“I use some of their recipes in supporting roles—apricot jelly roll, mandelbrot, and honey cake. My mother Madeleine’s rugelach were unbelievable. I could not use them here because they would have upstaged everything and everyone else. Apple cake is food for a short story. Rugelach require a novel.” — Allegra Goodman discussing the short story “Apple Cake” in an interview with Cressida Leyson in the June 27, 2014 The New Yorker
I have for several months wanted to participate in King Arthur Flour’s bakealongs but did not make the time. These are interesting baked goods I would not have otherwise made. Several recipes looked intriguing, and I do like to be intrigued. When the email came across my dashboard, I thought the Rugelach recipe looked good. I made up my mind to do make the pastry.
Rugelach is a traditional Northern and Eastern European Jewish holiday pastry with Middle Eastern roots. The Jewish-American cream cheese rugelach originates from this Ashkenazic food tradition. Some scholars think the pastry was brought to the United States by Jewish immigrants from Hungary or Yugoslavia. Historically the rugelach dough was made with yeast and butter or sour cream. This would have made for a delicate pastry that would have been easily overworked. Linguistically, rugelach has several spellings depending on which Northern and Eastern European country you are located. Yiddish scholars trace rugelach to a Polish origin, but it depends upon the source you are reading. In the Polish tradition, rugelach is traces back to “rogal” which means “horn” as in an animal horn or a musical instrument. When shaped into a crescent, the pastry looks like a horn. In the modern, postbiblical Hebrew rugelach is similar to “roglit” meaning “trailing vines” which could also describe the shape of the rolled, crescent pastry.
First, a note on ingredients. I used Parkay® margarine instead of butter. Here in Northeast Kansas it is possible to get good European butter, but you drive several hours to the European-specialty Shoppe. Parkay® produces a nice taste whereas the pale butter you buy in the grocery store, even the better stores, tastes flat and blah.
The recipe provides two suggestions on how to make the dough. I did not use the two suggestions. I sifted the flour and salt together, then with a pastry cutter cut the butter and cream cheese until they were the size of the end of my thumb. I then cut into the flour-fat mixture the 1/3 cup sour cream. I understand the sour cream was to add moisture so the dough could be formed, but the sour cream I used was not wet enough. The flour and fats would not stick together. I added at one time 1 tablespoon of cold water. Now, I could have added the water 1 teaspoon at a time, but I did not want to overwork the dough. I simply looked at the dough and asked myself if 1 or 2 teaspoons of water would do, and I knew 4 would be too much. That is where I came up with a tablespoon.
Following along with Step 3, I wrapped each disk of dough in plastic wrap and placed the disks in the refrigerator. I waited an hour. The dough was no way firm enough to be handled. The three disks chilled in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
While the dough was in the refrigerator, I made the filling. I used ½ cup of dried cranberries and ½ cup dark brown sugar. The mixed varieties of walnut meats were collected by a friend who was kind enough to share. The walnut meats are sweet and snack worthy. I used a blender which worked fine.
I did not add the cinnamon to the brown sugar-walnut-cranberry mixture. My chemistry background shouted to let sleeping alkaloids and essential oils that make cinnamon so wonderful lie for as long as possible. I placed the brown sugar-walnut-cranberry mixture in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it.
After 3 hours when I decided the dough was firm enough, I removed one disk at a time from the refrigerator. Using a silicon dough mat with a 10-inch circle imprinted on it, I rolled the dough as directed. I carefully moved the 10-in diameter circle onto a dented metal pizza tin that is as older than me. I brushed water onto the dough. I then placed 1/3 cup filling plus a ½ of a 1/3 cup filling onto the circle and pressed the filling into the dough. Then I evenly dusted the filling covered dough with 1 t. cinnamon.
It took me all three disks before I was able to cut the dough evenly into nice shaped wedges. I used a pizza cutter. The first disk I made eight wedges instead of twelve. The second disk had very uneven sized wedges. I finally got it right on the third try. The first two disks I just cut away attempting to measure the correct divisions by eye. That did not work. The third disk I thought it out and pre-cut the edges to measure out twelve even triangles.
Each triangle was rolled wide side to narrow side. I used a silica pan liner for the first pan, then decided to cover the pan liner with parchment baking paper for the other two pans incase the brown sugar melted and pooled. Each pastry was brushed with milk before being placed on the cookie pan. I refrigerated the cookie pans for upwards of 10 minutes before placing in the preheated oven. The rugelach baked for 30 minutes before the bottoms of the pastries were browned to my liking.
This is a fun pastry I will be making again. The cranberries provided a hint of bright fruit. The crust was buttery. Next time I will experiment with orange marmalade as the glaze under the brown sugar-walnut-cranberry mixture, and I will add dark chocolate chips. I also want to substitute dried apple pieces marinated in brandy for the cranberries. There is plenty of room to play with creating my own filling for rugelach. Only lack of imagination will limit what one can do with this pastry.
Websites for more information on King Arthur’s #bakealong and Rugelach