Rugelach cookies filled with apricot jam, brown sugar, cinnamon, currants, chocolate, and rum.
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.
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.”
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- I froze the shaped cookies for 1 ½ 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.
- 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!
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
- ⅔ 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 the Dough
- 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!
- 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
- Soak the currants in the rum until soft and plump, about 20 minutes.
- Heat up the apricot jam in a small pot or in the microwave oven just enough that the jam liquifies. Strain.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wipe any loose filling from the work space, and repeat with the remaining dough. Place the tray in the freezer.
- Repeat with the second disk of dough. Freeze the crescents for at least 1 ½ - 2 hours, until solid.
Baking Them Off
- 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.
- Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature.
- 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.