Rugelach was always one of those desserts that I wanted to try to make. For whatever reason, there seemed to be some mystery to it, some complexity locked within its spiral shape. At the bakery or deli, I always peered through the glass cases with equal parts wonder and admiration. How did they get that perfect spiral shape? How did they get the filling so evenly distributed?
In bakeries with rugelach, I always felt tempted to try one. What was an ordinary, cookie or brownie, when there was rugelach. What was a simple circle or square when there was a dough-filled spiral? Indeed, each bakery seemed to offer a unique twist on the Jewish pastry, adding to its allure and charm. No two ever seemed alike, either in filling or texture. There were the soft and fragrant variety, the dough flaky and yielding. Others were hard and tasteless, the dough rubbery and tasteless. But each was always unique, in ways that a cookie could never be. There was always that touch of exotic.
As it turns out, rugelach is neither as complex nor mysterious as I believed. In the end, I had no reason to doubt my ability to recreate or reformulate it. In about two hours, I had mixed, rolled, and baked over three dozen rugelach. For reasons of variety, I used two fillings, one traditional and one untraditional. I preferred the traditional filling – with raisins, cinnamon, chopped almonds, and a touch of preserves, to the more modern amalgamation of nutella and chocolate chips that I tried on the fly. There are it seems, good reasons for sticking what is tried and true.
But that is the beauty of this recipe. The dough is divided into four separate balls, each of which will be rolled out separately and which can welcome its own unique filling. Experimentation is easy and inviting, which, in the end, still leaves some room for mystery.
ALMOND-RAISIN AND CHOCOLATE-NUTELLA RUGELACH
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s Parties!
PREP TIME: 30 minutes
DOWN TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes
COOK TIME: 20 minutes
YIELD: 36-48 Pieces
WHAT TO GRAB: FOR THE RUGELACH 8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 cup low-fat milk 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash FOR THE FILLING 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed 9 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided 1/2 cup raisins 1 cup almonds, finely chopped 1/2 cup strawberry preserves Nutella (optional) 1/2 cup chocolate chips, finely chopped (optional)
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. In a medium bowl, cream the cheese and butter with a mixer over low speed. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Dump 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.
2. To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the raisins, and almonds.
3. On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Cut the circle into twelve equal wedges so that it resembles a pizza. To do so, cut the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter in thirds (I think this is easier than cutting the dough after the filling has been spread). Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons of strawberry preserves and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough.
*For an alternative flavor, use Nutella in place of the preservers for two of the circles. Add the finely chopped chocolate chips in place of the almond-raisin filling.
4. 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.
5. 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 (I went with 20 minutes). Remove to a wire rack and let cool.