Raise your hand if you like rugelach.
No, I’m not talking about those things they sell pre-packaged in the grocery store, with the dough like cardboard that turns into chalk on your tongue, swirled with gummy, lipstick-colored goop. Is that what you think rugelach is? If so, the bad news is that you’ve been wasting your time with empty calories. But the good news is that it’s never too late to try the real thing.
If the grocery store rugelach is the only rugelach you’ve ever had, I can sympathize. Those things are everywhere, and really, how else is a Chinese-American girl growing up in Southern California going to experience rugelach? In fact, I stayed away from the stuff for most of my life because I thought those pasty things were an accurate representation of how rugelach was supposed to taste. I only had the real thing for the first time a few years ago, and… wow. Talk about eye-opening.
Now this is coming from a girl who will eat grocery store muffins and bread like a champ–I have nothing against affordable, convenient store-bought goodies. But the contrast between store-bought rugelach and fresh cookies made by hand, whether bakery-, deli-, or home-made, is striking. The two are completely different pastries.
I think the biggest problem is the dough. Rugelach dough should be flaky and tender, which is achieved by leaving relatively large, uneven chunks of fat in the dough that spread into thin layers when rolling it out. I’m guessing that it’s hard to achieve this in an en masse, factory setting because grocery store rugelach taste more like pop tarts than any handmade rugelach I’ve had.
I began making these at home a few months ago using Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for the dough as a starting point, including her trick of using the food processor to pulse the flour, butter and cream cheese together and avoid overmixing. You end up with chunks of cream cheese and butter that you can actually see in the dough, but don’t worry–this just means that you’ll end up with better-textured pastry.
Sometimes, especially on hotter days, I may run into one or two spots of cream cheese that get sticky and melty and refuse to roll up, but this is fairly easily resolved by (1) sticking the dough back in the fridge for a minute or two (it helps to roll the dough out on a transportable surface for this reason) and/or (2) using a flat, thin surface like a small spatula to loosen the sticky part from the work surface. It also helps to flour the work surface somewhat liberally to prevent said stickiness.
And finally, be generous with the filling–but not too generous, or you’ll have filling spilling out all over the place. So use a brush to get just a thin layer of jam on, and don’t give in to the temptation of sprinkling on more sugar than the recipe calls for. Believe me, I learned the hard way.
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup apricot preserves
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 cup dried apricots
- 1/4 cup unsalted roasted pistachios, shelled
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp. cold water
- 2 additional tbsp. sugar for sprinkling (preferably coarse or sanding sugar)
- 1. Pulse together butter, cream cheese, flour, and salt in a food processor until just combined; the dough should look like large curds. Form into two balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Flatten balls into small disks and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- 2. Pulse pistachios and then apricots in a food processor until both are finely minced.
- 3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Remove a disk of dough from plastic wrap, and set aside the plastic wrap for later use. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough into a 9 to 12 inch circle.
- 4. Heat preserves in the microwave or on the stove until liquified, and spread half of it in a thin layer over the top of each circle. Combine cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle half of it evenly over jam. Sprinkle with half of the chopped apricots and pistachios. Lay plastic wrap over the disk and press down firmly with your hands to pat the toppings into the dough. Remove plastic wrap and discard.
- 5. Using a long knife or pizza cutter, cut each disk into 16 wedges. starting from the outside of each wedge, roll inwards to form small crescents. Space evenly on baking sheets.
- 6. Stir together egg and water, and brush onto each cookie and sprinkle with sugar. Bake each sheet of cookies for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. (If baking two sheets at once, divide oven into thirds using two racks, and rotate top and bottom sheets midway through baking. If baking only one sheet at a time, place sheet in the middle of the oven.) Transfer baked cookies to a cooling rack to cool.