A treat for the holidays that you will want to make all year long
Rugelach, Yiddish for little twists, are one of the easiest, most versatile sweet cookie-pastries you will ever know. It started out as a fluffy pastry and morphed into a cookie as the recipe immigrated along with it’s Jewish carriers to the USA. It’s an easy recipe with very forgiving dough and a great holiday cookie. They are quite addictive, so beware.
They started out as fluffy pastries and morphed into cookies as the recipe migrated along with its Jewish European carriers to the USA. The origin of the dessert traces back to Eastern Jewish populations around Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland. Most European regions had their own version of the little twisted-crescent shaped sweet pastries, most using a sweet and rich yeasted dough, resulting in a light and airy quality. Eastern Jewish regions incorporated sour cream into the dough to add both richness and pliability. After the recipe landed in the US, it left out the yeasted dough and swapped cream cheese with the original sour cream. These changes resulted in a more dense, cookie-like dough. The traditional fluffy rugelach can still be found in Europe, Israel and many parts of the Eastern USA, but, from this point forward, we’ll focus on the cookie version, as we transcend into rugelach bliss.
The rugelach cookie consists of buttery, flaky sweet dough rolled with layers of sweet jam, toasted nuts and usually dried fruit. The dough is rolled out into small circles with jam spooned over the dough. The disks are then studded with nuts and dried fruits, twisted into small crescents and baked until crisp. The resulting flaky-sweet-salty-crunchy-yet-chewy cookie makes a charming vessel for layered flavors.
Rugelach can showcase a season, a spice or a fruit perfectly. You may also get modern and experimental by using savory ingredients with just a few tweaks. They certainly symbolize the holidays, especially for the Jewish faith or East Coasters, but no special occasion is necessary to bake them and celebrate.
The featured Tropical Rugelach showcases my signature mango jam and the versatility of fillings you can use. Mango jam, using sweet perfumed mangoes, brings a breath of tropical air to holiday rugelach and the cold, dark days of December. We follow that up with the warming sensation of toasted walnuts and pistachios and a fresh blend of middle eastern spices. I must admit my favorite version of rugelach comes wrapped up in the combination of chocolate, cardamom and hazelnuts. (Although, the apricot jam and nuts version I enjoyed from my Brooklyn days was pretty satisfying too…)
Sparkling nights in the dead of winter, with zesty mangoes and this Jewish recipe, with spices and nuts from the Middle East, makes me appreciative of loosening traditional boundaries in food and hopeful for a more open, sharing world.
A food processor makes this recipe easier. With that being said, since I don’t have one, I use an electric hand mixer. If you opt to do it by hand, you’ll need to bring the butter and cream cheese to room temperature before starting. The food processor method yields a flakier cookie, and you can use it to chop the nuts and fruit ahead of time, making the cookies easier to assemble.
Mix flour and salt in a medium bowl.
Makes 4 dozen cookies
For the dough
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup raw sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, cold and cubed
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) salted butter, cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
For the filling
½ cup fresh mango jam
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped dried currants
½ cup finely chopped dried apricots
½ cup finely chopped pistachios
½ cup finely chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Powdered Sugar for assembly
¼ cup milk for brushing pre baking
Food processor method: Cube the cream cheese and place it in your food processor along with the sugar. With the motor running, add cubes of butter and process until the butter and the cream cheese are mixed thoroughly. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, sugar and egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated. Add the flour and salt mixture, and pulse until the dough starts to clump together.
Hand mixer method: Soften the cream cheese and butter. Combine the sugar, cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl, and mix until smooth and fully incorporated. Add sugar, vanilla and egg yolk, and mix again until they are incorporated fully. Add the flour and salt mixture a little at a time and mix until the dough starts to come together in clumps. I typically use my hands at this point.
Once the dough has come together in clumps, press together to form one ball. Separate the ball into four sections, and shape each section into a small thick disc. Wrap the discs, separately in plastic wrap, or place them in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour (but no more than a few days). You can also freeze the dough for several weeks. If frozen, thaw fully in the refrigerator 24 hours before using.
When You’re Ready to Bake: Prepare two parchment lines baking trays. Set aside the mango jam and mix together all the remaining filling ingredients. Sprinkle your work surface with powdered sugar. A few minutes before rolling, take each of your four discs out, one at a time, so they can warm a little. Roll out the dough into a circle about 8 inches wide and about 1/8 inch thick. Use the powdered sugar to prevent sticking.
Spread a layer of jam evenly over the entire circle (about 2 tablespoons), right up to the edges of the dough. Evenly sprinkle the circle of jam with about ½ cup of the dried fruit, nuts and spices mix, making sure the jam if fully covered with a layer of the dried filling. Slice the dough like a pie into wedges using a pizza cutter or very sharp knife. You should be able to get about 12 slices.
Roll each slice or wedge, beginning with the wide, outside edge into the smaller center of the circle. Make sure the tip (the tip left over by rolling toward the smaller center point) is tucked in. Set the rolled cookie with the tip face down and make sure it is in a shaped in a crescent shape. Repeat until you have both sheets filled with rugelach.
Refrigerate the baking sheets of rugelach for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375°F .
Brush the tops of the pre-baked cookies with milk. Bake the cookies until golden-brown, about 20 minutes. Rotate baking trays halfway through to endure even browning. Once the cookies are done, remove them carefully, one by one, and place them on a wire rack to cool.
Repeat with any remaining dough.
Happy Holidays from Under the Mango Tree!