I never saw my mother or father cook or bake in the kitchen, ever. Lucky for them, (and us too) my parents were affluent and hired a housekeeper/maid to do all of our cooking. And too, since my father was a baker and owned six bakeries, that enabled us (my three younger siblings and I), to get bread, rolls, bagels of course, sweet danish and challah delivered fresh to our front door every Sunday morning! And too, I recall a visit with my mother to our local delicatessen where she ordered smoked salmon, white fish, and other deli items, like cream cheese, olives, pickles, and lunch meats. She walked out with trays of food for us to eat on the weekends. Through these avenues was how I discovered rugelach, part of the batch of goodies, from either Dad’s bakery or the delicatessen, known as Tabachnick’s. I truly can’t remember exactly which place the rugelach came from! But wherever they came from, the memory (and flavor) remains.
When first married, we didn’t have a maid, but I too began a tradition of baking and cooking which has been highly enjoyable for fifty years. My zest for these crafts has grown steadily as I savor my time in the kitchen – no matter what I’m evolved with: if it’s food its fun! The kitchen is my ashram, my studio, my center of creation, where satisfaction and pleasure travels deep.
Delving further into the meaning of kitchen work for me, I view it from a different angle, such as being in an ashram. Technically speaking, an ashram is where people go to seek guidance and spiritual wisdom. When I cook and bake, I genuinely reach an inner feeling, a kind of fullness, which erupts and connects me to joy which animates outward in the form of a product. Through this interaction with my body, specifically palms, fingers and ingredients, to mention a few, I unite these elements and in time a fulfilling creation sits before me. This feeling cannot be explained academically; this internal sense pulses, revitalizes my energies, shifts the Tao, flows, ignites and brings to life what is happening in the moment. I feel liberated from my mind, disconnected from too much thinking and worrying.
This particular baking process took many hours, as the recipe explains below. There was some planning, organizing was needed, but too, my excitement to complete this dish pushed me to unite all the parts, get the ball rolling, so to speak. Although work, this energy generated movement which appeared effortless because passion played a key role!
2 1/4 cup flour
8 oz. full-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter – salted or unsalted, softened
1/4 tsp salt, but use 1/2 tsp if you use unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
FILLING – THESE AMOUNTS (AND INGREDIENTS) ARE APPROXIMATE – ADJUST TO YOUR PERSONAL TASTE
1/2- 3/4 cup jam or jelly for all four quarters of dough – softened, or warmed very slightly in the oven or microwave, but not cooked
1-2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/4 -1/2 cup sugar – save 4-5 tablespoons for the topping
1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or a little salsa (optional, if you want a touch of spice with the sweetness)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup coarsely chopped raisins or dried (but slightly soft) apricot
1 whole egg mixed slightly with 1 teaspoon of water
1 Using a stand mixer, add the butter and cream cheese and turn on a low-medium speed until the ingredients are well-incorporated. With a spatula, scrape down the sides as necessary. This process can be done by hand too in a large bowl, making sure ingredients are well-combined.
2 To this mixture add the flour which has been mixed in with the salt. Add the flour and salt combination in about 3 -4 portions. Do this at a low speed in the stand mixer, or by hand adding the flour and salt slowly, one portion at a time. Do not overwork the dough. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and stir in one egg yolk by hand. Form this mixture into one large, low disk-shaped ball.
3 With a knife, pastry cutter or bench scraper, cut the ball into 4 even portions, which should weigh about 7 oz. each. Shape these disks until they are slightly round and low, which will help later when you roll out the dough. Wrap each one individually in plastic, and store for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
4 While working with one disk at a time, let the other disks stay in the refrigerator. They will last in the freezer for a few weeks. Each disk will make approximately 64 rugelach cookies, or, if you make them larger, they will make about 50 pieces.
5 Let the disk remain out of the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to soften before you begin the rolling process. While the dough softens, prepare your filling. Mix the cinnamon, both sugars, salt and nuts until you’re pleased with the combination. Perhaps begin with a low amount of sugar, adjusting per your desire, and weigh more heavily on the nuts and fruits, if you choose. Adjust the sweetness according to your desires. Furthermore, you do not want the mixture too fine, but not too large either, since you’ll be rolling dough over these particles. Set the filled bowl aside.
6 Returning to the process of the dough. If the dough travels straight from the freezer to your counter, give it 45 minutes to an hour to soften. Prepare your surface with a light dusting of flour. Roll out dough, turning it occasionally about every quarter turn to help keep its round shape. Flip it once or twice early on in the process, and add another light dusting of flour underneath the pancake shaped dough. (Try to work fairly quickly because warm dough is more difficult to work with.) You want the dough to reach out to roughly twelve inches, evenly all around. If available, lay out an approximately twenty-four inch long silicone pastry sheet. This will help the dough not stick to the rolling pin or the counter. Dust your rolling pin with a bit of flour also. In addition, some of these sheets have markings for 8, 10 or 12 inch rounds, which shows guidelines to help you while you roll out the dough. Set your oven at 360 degrees.
7 Choose your favorite jam or jelly, then spread it evenly and thinly, to coat the entire surface of the dough, reaching nearly to the ends of the circle. Next, add the cinnamon and sugar topping, spreading it evenly over the jam or jelly. Gently roll your rolling pin over the new surface with the topping to pat it down slightly.
8 With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 4 even pieces, from top to bottom, and side to side. (if you use a silicone mat, be careful to not cut into it.) (me – show a description). Each quarter will need to be cut in four small thin triangles, going from the center to the outside edge. Gingerly and slowly with your fingers, roll, from the outer edge to t he center as you wrap and cover the filling. (another picture here?)
9 Place each rugelach on a cookie sheet, with the pointed tip slightly flat to the pan that has a sheet of parchment on it. You’ll have 16 pieces. Space them one to two inches apart. Or, if you’ve made larger rugelach pieces, you’ll have 48 cookies. Place this pan in your refrigerator for 20-30 minutes as they chill, this helps the rugelach stay more intact, hold their shape better, plus keep some of the filling from oozing out a little as they bake. Once you remove the rugelach from the refrigerator, baste them thoroughly with the whole egg.
10 Finally, dust the 4-5 tablespoons of sugar on top of all of the cookies. Use a sieve so the sugar does not clump, plus do this step a foot or so high up from the cookies.
11 Bake for 20-25 minutes, until there is a faint golden sheen on the cookies. Remove from the oven. Let the rugelachs sit in its pan on the counter for five minutes, then remove each rugelach carefully with a metal spatula to a cooling rack until completely cool.
*** This process is for one baked piece of the four doughs, but, the ingredients for the filling is for all four dough pieces, so, save the filling for the other 3 quarters. All together you will have baked 64, if you use each of t he four dough disks.
TIPS AND TWEAKS:
- Instead of using jams or jellies, spread a thin layer of melted chocolate (bitter or semisweet), (slightly cooled) on the dough before you add the toppings. Do this at step 7.
- Do the same process as above with nutella.
- The topping of cinnamon and sugar can be adjusted down as you sprinkle on some sweet or unsweetened coconut. This is at step 7.
- Eliminate most of the sugar and cinnamon topping on the thin coat of jam or jelly and spread a nice layer of regular mini chocolate chips,or use half chocolate and half white chocolate chips, but cut them small. This is step 7.
- Use smooth or crunchy peanut butter at step 7, instead of jams or jellies or anything else. Be creative here, but importantly, to not fill this dough round too full of ingredients otherwise rolling up the triangles will be difficult, and truly not work!