Eating Jewish: Cream Cheese Rugelach
Freshly baked cookies are, in my mind, one of life’s pleasures and are hard for anyone to turn down. Jewish cookbooks abound with recipes for cookies and other baked goods but it is rugelach that has come to hold a place in my heart and my stomach. They are one of the first Jewish cookies that I began baking and I’ve been hooked on them ever since.
These cookies originated in Europe and according to Joan Nathan, in her cookbook Jewish Cooking in America, their name comes from rugel, which is the Yiddish word meaning royal. They were also sometimes known as kipfel or cheese bagelach. In Europe the dough was usually made with butter or sour cream, but it could also be yeast-based. It was in America that rugelach began to be made with a cream cheese dough, which according to Joan Nathan, may have been created by the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company. A traditional filling usually consisted of nuts, raisins, sugar and cinnamon; although today they are made with various fillings that range from chocolate to jam.
Rugelach have become so popular in North America that they can easily be found at many bakeries. However, making a homemade batch of rugelach is simple and will produce delicious results that people will not be able to get enough of.
I made rugelach with a cream cheese dough because I prefer it to the yeast dough. The addition of cream cheese creates a dough that is light and flaky, which serves as the perfect counterpart to any filling. I chose to make my rugelach with a filling of walnuts, raisins, cinnamon and sugar, as well as with raspberry jam. Any other jam that you happen to have on hand would work in these cookies, as would some shaved chocolate. Both of these fillings that I used were delicious on their own, but the best rugelach turned out to be those in which I mixed the nut filling with the raspberry jam. The jam held the nut filling in place and was a nice addition that served to add some moisture to the dry filling.
Easy to make and even easier to eat, homemade rugelach are a great snack and a delightful ending to any meal.
Rugelach (Cream Cheese Cookies)
From Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America
8 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla (I don’t think you can have too much vanilla so I always add more than what the recipe calls for)
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used about 1 ½ cups – it will depend how much your dough absorbs)
1 large egg
¼ cup granulated sugar
Nut filling (adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ - ¾ cup finely chopped raisins
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2-3 tablespoons ground cinnamon (I love cinnamon so I always tend to add a bit more, just work according to your own taste)
Raspberry Jam or any other jam that you may have on hand. I use enough to be able to spread a thin layer of jam over the dough once it has been rolled out.
Mix the cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla – this can be done by hand or in a food processor. Add the flour and mix until you have a soft dough. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour but it can stay in the fridge up to four hours.
While the dough is chilling mix the ingredients for your filling.
Remove the dough from the fridge and divide it into four balls. Roll the balls into a circle that is 1/8 of an inch thick and spread with the filling of your choice.
Cut the circles into pie shaped pieces and roll them starting at the wide end, working your way to the center. Brush the top of each crescent with the beaten egg and sprinkle with some granulated sugar.
Baked the rugelach on greased cookie sheet in a preheated 350 degree over for 15-20 minutes. The cookies should be golden brown when they have finished baking.
This recipe should yield about 25 rugelach.
Katherine Romanow is currently a graduate student pursuing her MA in Judaic Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. Katherine will be sharing her knowledge, perspective, and recipes with us in a new segment called Eating Jewish at Jewesses with Attitude.