The Rugelach Cookie Project

rugelach cookies

Sometimes the successful execution of a recipe is more than just following the directions, especially when it comes to a cookie you have never eaten before.

I made a new cookie this week, and it did not go well. I checked the ingredient list twice, carefully reviewed the steps, and on the surface of it, did everything right. But the flavor and texture came out wrong, and the cookie didn’t look anything like the photo (nor, truthfully, did it look anything like what any kind of cookie should look like). All that time and money, completely wasted. If you’ve ever done this, you know how frustrating that is! Aarrgh!!!

As many of you know, this month I’m co-hosting a Cookie Love Blog Hop with a number of fabulous bakers (#cookielove on twitter).  We kicked it off last weekend with great success, and will be posting cookie recipes all month. You can see all the recipes but clicking on the Linky Tools link in this post, and can even join in the fun by using it to link in any of your own cookie recipes that you’ve posted this month. More information on all this is provided in the Cookie Love kickoff posting.

So, one recent evening as I was sifting through an impressive mountain of cookie recipes and ideas, I asked my husband, Myles, if he had a favorite holiday cookie from his childhood he’d like me to make. His face lit up, and his eyes took on a dreamy glow, as he listed off his favorite childhood sweets. At the top of his list was a special rugelach cookie that his mom occasionally made for Hanukkah, including a special batch just for him without any nuts, because of his nut allergies. I’d never actually had a rugelach cookie, but was undaunted. I naïvely thought to myself: “It’s a cookie. How hard could it be? It’s not like this is a Daring Baker’s Challenge.”  And with that, The Rugelach Cookie Project was launched.

Lacking a family recipe, I first pored over my baking cookbooks, scrupulously studying them for ingredients, variations, and tips. Next I went to some trusted blogs. After a couple of hours, I decided on a recipe, lined up the ingredients, read through the instructions, and got started. Eighteen hours later, I sadly pulled some lumpy, shapeless cookies from the oven.

Rugelach cookies

Hoping they tasted better than they looked, Myles tried one.

“Hmm” was all I got at first. And I should note that the “hmm” did not sound like “mmm” – as in wow, that’s delicious. It sounded more like one of those “Uh-oh… how honest should I be?” kind of “hmms”.

I stayed mute, a rare thing for me, as those of you who know me will attest to. But I didn’t want to rush the verdict.

Reaching for a second cookie, he carefully rendered his opinion: “…they taste great, babe, and I know you worked really hard on these…but the texture…well, it’s too…um, …doughy.” And then all at once: “Andthey’retooflat, theyshouldbemorepuffedup, andthere’stoomuchapricotjam.”

OK. (Sigh)

And then, as he was walking out the kitchen, he lobbed a final grenade: “Andthere’stoomuchchocolateinthem.”

Too much chocolate? I didn’t realize this was possible for a man to say who can polish off a jar of hot fudge topping in a couple days. Folks, I HIDE chocolate from him so I can have enough to bake with.

Bottom line, they tasted good (although overpowered by all the chocolate), but the point was: they weren’t rugelach cookies. And it took someone who had eaten them before, to be able to tell me that although I had painstakingly followed every step, I had ended up with a completely different cookie. And not one I should make again – I might add.

Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, making them was NOT the easy path I had been promised in the recipe. Here were the problems, in the order that they happened:

  • The dough was very difficult to work with. I re-refrigerated it at intervals, but it seesawed between cracking from the cold, and becoming limp and sticky as it warmed up, with only a 5-second, easy-to-roll window to work with. Ok, maybe it was a longer window than that, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. Working with a temperamental dough also forced me to make larger cookies, since cutting each gooey dough circle into 16 narrow, precise triangles was impossible. Frankly, I was lucky to get the 8 I had.
  • The dough was heavy and dense, compounded by the thick apricot jam that contained bits of fruit.
  • The mini chocolate chips were a little too big, which at first glance may seem like a good thing. But the size made it difficult to form the cookies into their hallmark crescent shapes, resulting in lumpy cookies that looked more sloppy than rustic. Additionally the chips weighed down the layers, and overwhelmed the other flavors in the filling.
  • In the oven, butter melted out of the cookies and flowed like liquid, golden lava all over the pan, which did nothing for their texture or appearance.

I conceded gracefully. Round 1: Rugelach Cookie 1; Me 0.

Unwilling to be defeated by a cookie, I headed back to the drawing board. After much thought, additional research, and more detailed discussions with Myles, I got a clearer idea of what to be shooting for, and came up with a few solutions. Thank God for all those baking classes I took in school, is all I can say.

So let’s talk about the solutions.

