I had heard of this pastry, but as I am not an apricot lover, it wasn’t high on my list to try. In the interest of learning to be a better baker, I decided to give it a whirl. Traditional rugelach is apricot or prune – I went with the prune. I am also not a dried fruit lover, which is also traditional, so I simplified the recipe a bit.
One of my fellow bakers suggested making only a third of the recipe, as it produced quite a lot of cookies. After a weekend of beignets and bread pudding in New Orleans, I thought I should go easy on the pastry. The first step was the cream cheese dough – created in my Kitchen Aid mixer which has seen more action recently than in the nine years I’ve owned it. Cream cheese, butter, sugar and flour. As my dough showed no signs of coming together, I added an extra tablespoon or two of flour and voila – it turned out into a nice patty, ready to be chilled for a few hours.
Rather than make my own lekvar (a highly concentrated fruit butter), and because I was making a small batch, I opted for a prune plum butter I found at the grocery store. When my dough was sufficiently chilled, I took it out, let it soften a few moments and then began to roll it into a rectangle. I have a well-founded fear of rolling dough – it never seems to be uniformly even. But the dough seemed forgiving and I persevered.
Caroline and Olivia sort of watched while I spread the dough with the prune butter. Ollie used an old-school jar chopper to pulverize walnuts. As I let them taste the fruit butter, they abandoned their posts as sous-bakers, and took a time out for toast with their new favorite bread spread.
After applying a thick layer of the prune butter, I sprinkled it with cinnamon, brown sugar, and white sugar and then added a layer of nuts. I rolled the filled dough into a tubular shape lengthwise, covered it with plastic and stuck it in the fridge. I promised the girls I would bake off the cookies before I picked them up from school, so they could try them as soon as possible.
The next morning, I chopped a few more nuts and added some sugar and cinnamon. I also made an egg wash which we were instructed to push through a sieve. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it did eliminate some of those stringy eggy pieces. I took out my long roll of dough, brushed it with the egg wash, then sawed off pinwheels, dipping each in the nuts and sugar before putting it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Another useful tip from the recipe – double the baking sheet so the sugar on the bottom of each cookie would carmelize, but not burn. It worked beautifully. Though I only had one pan of cookies in the oven, I rotated the pan halfway through baking (another tip) as I have learned that my oven does not heat evenly.
When they were a caramel brown color, I popped them out of the oven. They looked and tasted like they were from a bakery. I walked around so proud of myself all day…my house smelled like cinnamon and pastry, and I made these nut-sugar encrusted little gems. I may be a rugelach convert.
After reading a lot of TWD’s Rugelach “chatter”, I thought about some variations. I like the idea of raspberry jam; another blogger suggested lemon curd with plain sugar on the outside. This dough is really great – definitely something to keep in mind for a simple, but fancy-tasting dessert.