach, including poppy seed, apricot jam and nuts, chocolate, dates and walnuts, cinnamon sugar, and nuts with honey. In my grandmother's recipe, the cream cheese dough is unsweetened, rolled out thinly on a board sprinkled with granulated sugar, cut into long, narrow triangles, then filled with a thick mixture of raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and strawberry jam or preserves and rolled up like a croissant. The granulated sugar on the outside becomes crunchy and also caramelizes on the bottoms of the cookies. The contrast between the unsweetened, slightly tangy cream cheese dough and the sweet, rich filling and caramelized bottoms makes these extra special.
A Family Secret No Longer
My grandmother's recipe has been a closely guarded family secret for nearly 100 years! But now that my grandmother and mother have passed on and I am the custodian of this piece of our family's history and tradition, I am choosing to share the joy of making and eating these amazing pastries/cookies with other bakers who will cherish the recipe as much as I and my family have.
You can make the dough, filling, or both in advance and freeze them for up to several months, if you wish. I often make twice the amount called for in the recipe and divide both the dough and the filling in half. Then I roll out, cut, fill and bake one half and keep the other half of the dough and the filling in the freezer so I can whip up another batch of cookies with a lot less work. Sometimes I only make twice the amount of dough and freeze half of it, since I can make a fresh batch of filling in practically no time.
To freeze the dough, either wrap the dough in two separate layers of plastic freezer wrap (I find that Freeze-Tite works the best of the brands I've tried), or for longer storage wrap it in either plastic freezer wrap or regular plastic wrap (e.g., Stretch-Tite) and place it inside an airtight plastic food storage container (e.g., Rubbermaid, Tupperware, Snapware) designed for freezer use. When you're ready to use it, thaw the dough in the refrigerator so it will remain chilled when it is rolled out. To freeze the filling, just put it in an airtight freezer container and thaw it at room temperature when you're ready to make the cookies.
Enjoy my grandmother's rugelach recipe and happy baking. Maybe it will become a family heirloom in your house, too!
My Grandmother's Rugelach Cookies Recipe
Prep Time: I've never timed it
Total Time: Relax and enjoy the process! :)
Serves: Depends on what size you make them
- FOR THE DOUGH:
- 8 oz. whipped cream cheese
- 2 sticks softened butter (my grandmother used margarine)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 c. dark brown sugar
- 1/2 c. strawberry preserves or thick strawberry jam (do NOT use jelly!)
- 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
- FOR ROLLING OUT THE DOUGH:
- Granulated sugar
- Place the ingredients for the dough in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on slow-medium speed until well combined, scraping the bowl and beaters every so often to make sure the flour is incorporated. (The dough will be sticky at this point but it will firm up nicely after it has been chilled in the refrigerator.)
- Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pull up the sides of the plastic wrap and press the mixture together firmly into a ball and then a thick, squarish patty, working through the plastic wrap so the dough doesn't touch your hands. (The heat from your hands would soften the dough and it would stick to them.) Wrap the patty of dough tightly in the plastic wrap and chill it overnight. Keep the dough chilled until you're ready to roll it out.
- The next day, make the filling by mixing all the filling ingredients well in a small bowl. The filling will be VERY thick.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets or baking sheets with baking parchment, preferably unbleached. (Who wants to eat cookies that have been baked on chlorine-soaked paper?) Important: Do NOT just grease the baking sheets — even if they're nonstick — or you will never get the rugelach off after they are baked!
- Remove the well-chilled dough from the refrigerator and loosen the plastic wrap. Press a rolling pin into the top of the dough through the plastic wrap, which will keep the dough from sticking to the pin. Lift, move and rotate the pin after each press to make the squarish patty evenly thinner and wider, loosening the plastic as necessary to minimize wrinkles. Unwrap this thinner patty and cut it into quarters. Note: Do not try to roll out the dough yet, just press it thinner with the rolling pin as described.
