If you imagine a croissant in cookie form, you have yourself rugelach. These small Eastern European cookies originated from the Jewish communities of Poland. Today they’re found worldwide yet remain especially popular in Israel, especially the old-fashioned variety filled with chocolate.
Ok, so maybe they aren’t much like croissants aside from their crescent appearance. But, to be fair, they aren’t entirely like a cookie, either. I’d say they lean more into the world of pastry.
The quicker approach in the recipe I’m sharing is made with a pastry dough that contains equal parts of butter and cream cheese. It creates a tender cookie crust with a hint of tanginess that I find appealing. Unlike most cookies, they’re not painfully sweet, and during a season built on sugarplums and candy canes, I appreciate that, too.
That old fashioned approach involves a yeasted dough and a consequent rising process. That version is dairy-free, making sense for those following kosher guidelines, such as the folks who created the cookie. Although dairy is more commonly eaten at Hanukkah. I think for most home bakers, myself included, a cookie that needs a rising period is a tough sell. The cream cheese won me over anyway.
That said, when making these cookies, you need to allow the dough to firm up in the fridge for at least an hour. It makes this a longer process than a typical cookie. But that’s actually a good reason to prepare the dough a day or two in advance so that when you’re ready to bake, you can focus on filling and forming the cookies.
Now, when it comes to filling rugelach, you have options. Fillings can include cinnamon, sugar, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, and jam. You can use a combination of these ingredients or pick what you like. Cinnamon and nuts are almost always involved.
There is room to customize your rugelach cookies completely because you can use the kind of nuts, fruit, and jam you prefer. Although I say pecans in the recipe, walnuts and almonds sound good, too. Dried currants are an excellent choice, yet chopped raisins would be fine as well. Or how about apricots? Maybe figs? Whatever you use, make sure to keep the pieces small. You can chop things up in a food processor to make it easier. Aim for a total of two cups of solid fillings, plus jam.
I was excited to open up a couple of jars of my homemade jams to fill the cookies, especially jams with fruits we picked at the height of summer. I used a ginger peach jam in half and a mixed berry in the others. I like chocolate, so I added some dark chocolate chips to some. My wife, as crazy as it sounds, doesn’t appreciate chocolate. So half had dried currants instead. Try to go easy when spreading the fillings out on the dough. Fill them too much, like me, and things will ooze out as they bake.
The only difficulty you’ll have with these rugelach cookies is eating just one or two. Luckily, it makes a big batch.
makes about 4 dozen small cookies
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
¼ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup jam, such as raspberry, cranberry, strawberry or orange
4 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped
In a mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese and butter until smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. A mixer makes this easier, though you can do it by hand as well. Stir in the salt and half of the sugar. Add the flour, a little at a time, until incorporated. It will be dry and crumbly.
Dump the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured counter and use your hands to shape and press it into a round. Divide the round into four smaller, evenly sized rounds. Cover them with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a couple of days if you want to have the dough ready in advance. Not a bad idea if you’re looking to save some time.
When ready to start forming the rugelach, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Take one round out of the fridge and use a rolling pin to roll it out into a thin, larger round about 10-11 inches wide. Spread a quarter of the jam across the dough. Sprinkle over the pecans and then the chocolate. With a knife, divide the round into twelve even pieces as if you were slicing a pizza. Start by dividing it into quarters, then each quarter into thirds.
Starting with the outside edge and going inward, roll up each piece of dough. Place each rolled piece onto the baking sheet. Repeat this process with the remaining rounds of dough.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with a splash of water. Brush the rugelach with the egg wash. Sprinkle over the remaining two tablespoons of sugar. Bake on racks in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch.
These rugelach should keep for at least a week at room temperature.