The other day a friend was describing these wonderful cookies that he had recently tried for the first time. When I asked him what they were called, he replied in an uncertain tone, "Um, rugula?"
"Rugula, as in arugula?" I asked.
And then it occurred to me that he was talking about rugelach, a crescent-shaped cookie of Eastern European heritage. All of a sudden memories of holiday dinners at my grandmother's house came flooding back; I hadn't thought about rugelach for years.
Hanukkah begins on Friday at sundown so I thought it only appropriate to bake up a batch of these Cherry-Nut Rugelach from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion in honor of the Festival of Lights.
Rugelach get their name from the Hebrew word for creeping vine, a reference to their twisted or rolled shape.
Growing up I had always thought of rugelach as the Jewish equivalent of croissants, although the flavors couldn't be more different. This version is made with a cream cheese based dough, and a filling of tart dried cherries, walnuts, butter, cinnamon, and sugar. This baking project was a tactile joy, the rolling, and stuffing of these cookies brought to mind all of the hands on parts of ceramics or even playing with Play-Doh.
Once the rugelach cooled enough to sample I remembered why these cookies weren't my favorite childhood dessert. They are not overwhelmingly sweet, and their richness comes mostly from the cream cheese dough. My palate has matured over the years and over the top sweetness doesn't do it for me anymore. I could really appreciate why rugelach were favorites among the grown up set, and they are a newly rediscovered favorite of mine.
Win The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion to give away this week.
- For the dough
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
- 1 eight-ounce package cream cheese (reduced fat [Neufchâtel] or full fat)
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- For the filling
- 1 cup (4 5/8 ounces) dried cherries
- 3/4 cup (3 ounces) walnuts, toasted
- 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- For the topping
- 1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water
- Granulated, coarse, or pearl sugar
To make the dough: In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese until light. Add the sugar and salt and beat until fluffy. Stir in the flour, then gather the dough into a ball and knead until it's smooth and all the flour is incorporated.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, roll each piece into a ball, then flatten each slightly into thick disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets. Parchment is preferred, as it will shorten the cleanup time necessitated by some of the inevitable oozing of the filling as these cookies bake.
Combine all of the filling ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times (or finely dice the cherries and walnuts, add the remaining filling ingredients and blend well).
Work with the dough one disk at a time, and keep the others refrigerated. On a piece of parchment or lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into an 8-inch circle. Place a small round lid (from a film canister, a salad dressing bottle, or something similar-sized) in the center of the circle. Spread 1/4 cup of the filling over the dough, leaving 1/2 inch uncovered around the outside edge of the circle.
Remove the lid and use a sharp knife or a pizza wheel to cut the circle into 8 equal wedges. Starting at the wide (outside) edge of each wedge, roll it toward its narrow edge, as you would a crescent roll. Place the rolled wedges, tip down, on the prepared baking sheets. Curve each cookie into a crescent shape. Repeat this process with the remaining dough.