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As Hanukkah and Christmas overlap this year, it’s a fine time to share my beloved recipe for rugelach. Before I became Jewish, I had always loved the Christmas cookie baking traditions—from the aromas that filled the house to all the flavors and textures of the different cookies. And all the sampling, of course. Celebrating my first Hanukkah made me yearn for a sweet little bite to bake for the holiday. Hanukkah-themed sugar cookies fell way short, as did a few other strategies. Then I came upon rugelach (the name for which likely comes from the Yiddish word for “royal”). These American-Jewish delicacies that are part cookie and part pastry captured my baking heart, and I’ve made this recipe every year since. It beautifully combines a delicate texture with the comforting flavors of cinnamon, pecans and a kiss of apricot. Rugelach would go well on any cookie tray and a tin full of these makes a wonderful gift.
Cream Cheese Rugelach with Cinnamon and Brown Sugar
Reprinted with permission from “Meatballs and Matzah Balls: Recipes and Reflections from a Jewish and Italian Life” by Marcia Friedman
1. Cream the cheese and butter in a large bowl until smooth and light. Add ¼ cup granulated sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the flour until just combined. The dough will be very sticky. Add a little additional flour if needed to make it cohesive.
2. Divide it into four equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place one ball on a large piece of plastic wrap, gently press into a disk shape, and then enclose in the plastic. Repeat with the other three balls. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 20 minutes.
3. Make the filling by combining 6 Tbsp. of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, ¾ tsp. cinnamon and the pecans. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
4. Remove one disk from the refrigerator; unwrap and place dough on a floured surface. Gently roll into an approximate 9-inch circle. Spread a generous ½ Tbsp. of the apricot preserves over the dough to about ¼ inch from the edge. Sprinkle evenly with a scant ½ cup of brown-sugar filling and gently press. Cut the circle into 12 wedges. Starting at the wide edge, roll up each triangle. Place the formed pastries seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes or freeze for about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Make the topping by combining the 1½ Tbsp. granulated sugar and the ½ tsp. cinnamon.
7. Brush each pastry with the egg and milk mixture, and sprinkle lightly with sugar-cinnamon topping. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until well browned. Remove from oven, and let rest on the cookie sheet for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring rugelach to a wire rack. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Yield: 48 rugelach
Note: Assembled pastries can be frozen and baked at a later time. Defrost partially before placing in oven, and allow extra time for baking.
For summer, we are taking inspiration from the layers of an Italian lasagna as well as the sweetness of kugel. Lasagna is of course a classic Italian dish. Its creamy, rich filling is a perfect comfort food for the chilly days of fall and winter. In Jewish kitchens, noodle kugel (Lokshen Kugel) makes an appearance several times a year. It is a great dairy option for a Yom Kippur break fast and a favorite for Shavuot when we eat dairy.
These mini sweet summer lasagna-kugels let you take the in-season fruits of summer and layer them between a delicious ricotta filling and pasta. They are great served warm with some grilled fruit for a sweet and light meal at breakfast, lunch or dinner, or they can be enjoyed straight from the fridge for a little after-camp snack or picnic treat. This can be made as a single dish in a large pan or as individual minis in a muffin tin.
Sweet Summer Mini Kugels
1. Begin by cooking and straining the pasta so it has time to cool. Add 1 Tbsp. of sugar and the vanilla into the pasta water and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (as noted on the box). If you are using muffin tins for individual kugels, I recommend using the egg noodles because they fit more easily into the cups. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
2. You can use preserves if time is an issue, but this is a perfect way to use up fruit that is becoming a bit overripe or isn’t so pretty anymore and you want to cook with it. In a small saucepan, add the fruit (peel and all is OK) and a tablespoon of water. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low until the fruit softens. Then take the lid off and cook on low until the fruit breaks down into the consistency of a compote or apple sauce.
Fruits with skins like apricots will separate from the skins and you can just pull out the skins from the pot. If you like your kugel to be a bit sweeter, then add some sugar to the mixture a teaspoon at a time to taste.
3. Set the preserves aside in a bowl to cool.
4. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, lemon zest and 2 Tbsp. of sugar. If you are using the egg noodles, once the pasta has cooled, add 1 Tbsp. of the ricotta mixture to the pasta and toss to coat.
5. Now you layer your kugel (like a traditional lasagna). If you are using lasagna noodles, add 1 Tbsp. of the ricotta mixture to the bottom of a 9×9 inch glass baking dish. Then add a layer of noodles, a layer of the ricotta mixture, a layer of fruit, a layer of lasagna noodles and a thin layer of the ricotta on top.
If you are using egg noodles and a muffin tin, put cupcake liners in each spot. Take the noodles that have been tossed with a little of the ricotta mixture and put a thin layer of them on the bottom. Add a layer of ricotta and a layer of fruit. The advantage of muffin tins is that you can do a variety of flavors. I did cherry, raspberry and apricot. Top the fruit with a layer of the egg noodles.
6. Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes for the individual kugels until the top is lightly golden brown. For the larger kugel, cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Cook time depends on how juicy your fruit is. The top will be golden brown and the fruit will bubble up a little when done.
7. For the topping which can be drizzled on top, mix 1/2 cup of sour cream with 1 Tbsp. of sugar. Drizzle over slices at the table.
Serve with a fruit salad or some grilled fruit for a full, fruity, sweet meal.