Tuesday, April 20, 2010
When I was younger, I was never one to pay any mind to rugelach. Ice cream, pudding and (gasp) 3 Musketeers - those were the things I loved when I was younger (though my love affair with ice cream is still ongoing, and I have no reason to believe that flame will ever die). Rugelach just seemed the type of dessert relegated to the adult palate and the adult plate. It just doesn't look like much, all that pastry and dried fruit - and when you're a kid, looks mean a lot. It lacked all that nougaty goodness and arm-drippy action of other desserts. And there were no special ways to eat it (i.e. take Yodel, freeze, bite off chocolate at each end, nibble at chocolate seam, unravel, eat or, take Oreo, Double Stuf, of course, twist apart, eat cream, place two halves back together, hide back in package (option A) or take two Oreos, Double Stuf, twist each apart, ensuring that all cream sticks to one cookie, place two cream-topped halves together and voila, Quadruple Stuf (option B, a/k/a the only way I'd actually eat the chocolate wafer)).
But somewhere along the way, my tastes matured, and I learned to appreciate the less flashy desserts. Like the plain-jane best friend in a cheesy romantic comedy, it took me a while to love rugelach, I had shunned it at all our family gatherings for years in favor of the poufs of whipped cream and jewels of sprinkles atop ice cream sundaes, but after my tastes "grew up," it was like I was tasting it for the first time. I finally saw the beauty that is rugelach - flakey, tender dough wrapped around a bounty of wonderful: sweet, spicy cinnamon, crunchy nuts, sweet, chewy jewels of dried fruit - each bite revealing something new. That little swirl of pastry contains a bounty of spices and textures, begging to be uncovered at first bite.
I never had the chance to taste my great-grandmother's rugelach. I'm not quite sure when she stopped churning them out, but I'd imagine it was a few years before she died when I was in the fourth grade. Not that it'd have mattered much, since the rugelach would have gone to waste on little me, not quite having come into my rugelach-loving self. I hear that her rugelach were divine. And I hear that these little beauties would have made her quite proud (not my words, of course).
The key is the cream cheese in the dough. It gives it a depth, a richness, that can't be achieve by butter alone. The fillings are adaptable to your preferences - I like mine studded with a whole mess of nuts.
I won't lie to you, this recipe requires a little bit of your time (and some upper arm strength when rolling out the chilled dough), but it is undoubtedly worth it. Give it a whirl; not only will you not regret it - you'll be thumbing your nose at those lesser bakery specimens for good.
From Gourmet (RIP), May 2004
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apricot preserves
1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1 1/4 cups walnuts (1/4 lb), finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies
Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined well. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten (in wrap) into a roughly 7- by 5-inch rectangle. Chill until firm, 8 to 24 hours (I usually just let it rest overnight and take it out of the fridge whenever I'm ready for it the next day).
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.
Cut dough into 4 pieces. Chill 3 pieces, 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 (or an old wine bottle with the label removed...). 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.
Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon.
Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and a rounded 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar.
Using the parchment paper as an aid, roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make 3 more logs in same manner and arrange 1 inch apart in pan. Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining granulated sugar, trying your best to keep the sugar from falling to the parchment (or at least minimize it), as it will caramelize and start burning in the oven, leaving the bottom of your pastries sticky and potentially unpleasant (not speaking from experience or anything). With a large, sharp knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals. (If dough is too soft to cut, chill until firmer, 20 to 30 minutes. Note: The dough should be pretty firm - if it's too soft it will start to tear - just think about how many calories you're burning rolling out that dough!)
Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and gently slice cookies all the way through.