Monday, December 19, 2011


"I was up till 1am last night," said one woman in my pilates class.  "Rough night with the kids?" I asked.  "No, just baking Christmas cookies.  I bake 30 trays every year.  It's not just the family, you know.  Every teacher of every one of my children gets cookies."  I was really grateful that the class started at that point and no one asked me how many trays of cookies I baked that week, which was zero.

I hate Christmas cookies.  Most of them are much more appropriate to hang as an ornament on a Christmas tree than to put in your mouth.  I am definitely not the heroic Mom who gives cookies to every teacher and neighbor, but once in a while I do need to bake something for my children's school or dance recital bake sale.  Somehow, pots of pork rillette -- my favorite holiday food gift -- is not something pre-schools appreciate.  "If only I could bake a cookie as good as a pie," I thought, and then it hit me -- how about rugelach.

I started with a recipe from Gourmet Magazine (oh, how I miss it) that I found on epicurious. Although this was my first time baking rugelach, I decided to be daring and mess with the recipe a bit.  Since it was in the pâte brisée category (one of my fortes), I thought I can get away with it. I added a little sugar to the dough for tenderness.  Instead of creaming butter with cream cheese and incorporating the flour to form an even dough, I pulsed the flour with the fats in the food processor into a crumbly mixture that I squeezed briefly by hand to form a dough.  The little specs of butter and cream cheese baked into fantastic flaky layers.  

Oh, what a cookie!  The only problem was that my family ate most of them before I could be a good Mom and give it to the teachers and the neighbors.

Inspired by a recipe by Melissa Roberts-Matar published in May 2004 issue of Gourmet.

Weighing is the only way to guarantee that you'll use the right amount of flour.  If you are using cups, make sure to fluff the flour a lot, scoop with a dry measuring cup very gently without packing, and level off.  This makes or breaks the dough.  You can easily double this recipe, but if your food processor is only 7 cups (mine is), do the dough in 2 batches.  This recipe produces 2 logs.  If you double it, you can bake all 4 logs on the same baking sheet.

Makes 20 cookies

For the Dough:
5 oz all-purpose flour (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
1 tsp sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced 1/4 inch thick, kept cold
4 oz cream cheese, sliced 1/2 inch thick, kept cold

For the Filling:
2 Tbsp sugar (less if you prefer it less sweet) + 2 tsp for sprinkling finished logs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup apricot preserves or preserves of your choice
zest of 1 orange (or lemon) removed with a vegetable peeler, and minced extremely finely
1/2 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies

Special equipment: scale for measuring flour; parchment paper; a small offset spatula

Dough Instructions (at least 1 day before baking):
  1. Put flour, salt, and sugar into a food processor and process for 10 seconds to incorporate evenly.  
  2. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse in 1 second intervals until the mixture looks like couscous (about 15 one second long pulses).  Turn the mixture out into a small bowl and squeeze very firmly with your hands until it comes together into one big clump.  Shape the clump into a 1.5 inch thick rectangle that is roughly 5 by 3 inches.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  The dough can be kept in the fridge for 5 days or frozen indefinitely.  

Filling and Baking Instructions:
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-inch-deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Cut dough into 2 pieces that are half the thickness of the original piece (still 5 by 3 inches, but now about 2/3 inch thick).  Chill the piece you are not working with, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12- by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer to a tray and chill while rolling out remaining dough in same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on tray.
  3. Whisk 2 Tbsp sugar with cinnamon.
  4. Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula leaving 1.5 inch border on the long side furthest from you and 1/2 inch border on right and left. Sprinkle with half the zest.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 1 Tbsp cinnamon sugar.
  5. Roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make another log in same manner and add to the pan.  If doubling the recipe to make 4 logs, space them 1 inch apart.  Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining sugar.  Chill for 30 minutes.  
  6. With a sharp large knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals.
  7. Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes rotating pan 180 degrees half way through. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through.  If some of the filling leaked out during baking, don't panic.  It usually ends up around the logs, not underneath.  Carefully, scrape it off when transferring logs to cutting board. 
Can be cooled completely and stored in an airtight container, but they are outrageously good warm.  If you want warm rugelach with minimal hassle, you can freeze unbaked logs and bake them later.  Move them to the fridge a day before you want to bake.


Culinary Collage said...

This recipe looks amazing! It reminds me a a Hungarian recipe that my grandmother used to make every year.

Anna said...

I am going to try this tomorrow. I already made the dough but I am going to try to make those individual pieces that you roll up. I hope that is not a big mistake on my part. On another note you know how I always ask you for old Russian recipes. I found this site and I thought I'd share it with you although I know you are more into the french style and your mom could probably start a site like this:
I keep watching everything on it. I even made a Napoleon which came out and people enjoyed eating it.

Helen said...

Hi Anna,

Not sure what you mean by individual pieces that you roll up. Can you give me more info?

Thanks for the Russian site. I'll check it out.


Anna said...

The ones that look like croissants. I got this from this video below.
Anyway I decided to make the logs since it's my first time ever making this stuff. Thank you for the recipe. They are baking now and the kitchen smells amazing.

Helen said...

Ah, the croissant style. Yes, they are very cute looking. I am sure this recipe would work. Just roll the dough into the circle, cut like pizza, etc. I actually like the logs more for a couple of reasons: you can bake way more cookies on one tray and more filling stays in. But the croissant style looks very attractive and provides more of a textural contrast (crispy ends and soft middle).

Anna said...

I am at it again. Has it really been this long since I tried this (2011)
I cannot remember what happened the first time but they came out really awesome. Today I tried this and I have a tiny cuisinart. After a while it refused to mix the flour, butter & cream cheese mixture. I think it got stuck. I took everything out but I have a huge spot of cream cheese on one side of the dough. What do I do? Can I roll it out like this or should I surgically remove it?

Helen said...

you need to work that piece of cream cheese in or the dough will be too dry. I am not sure if you discovered this after chilling your dough or before. If before chilling, I'd use a pastry scraper to cut that cream cheese into the dough. If the dough was already chilled, I'd do the roll/fold routine a few times like making puff pastry to try to sandwich that cream cheese between the layers of dough.