If we were in psychoanalysis (and who says we’re not?) we might draw connections between my urge to cook and an unconscious need to mother myself. I wonder if this is true of many cooks? The logic works like this: as a child you are fed and nurtured by your mother–before she’s anything else, she’s a food source (see: milky breast). My mother, it should be said, had milk fever and couldn’t breast feed me. But her role as food giver is still embedded somewhere in my psyche.
As I aged and became more self-sufficient I became more and more capable of feeding myself. I remember putting Ellio’s pizzas in the toaster oven and feeling proud of myself. I always wanted an Easy Bake Oven: was that my effeminite side peeking through early or a premature desire to mother myself? (Tangential question: why ARE Easy Bake Ovens only given to girls, not boys? I know what the feminists will say!)
What does this have to do with rugelach?
Well mom buys lots of rugelach for the house. At least she used to: apricot and raisin. There’d be tubs from TooJay’s sitting in our kitchen that we could snack on in the afternoon. This is true of other cookies too: black and white cookies and, my favorite, rainbow cookies. Mom is a source of cookies! Thus, living all motherless up here in New York (mom’s in Florida) I make cookies in an attempt to mother myself.
(Session Over. Fee? $800.)
See, this is particularly relevant because I don’t like rugelach. I’d eat it out of starvation or simply not to let it go to waste, but I never loved the rugelach mom had out at home. So why did I make it last night? Was I trying to mother myself in a time of need?
Perhaps. But also, the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe and pictures (form her Parties! book) looked marvelous. And I knew everyone at school was sad this week (see “Sad Week” post below) so I wanted to bring in something elaborate and plentiful to cheer them up. Rugelach was the answer.
How to describe rugelach for those who’ve never had it? Do you exist? Have you never had rugelach? It’s a rolled cookie filled with jam and other treats that render the too-often dry dough tolerable.
The Barefoot Contessa’s filling consists of raisins, walnuts, brown sugar and regular sugar:
It’s a lovely, comforting combination. These are all things that would go well with oatmeal so you know it’s mmm mmm good. (Oh wait, that’s Campbell’s soup.)
The biggest challenge I encountered making rugelach was rolling the dough. Making the dough was a cinch: combine butter and cream cheese in the mixer, beat together, then add sugar and flour and you’re done. Dump it out, make a ball, and cut it in four. Wrap each piece in plastic and refrigerate one hour.
One hour later I took the first piece out, floured my counter top, and attempted to roll a 9-inch circle. That barely happened. My circle was more like a trapezoid. Pieces of dough thinned out and holes were torn. I almost gave up. But I somehow patched it together and decided to go forward anyway: spreading 2 Tbs of apricot jam (I used apricot ginger jam from Whole Foods) across the dough then sprinkling 1/2 cup of the filling over it. It looked something like this:
Once you get this far, the hard part’s over. Now you cut this into quarters and cut each quarter into thirds. (It’s easier than it sounds.) Then the fun part: you roll the fat outer edge of each wedge towards the tip and you’re done! Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and continue with 3 dozen more:
Aren’t those pretty? Even eating them raw tasted good. (Yes, yes, I ate a few raw–so sue me!)
They bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. I was nervous because they weren’t turning brown and I didn’t want to overbake them. So I took them out after 22 minutes or so and they were perfect. Look at this gorgeous plate:
And here’s one up close. Want a bite?
These received universal raves at school. So much so, in fact, that one of my teachers, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity, pulled me aside after class and told me she’s having a dinner party on Saturday. “I want you to cater it!” she said. I laughed robustly and said: “I can’t cater it! I’m an amateur!” We negotiated and I ultimately agreed to make dessert which I’m bringing to her place Saturday aternoon. She wants to pay me but I can’t take money from a teacher, can I?
In conclusion, what have we learned? Rugelach is a great temporary substitute for a mother’s love and can help get you cooking gigs for teachers. I’d say that’s a pretty powerful cookie.