Growing up, toward the end of Saturday morning services, we kids would lurk in the social hall of the synagogue, near the refreshments. Ostensibly, we were there to help set up. In actuality, about 5% of our effort went to helping out, while a round 95% we spent angling to be near our favorite snacks.
Among the universal favorites were rugelach, the flaky, jam-filled pastries that are now near-ubiquitous. (Last week, I even stumbled on savory rugelach. Sort of genius.) But at the time, they seemed special. Mostly, they seemed difficult. The first time I made them, I understood that while they aren’t hard, per se, they are quite fussy. While the dough comes together quickly,it’s the bit where you roll the dough into disks and cut it into pie slices. I end up fretting and fussing pretty hard to make sure that each skinny little pie slice you roll up doesn’t lose its fillings in the process. Also, most recipes call for apricot jam – why must it always be apricot, which is just about the least likely jam to be in my fridge? The last time I made these, I decided the recipe was overdue for some hacking.
So what makes these easier? Two things. First, you can use whatever jam and whatever nuts you have. This is sort of “rugelach without a recipe.” Second, unlike my old favorites, these are rolled and cut much more easily and less fussily. One long strip of dough, filled and rolled into one long log, then cut into pieces on the bias. They’re plenty pretty, and more importantly, they’re easy.
Did I mention they freeze like champs? Might just need to make a double.
Adapted this old Gourmet recipe and a bit of trial and error
For the dough:
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
For the filling:
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup of any jam (for my most recent batch, I used a mixture of raspberry jam and orange marmalade – get creative!)
1/2 cup golden raisins or currants, chopped
Heaping 1/2 cup (4 oz.) walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
Cream or milk for brushing cookies
Make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor or mixer, combine butter and cream cheese and pulse several times, until combined. Add flour and sprinkle salt and sugar over flour; pulse several times, until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap, collect into a cohesive mass, and flatten inside the wrap into a rough rectangle shape. Refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably 2, and up to a few days. Alternatively, freeze dough for later use.
Set a rack in the middle rung of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a 13×18 (half-sheet) rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. Whisk together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Assemble the rugelach: Cut dough in half; refrigerate one half while you work with the other. On a floured work surface, roll half the dough into a 12×8-inch rectangle, with a long edge facing you. Spread 1/4 cup jam evenly over dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the perimeter. Sprinkle half the raisins/currants and half the nuts over the jam. Dust with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar.
Using a bench scraper or sharp knife to assist, lift the long edge of the dough nearest you, and roll dough into a long log. Place seam-side down onto one side of the baking pan. Repeat with remaining half of the dough and filling ingredients.
Brush logs with cream/milk and dust with the little bit of cinnamon sugar that remains. Then use a long, sharp knife to make biased cuts most of the way through the dough, at 1-inch intervals. If dough seems too soft to cut cleanly, refrigerate 20-30 minutes before slicing.
Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Set pan on rack to cool for about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board to slice the rest of the way through.
Rugelach will keep in a tight container for up to one week.