- Sprinkle your rolling surface with a generous, even layer of granulated sugar. Place one of these pieces of dough on the sugar coated rolling surface. Re-wrap the rest of the dough and return it to the refrigerator. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible without tearing it, using a chilled stainless steel rolling pin if possible. If you don't have one, cover a wooden rolling pin with a rolling pin sleeve, also called a rolling pin cover, and then sprinkle it lightly with flour and work it into the knitted fabric sleeve or cover so there's no loose flour on the surface. This will help keep the dough from sticking when you roll it out so you won't need to add flour or sugar to the top of the dough (which would change its consistency and prevent it from sealing to itself when you roll up the triangles).
- Using an 8" plate as a template (or something round of similar size, such as an 8" round cake pan), cut a circle from the dough. Cut the dough circle into 8 identical wedges/triangles. (Save the cuttings/scraps of dough and put them in the refrigerator so you can re-roll them after they have chilled again.) Note: You can make the circles of dough whatever diameter you like, but 8" circles yield mini rugelach of just one or two bites each, which is how my grandmother, my mother and I have always made them.
- Place a small amount of filling onto the wide base of one of the dough triangles, centering the filling on the dough about 1/2" down from that edge. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of filling if you cut 8 triangles from 8-inch circles of dough; a little goes a long way.
- Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, then fold over the end with the filling and tuck in the sides again. Then roll toward the point of the triangle, keeping the point centered as though you were making a crescent roll. The finished cookie should look like a closed envelope. Repeat with the remaining 7 wedges/triangles of dough and filling. Note: If you roll the dough very thinly, occasionally the dough may tear slightly as you roll it up into crescents. The filling will ooze out of these tears during baking. As long as there is just a little oozing, it's no problem. If your pastries ooze a lot, however, they won't taste the same because you will have lost most of the strawberry preserves/brown sugar portion of the filling and it will burn.
- Cut another 8" circle from the sheet of dough if possible and repeat.When you don't have enough dough left to cut an 8" circle, knead together the leftover rolled out dough with another chilled quarter of the original dough patty. (If the dough softens too much from the kneading, wrap it in plastic and chill for 20 minutes to firm up again.) Roll the chilled dough out as thinly as possible, cut out 8" circles, cut them into wedges, add the filling and roll up as before. Continue until you no longer have enough dough left for an 8" circle. (Gather and roll out the last of the scraps, sprinkle the dough lightly with cinnamon sugar, cut into strips, twist them if desired, and bake as extra treats.)
- Place the pastries an inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven just until the pastries begin to turn color at the edges and the undersides are a deep golden brown. The tops should remain pale and just barely tinged with golden color. Cool the cookies on wire racks for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the pans and finish cooling directly on the wire racks.
- Repeat with remaining chilled dough and filling. Enjoy them while they're fresh or wrap them tightly in plastic freezer wrap, place them inside a plastic food storage freezer container and freeze.
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Keep the Dough Chilled Until the Cookies Go in the Oven
It's important not to let the cream cheese dough warm up too much before it's baked. When you remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, cut off only the amount you are going to roll out immediately, then rewrap and chill the rest. And as soon as you have finished rolling out the dough, ball up the trimmings and wrap and refrigerate them. It's important to keep the chilled dough cold while you roll it out. I originally used a marble rolling pin, which works well because marble is naturally cool, but I found it too heavy and cumbersome. Now I prefer a that can be chilled in the refrigerator help keep the dough cool while I roll it out. stainless steel rolling pin
Parchment Paper is Essential
The sugar on the bottom of these cookies caramelizes and will stick like glue to even well-greased, nonstick baking sheets, so it's essential to line the pans with parchment paper. (Trust me, you don't want to learn this the hard way!) I use because it's better for the environment and for my family's health and safety than the typical bleached or unbleached baking parchment paper. It costs a bit more than supermarket brands, but for me, the fact that it's free of Quilon, chrome, chlorine, gluten and other allergens makes the higher price well worth it. If You Care Silicone Coated Unbleached Parchment
© 2013 Margaret Schindel