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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.
A bagel is naked without a good schmear. The word schmear comes from the Yiddish word “to spread.” In the world of bagels and brunch a schmear has come to mean cream cheese or other, usually cream cheese-based, spreads for bagels.
This quartet of schmears has something for everyone: There’s a vegetarian, smoked salmon, egg & arugula and a sweet schmear. They are perfect to bring to a Shavuot brunch for a crowd or make one or two for a family meal. Dairy plays a central role on Shavuot because the holiday commemorates the revelation of the Torah. The Torah brings with it the rules of Kashrut (Kosher laws) and since it was given on Shabbat there could be no cattle slaughtered, so it would have been a dairy day. The Torah is also a symbol of nourishment like milk for a baby. Although dairy is the base for all four of these schmears, they are each very different, easy to whip up and full of flavor.
There are four schmears because each schmear is made with 1/2 block of cream cheese. You can also make three schmears and leave 1/2 a block of cream cheese plain for the picky eaters at the table.
Salted Lemon and Smoked Salmon Schmear
2. In a small bowl, put the room temperature cream cheese.
3. Slice the smoked salmon into long, thin strips and then slice them again into little cubes.
4. Add the lemon zest and salt to the cream cheese and mash it together with a fork.
5. Once the zest is thoroughly mixed into the cream cheese, carefully mix in the minced smoked salmon. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Vegetarian Tomato Schmear
This can be made vegan with vegan mayonnaise and vegan cream cheese.
2. Sprinkle Kosher salt over the minced tomato.
3. In a small bowl, add mayonnaise and with a rasp or smallest side of a box grater, grate garlic into the mayonnaise. You can also use a garlic press. Mix garlic into the mayonnaise.
4. Add the room temperature cream cheese into the garlic mayonnaise. Mash it all together with a fork until it is uniformly mixed.
5. Mince white onion, about the same size as the tomato. Mix the onion into the cream cheese and then carefully stir in the minced tomato and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Eggs and Arugula Schmear
1. Hard boil two eggs. I like to use the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt method.
2. With a cheese grater, grate the 2 hard boiled eggs into a bowl. Add in salt, sour cream and mustard and mix together. With a fork, mash in the cream cheese. Toss in black pepper (freshly ground if possible).
3. Chop about 1 cup of baby arugula, for 3/4 cup of chopped arugula. I like to hold a small bunch of leaves and with kitchen shears, snip the arugula into the egg and cream cheese mixture. Stir together gently until combined. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Sweet Schmear with Ginger & Blueberries
The last 1/2 block of cream cheese can be left plain or you can play a little with it for something sweet. I chose to add sugar and ginger.
Mash the sugar into the cream cheese with a fork. Grate the ginger into the mixture and serve with a bowl of fresh blueberries.
Spring is here and we can finally enjoy delicious—and healthy—fresh vegetable delicacies, like this Italian-inspired Spring Onion and Asparagus Crostata. What makes it really stand out is its crust—made from a rich cream cheese dough traditionally used in rugelach, the famous Jewish curled-up cookie. You’ll love this savory twist… with spring herbs and caramelized onions.
Spring Onion and Asparagus Crostata
1. Begin by caramelizing the onions. Slice your 2 yellow onions thinly. In a pan over medium heat, cook the sliced onions until they become translucent. Then, put the onions on low and cook for 30-40 minutes stirring occasionally. While the onions cook, prepare your crust.
2. In a mixer, blend cream cheese and butter. Add in the sugar, 1/2 tsp. of salt and 2 Tbsp. of Parmesan. While this is blending, use scissors to snip the chives until you have 1/2 cup of minced chives. Add the all purpose flour and whole wheat flour to the mixer and stir on low so the flour stays in the mixing bowl. When the dough begins to come together, add in the chives. Once the dough forms a ball, take it out of the mixer and wrap it in plastic wrap to make 1 large disc of dough. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can also make the dough a day in advance if you prefer.
3. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Remove your caramelized onions from the pan and let them cool. With a mandolin, a sharp knife or the slicer on your box grater, thinly slice 2 spring onions. Set the onion aside.
4. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan, 1/2 tsp. of salt and pepper. Take the dough out of the fridge. If you have chilled the dough overnight, it may need about 30 minutes on the counter before it is workable.
5. Trim the asparagus by snapping off the thick bottoms. They should snap naturally at the beginning of the tender part of the stalk. Cut the asparagus in half horizontally and then in half again vertically.
5. Cut the dough in half. Roll out one half of the dough into a circle. It does not have to be a perfect circle since a crostata is a rustic dish. The dough should be between 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Spread 1/2 of the caramelized onions around the edge of the dough. Curl the dough over and tuck it into the base of the crostata crust. With scissors, snip little vents along the curled crust. Repeat with the second half of the dough and caramelized onions.
6. Top the crust with 1/2 of the ricotta filling. Layer 1/2 of the spring onion slices on top of the ricotta filling. Carefully arrange the asparagus over the onions. Repeat with the second crust and the other 1/2 of the ricotta filling, spring onion slices and asparagus.
7. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 45-55 minutes. The crust will become golden brown along the edges.
8. Serve with a spring salad. If you have leftover asparagus, you can shave the raw asparagus with a vegetable peeler and top with a homemade salad dressing or whatever dressing you have in your fridge. Look for pea shoots at the grocery store or farmer’s market; they make great spring salads as well.