Roll, Roll, Roll Out the Rugelach
Who knew that making raspberry-walnut rugelach could be so much fun!
I love making rugelach, the little crescent cookies with a nutty, fruity surprise tucked inside.
I've been making these little treasures for years. It all started when a little Italian lady brought platters of her home-made cookies to my wedding shower to share with guests. One taste and it was love at first bite.
I asked her for the recipe, which she generously shared, and made a bee-line to the kitchen to make my first batch. After pulling my first dozen out of the oven, I ceremoniously named the golden twirls "cinnamon twists" since the original recipe was unnamed. After making dozens upon dozens, the cookies eventually evolved into "raspberry-walnut rugelach" and became a family tradition.
The holidays were just an excuse to whip out my pin and make oodles of rugelach. One lean year, I made about 30 dozen at Christmas time. I arranged the cookies in wicker baskets adorned with jewel-toned cellophane and and festive ribbon to present to friends and family. Even though I thought my home-made gift might not be as appealing as the store-bought variety, my mom still recalls the Christmas she received her crimson-and-gold basket of raspberry-walnut rugelach.
One of the great things about rugelach is that they’re actually fun to make, especially if you enjoy using a rolling pin. The rich dough is a dream to work with: The cream cheese and butter in the dough render it soft and pliable and easy to roll. I’ve been rolling rugelach for so many years in my Barrington kitchen that I can easily knock out several dozen in the span of an hour. Once you get into the rhythm of the roll, it’s really quite fun.
I usually break up the work of making rugelach into phases to make it more manageable:
- Day 1: I toast my walnuts and prepare the sugar filling by mixing together granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts and raisins. Tip: Make more than you need and store the sugar mixture in a plastic container for future rugelach-making sessions. You’ll be glad you did.
- Day 2: I make my dough. The dough mixes up like a dream in a stand mixer equipped with a paddle. If I’m making one batch, I divide the dough into four equal parts, flatten them into a circle, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Then off they go inside a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and into the fridge to chill. Tip: Make a double batch and store the second one in the freezer. It’s a real time saver.
- Day 3: Now that the filling ingredients and dough are prepared, I’m ready to start rolling the rugelach. The first thing I do is to preheat the oven and prepare my workstation. I gather up a cutting board, pizza wheel, container with the filling ingredients, seedless raspberry jam, flour for sprinkling, an offset spatula to spread the jam, and parchment-lined sheet pans. Tip: Spray the parchment with Pam and your cookies won't stick.
And the most important tip of all: Before rolling out the dough, put on your favorite rugelach-making music. Mine is disco. Music enhances the culinary experience, filling the soul with joy and infusing the food with the most important ingredient of all: love. A joyful cook makes the food sing.
Another great thing about rugelach is its versatility. Here are some delightful filling variations:
Raspberry-Walnut: Raspberry jam with raisins and walnuts
Apricot-Pecan: Apricot jam with raisins and pecans
Chocolate-Walnut: Chocolate spread with walnuts and raisins
Cinnamon-Raisin: Cinnamon, sugar, walnuts and raisins
Walnut-Fig: Walnut butter topped with dried figs and walnuts
Chocolate-Coconut: Chocolate spread, toasted coconut and mini chocolate chips
Cranberry-Orange: Orange marmalade and dried cranberries
Chocolate-Hazelnut: Nutella spread with crushed hazelnuts
Peanut butter-Chocolate: Smooth peanut butter sprinkled with mini chocolate chips
Apricot-Coconut: Apricot jam topped with toasted coconut and chopped macadamia nuts
Cherry-Chocolate: Cherry preserves sprinkled with mini chocolate chips
Apple-Walnut: Apple jelly sprinkled with dried apples and walnuts
This list of filling variations is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to experiment and create some of your own unique flavor combinations. Improvise, experiment and, above all, have fun.
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
- Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Transfer the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, raisins and walnuts.
- On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons raspberry jam and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.
Yield: 4 dozen cookies