  1. First, I tackled the dough texture, since this appeared to be my biggest single problem. After some experimenting, I settled on doubling the amount of flour to make the dough easier to work with. This also resulted in a less dense cookie dough that, when combined with the chilled butter and cream cheese, now had layers of flakiness.
  2. I warmed up the apricot jam and strained it, but found I didn’t need to cut back on the amount. Straining out any fruit lumps gave me a smooth jelly that was easy to brush evenly on the dough.
  3. I combined the mini chocolate chips with the brown sugar and cinnamon in a food processor to chop the chips into smaller nuggets. (I was concerned that if I just threw the chips into the processor by themselves, they might soften from the warmth of the blade. Throwing them in the freezer with the blade and processor bowl would have solved that, but since they were all going into the filling anyway, I chose to throw them all together.)
  4. I froze the shaped cookies for 1 1/2 hour before baking them off, which almost completely eliminated the oozing butter lava flow. Two hours of freezing would likely have completely eliminated it, which I later saw on Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen blog, and I’ll head in that direction next time.
  5. And just for fun, I soaked the currants in some rum to plump them up and bring out their flavor.

The result was an amazing rugelach cookie, straight out of Myles’ childhood that might be my new favorite cookie. This time when he tested one, his face lit up. “You got it, sweetie!!”  What a team. They’ll definitely be on the table for Hanukkah and Christmas this year. And now for the recipe!

rugelach cookie

 Rugelach Cookies for Myles

Cook’s Notes:

  • Traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. Mine are nut-free, but fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, poppy seed, or fruit preserves, or anything your imagination serves up.
  • Rugelach cookies are a traditional Jewish cookie eaten any time of year, and despite the fact they’re not fried in oil, some sources indicate rugelach cookies are traditional on Hanukkah. For more information, wikipedia is a pretty good resource.

Makes 32 perfect crescent cookies!

Ingredients…

For the Dough

  • 4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into around 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into around 8 pieces
  • 2 cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Filling

  • 2/3 cup apricot jam, heated and strained
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • ½ cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the Glaze

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado (raw, coarse) sugar

Making It…

Making the Dough

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the dough in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a blade. Pulse 15-20 times or until the dough forms large curds. Be careful not to process it so long that it forms one big ball on the blade!
  2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, divide in half, and form gently into 2 disks. Wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day.

Making the Filling

  1. Soak the currants in the rum until soft and plump, about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat up the apricot jam in a small pot or in the microwave oven just enough that the jam liquifies. Strain.
  3. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and chocolate chips together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, and pulse until the chocolate chips are reduced to small, ¼” nuggets.

Shaping the Cookies

  1. Remove the first disk of dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour a work surface and begin to roll out the dough. If the edges crack, let the dough sit on the work surface for 5 minutes to allow it to warm up a bit. Pinch the cracked edges back to together, and continue to roll the disk out to a circle that’s 11 – 12 inches across. It’s important to have as evenly round a circle as possible.
  2. Brush half of the strained apricot jam onto the dough circle; and sprinkle half of the filling over the jam. Finish by sprinkling half of the currants over the surface.
  3. Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 equal, triangular slices. The best way to do this is to slice the dough circle in half, and then into quarters. Moving the pizza wheel or knife from one side of the circle to the opposite side, slice those quarters in half again to form 8 triangles, and one last time to form 16 triangles.
  4. Carefully slide one of the triangles away from the dough circle, and roll it up into a crescent shape, starting with the base of the triangle. It should look like a small croissant. Place on a tray, with the point of the triangle facing down, tucked under the cookie.
  5. Wipe any loose filling from the work space, and repeat with the remaining dough. Place the tray in the freezer.
  6. Repeat with the second disk of dough. Freeze the crescents for at least 1 ½ – 2 hours, until solid.

Baking Them Off

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F, and make the glaze by beating the egg and cream together until smooth. Remove the cookies from the freezer, and brush on the glaze as evenly as possible. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the tops of the cookies and immediately place them in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until puffed and a golden brown.
  2. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature.
  3. Celebrate success, because this may have been a Daring Baker’s Challenge after all!!!
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37 Responses to “The Rugelach Cookie Project” Subscribe

  1. gluttonforlife December 10, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    You are now an honorary Jew!! Congrats on what sounds (and looks) like a divine cookie!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Thanks so much GFL! Yes, I feel like I’ve earned my stripes on this one!!

  2. TasteFood December 10, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Beautiful cookies – well worth the effort!

  3. Myles December 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    Contrary to the impression left by this post, I am not a chocolate addict, I am a chocolate enthusiast. Myles

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

      OK, OK. You might not polish off the fudge quite that quickly, but I DO hide the chocolate….:-)

  4. lapadia December 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    Lovely story and cookie, thanks so much for sharing it and Wishing you and yours the Best of the Season!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks lapadia! Happy Holidays to you and your family too! I hope Santa brings you everything you want.

  5. lizthechef December 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Oy – you did good…My hands are sweating from reading your post, though. You know me, the phobic cookie-baker ;)

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      There were definitely some stressful moments this week, but it was worth it in the end. I’m just glad I wasn’t rushing against a deadline for them.

  6. Laurie Dupree December 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Susan, I certainly feel your pain…..I too love Rugelach and had purchased them from bakeries in the past but never tried making them myself But a couple holidays ago, I too thought “how hard can they be” to make and had disasterous results. And the boys were not as nice as Myles and just laughed at me ~ I gave up in defeat, thinking you must have to have a PhD in cookies to make them. I remember my mom had made similar cookies that weren’t officially Rugelachs, but still tasty, but never had much luck with her’s either….. Haven’t tried making them since, but NOW with your “prescription” for change, I think I’ll try to tackle them again…..Thanks for sharing!! Lots of work but they are OH SO YUMMY!!

