Why It Works
- A simple, rich cream cheese dough contrasts nicely with the chocolate filling.
- Rolling up the rugelach into logs rather than crescents simplifies prep and keeps the filling from leaking out.
Rugelach are an irresistible, classic Jewish cookie which originated in Eastern Europe. Rich without being too rich, rugelach are a cross between a pastry and a cookie: flaky-crisp like a rich pie dough on the outside, and tender and buttery on the inside. Pronouncing rugelach correctly can be tricky, so don't feel bad if you have a hard time. I always fall back on the safe version of "ruh-ge-lah". I've never been able to get that scratchy throat "ach" ending (or too shy to do it anyway).
The word "rugelach" may derive from the Yiddish word for royal, or it may refer to the cookie's shape: according to Jewish culinary authority Joan Nathan, rug means spiral or crescent shaped in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. While traditional rugelach are filled and then rolled up like a miniature croissant, they can also be filled, rolled into a log, and cut into nuggets. Original versions of rugelach are either yeast risen or contain sour cream, not cream cheese (who knew?). It was Americans who introduced rich, thick cream cheese into the dough after its invention in New York, thus transforming rugelach into the cookie that Americans know today.
Since the fat and tanginess of cream cheese makes for a mighty flavorful dough (I seriously couldn't stop snacking on it), I was no way going to mess with American tradition. I did consider making a chocolate dough, but decided that the simple cream cheese dough was rich enough. The plain dough also contrasts nicely with the filling. Rugelach come with an array of stuffings: smears of raspberry, cinnamon, walnut-raisin, and apricot. But, being the cacao enthusiast that I am, could I do anything other than a chocolate filling? A simple mixture of finely chopped chocolate mixed with a little cocoa powder and sugar made the cut.
Now let's get back to the classic rugelach shape. To achieve perfect croissant spirals takes patience and skill. I made my first batch this way: rolling the dough into 4 circles, spreading the filling over them, cutting wedges, then rolling up each piece. Even as a pastry maven, it was a nightmare for me to get equally sized and shaped rugelach crescents. In addition, the filling tended to leak out of the spiral. Oy vey!
Save yourself undue chagrin by making rugelach the log-roll way. Simply roll out strips of dough, fill it, roll it up like a rug, then slice it into 1-inch, bite-sized pieces. This technique is also the way to go if you choose to make and freeze your rugelach dough ahead of time. These homemade rugelach are better than any bakery and easier than pie. The only thing you'll have to worry about is saving yourself from popping down the entire batch.
For the Dough:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (about 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
For the Topping:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix butter, cream cheese, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt on medium speed until completely combined, about 1 minute. Mix in vanilla until combined. Mix in flour until combined.
Pat dough into an 8-inch square, wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill until fairly firm, about 1 hour. In the meantime, mix together ingredients for filling in medium bowl.
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Place all but 1 piece in the refrigerator to keep cool. On a floured surface, roll out the first piece into a 12-inch by 4-inch strip. Sprinkle 1/4 of the chocolate mixture onto dough and gently press into dough to adhere.
Working from the long end, gently roll dough strip into a 12-inch long log, making sure seam is at the bottom. Cut log into 1-inch pieces and place on one half of the baking sheet, evenly spacing apart. Repeat with second piece of dough to fill the first pan. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough to fill second pan. (You should have 24 rugelach per pan).
In small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle on rugelach. Bake until rugelach is light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Cool for 5 minutes on pan, then transfer rugelach to wire rack to cool completely.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Filled dough logs can be made ahead and frozen. Make sure to wrap well. Defrost logs in refrigerator (until just soft enough to cut) before cutting and baking.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 7g||9%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||22%|
|Total Carbohydrate 8g||3%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|