I’ll Never Give Up My Rugelach

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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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And here’s one up close. Want a bite?

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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.

20 comments

  1. Those look so yummy!

    Sometimes, I make food that I’d normally hate, but that Mom made when I was little (even if I hated it then!) because… I dunno. Sometimes, I need it and it hits the spot just right. I’m sure it was wonderful for all involved. :o)

  2. Hi Adam – they look wonderful! I’m no expert, but for the last nine years or so I’ve made a double batch of rugelach to include in my Christmas cookies. I agree – rolling out the dough is a pain in the neck. You need to get it so thin it’s almost impossible. My recipe recommends that you roll it between layers of plastic wrap. It’s still a little tricky (I find I have to periodically peel off the plastic wrap and then replace it so that the dough can move between the layers), but it really helps in several ways – it doesn’t stick to the counter or your rolling pin, it allows you to flip and reposition the dough as you roll it, and it helps me with rolling it into the proper size and shape. My recipe calls for the dough to be rolled out into a rectangle and rolled up like a jelly roll. In the last couple of years I devised a little measuring aid that works like a charm – I use masking tape and apply it to my counter in a rectangle of the proper size. As I’m rolling I can readily see through the plastic wrap where the dough is too wide and where it is too narrow. Brilliant – no? One more tip (born of sheer laziness) – I use currants rather than raisins. I figure they taste the same and that way you don’t have to chop them up. Sorry to have rambled on so long – enjoy your rugelach!

  3. Oh dear, she’s back… sorry just thought of one more thing. You must refrigerate the rolled out dough (still between the layers of plastic wrap – lay them on a cookie sheet) before adding the toppings and rolling – otherwise it would be a gooey mess!

  4. I would agree with Cathy re: currants. And, I want to see the guarantee that these contain NO CALORIES WHATSOEVER, please.

  5. Yes… you can take money from a teacher. She is paid for her work, no? So should you. In fact, if I were her, I would INSIST on paying you so that it did not look as though I were favoring you for grades, etc. I always tell my friends who are “amateurs” that sometimes it is difficult for the rest of us to discern from amateur and pro. From reading your blog for many, many months, I would say that your baking skills are far from amateur.

  6. Yummy! Those look oddly similar to what I grew up with, but they were called scuffles. My mom’s recipe simply had cinnamon and sugar in the middle. I haven’t had those forever!

  7. I’ve never had rugelach… I don’t even know how to pronounce that… is it like goulash only with a “ru”?

  8. Adam – your rugelach look great, but in the spirit of Jewish cooking and holidays, why don’t you treat your audience and make Hamentaschen. Relive your days at Temple Beth El…Purim is tomorrow! Looking forward to a good recipe.

  9. Adam – your rugelach look great, but in the spirit of Jewish cooking and holidays, why don’t you treat your audience and make Hamentaschen. Relive your days at Temple Beth El…Purim is tomorrow! Looking forward to a good recipe.

  10. Murray’s Bagels also make a fantastic rugelach. If you crave that home cooking and don’t want to do all the rolling yourself.

  11. My grandmother made these every Christmas and I, too, never really liked them. We’re Slovak. Our three versions involved nuts and apricot jam and this dark purple jam that was some berry … ? We would cut them with a squiggly circle pizza-cutter thing and I would wrap them.

    Still, though, it takes a bit of faith to make something you never really cared for and serve it up to adoring students/teachers/people on the street. Nice job!

  12. They make easy bake ovens specifically for boys now. They are called “queasy bake” ovens and the color scheme is green and purple. The cake mixes are for things like dirt cake with gummy worms. We have one in our kitchen, and the small people (both boys) enjoy it a lot.

  13. Those look great! My mum loves rugelach more than any other baked good (with me, the baked good addict, being the opposite, although I do think rugelachs are tasty). And TAKE THE MONEY!

  14. have you thought about trading in the “amateur” apron for a “professional” toque? i would make a pilgrimage to “adam’s rugelach factory.”

    u.e.

  15. I am so glad I know that your mom had boob fever. Anything you want to tell us about your Dad’s colon while you are at it?

  16. These look great. My grandmother used to make them, a few different flavors. I love the ones with the jam, some are too dry.

    On another note. Have you ever looked back and wished that you had gotten more out of a situation when you had the chance? I used to work for Ina (aka the Barefoot Contessa) in East Hampton in 1989 or 1990. It’s a long time ago. It was a lot of fun, but I wished I had stuck my head into the kitchen more often!

  17. Please make Rainbow Cookies! Or go in search of excellent ones in NYC! The best I’ve ever had are from the bakery (yes, the only one) in Montauk.

  18. Wow, Adam! Thanks for the post on those “terrific-tasting” rugelach. I made them yesterday and so divine…too bad the only attractive, Jewish guy(up for seduction)…I know is somewhere in NY… :-)

    I love your blog…am from SF but yours RULE…ssssh.

    Cheers,

    Leveriza

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