  7. The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    If you attempt them again, PLEASE let me know how it goes. And if you have any problems, just let me know and I’ll see how I might help. I learned a LOT over the the week from making them; more than I had signed up for, really, so if others can benefit from it – that’s great.

  8. sheila aharoni December 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Susan,
    Gentiles can’t make those well. It’s just not in your DNA. If I didn’t already know you weren’t a member of the tribe, the first line of your blog gave you away— a cookie you have never eaten before.

    Love,
    Sheila

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

      Hi Sheila! You cracked us up!! Myles and I are both still laughing. Next time I come to your place, you’ll have to show me how the tribe makes these! Thanks for stopping by girlfriend. xoxo :-)

  9. Sunchowder - Wendy Read December 11, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Genius! I loved the steps you describe here and your writing had my in stiches too :) So well done! Beautiful photo too my dear!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 11, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks so much Wendy!! I think I could made these cookies in my sleep now :-)

  10. Barbara Reiss Newman (aka drbabs) December 11, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    I confess–I’m Jewish (but I grew up in New Orleans, so I’m not really culturally Jewish), and I think I’ve had two rugelach in my (long) life…I’ve never tried to make them. Hats off to you, Susan! (I recently blew through a pound of pecans while trying to make pralines so I feel your pain!)

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 11, 2011 at 10:21 am #

      Thanks Barbara! That makes me feel much better!! I felt so inadequate when that sad little first batch came out of the oven.

  11. Laura @ The Art of Cooking Real Food December 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    I’m so glad you put yourself through that and shared your experience – I absolutely love rugelach and now I have a great, tried and true recipe for it! Thanks so much!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Hopefully not all my cookie recipes will follow this path! Thanks for stopping by to comment, Laura!

  12. Mari @ Mari's Cakes December 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    I love rugelach and have a long time I have buy some. Your cookies came look great and I am sure delicious too! Your post is very helpful and will be a great guide to make Rugelach Cookies successfully! Thanks for your comment on my blog, and welcome :)

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

      Thanks so much Mari! Welcome to my blog – I’m so glad you stopped by. I hope you try them!

  13. juniakk @ mis pensamientos December 12, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    wow these look so schmancy! i would lvoe to try making a rugelach cookie one day! #cookielove

  14. Bevi December 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Yay Suzanne! Happy Holidays!

  15. spicegirlfla December 13, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    Wonderful post! I love rugelach and include them every year on my cookie tray!! Many times I prepare these ahead of time and freeze so whenever I need cookies, I have them ready to bake! I didn’t realize I was doing your “tip” on avoiding the gooey goodness to run out!!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks so much spicegirlfla! I can see this will be an annual cookie for me from this point forward. I’ve been thinking of so many different variations on the filling I want to try. Love your idea of freezing a bunch of them and just keeping them frozen until I want them. I’ve done that with other cookie dough too.

  16. andreadevon December 13, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    great troubleshooting to make these cookies; isn’t it so great to figure something out like that? the cookies look great! i haven’t had them in years, but i remember really liking them! i don’t think i will undertake them any time soon, what with my limited kitchen space and tight budget, but i am inspired nonetheless!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

      Thanks so much! It is definitely a great feeling, andreadevon! I was not going to be defeated! Thanks for stopping by! Happy Holidays.

  17. sylvia@peaches and donuts December 13, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Congrats on getting it right and they look so great!!!! it’s going on my list of recipes to try!
    Happy Holidays!!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      Thanks so much sylvia! I keep looking at that first recipe, and just don’t know how they did it with half the flour! Hope you have a chance to try them!!

  18. Samantha Ferraro (@FerraroKitchen) December 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Mazel on the wonderful outcome! I love that we both recently made rugelach! I grew up on this, growing up in a Jewish family and I am SOO picky with it. Your recipe is slightly different than mine is. I use softened cream cheese and butter, and more of it! haha I also never liked chocolate rugelach, nut and fruit are my fav so I play with those flavors. I also bake mine for no more than 15 min, but I think my oven is just finiky! There are so many Jewish deserts…I need to shake my moms brain and get them already :)

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      Thanks!! I am amazed at the variations I see out there for this cookie. I thought about a shorter baking time, but wanted them a darker golden brown. But I’m still experimenting, so thanks so much for the ideas!! My husband grew up in a Jewish family too, and he’s got so many dishes he loves that I’m not at all familiar with. So it’s been a lot of fun for me to research and try them out. His other cookie he requested were Purims. Next up are latke’s, but I’m thinking they’ll be MUCH easier than rugelach :-)

  19. Hannah December 14, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Mazel tov! Rugelach are one of my very favorite cookies. I’m so happy you hung in there and triumphed! Lovely photos, too. Hope you’re enjoying a wonderful holiday season!

    • The Wimpy Vegetarian December 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Thanks so much Hannah!! These are one of my favorite cookies now too. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season too!!

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