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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.
When I was about to enter second grade and my brother was about to begin Kindergarten, our parents packed our lives up and moved the family to France for the year. We did it all again four years later as well. At the time, especially in sixth grade, I didn’t appreciate being plucked from my life in North America and put into public school in France where they didn’t celebrate birthdays at school with cupcakes, but rather celebrated each child’s Saint Day. Who knew there was even a Saint Leah?
This was just one of the many adjustments we made, but looking back it was all worth it. There are two things that sweetened the deal at the time: The wonderful French patisseries and spending time hiking in the mountains and foraging for blackberries with my brother and mom, and for mushrooms with my father. My dad and I both still consider mushrooms to be the best treat on earth. And while my father is not a huge fan of dessert, he and I do have a sweet tooth when it comes to candy.
The French biscuits known as palmiers (palm leaves) are sometimes called elephant ears. They are a perfect treat to whip up and bring along for a father’s day picnic or BBQ in celebration of the great guy who raised you, or the guy who is raising your kids. Put them in a basket lined with a cloth napkin and they make the perfect hostess gift.
These petit palmiers can be made either savory or sweet. The sweet version turns these little hearts of puff pastry into lacquered caramelized treats that pastry and candy lovers alike will enjoy. My bubbe used to make delicious biscuits called Nothings; they were light and airy and not too sweet. Adults enjoyed them dipped in coffee (and I just enjoyed sneaking them off the platter). Even though these palmiers are rich with butter from the pastry and have a shiny sugared coating, the light little heart-shaped biscuits remind me of Nothings because they both have a lightness to them and are delicious dipped in coffee.
The sweet version of palmiers are shiny and golden thanks to the caramelization of sugar. The savory version make an impressive appetizer or amuse bouche and bursts with the flavors of summer thanks to the pesto. Either one is a great way to show that you #ChooseLove.
Sweet Petit Palmiers
1. Thaw the puff pastry as directed on the packaging. Usually about 40 minutes or up to 2 or 3 hours. Once almost thawed, preheat oven to 400℉.
2. Line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a piece of parchment paper.
3. Put another piece of parchment paper onto the kitchen counter or a table. Sprinkle 1/3 of your sugar onto the parchment paper on the counter or table.
4. Put your puff pastry on top of the sugared parchment paper.
5. Sprinkle another 1/3 of your sugar over the puff pastry. My children love making treats for family and friends. They take great pride in sharing something they have made themselves or had a hand in making. Let the kids help with the sprinkling of the sugar. They can then also help with rolling the sugar into the dough.
6. With a rolling pin, press the sugar into the dough. Add a pinch of salt, sprinkled over the sugar here.
7. Fold the dough onto itself in thirds lengthwise. It will be folded the same way that it came in the package. If the puff pastry is more square, don’t worry about it. You can cut it in half to make two smaller rectangles.
8. Roll the rectangle out into a larger rectangle. As you can see, it will not be perfect, but you can take a butter knife and trim the edges to create a rectangle again.
9. Sprinkle 1/2 the remaining sugar (the last third of your 1/2 cup) onto the puff pastry and put the rest of the sugar on a small plate or saucer. Without handling the pastry too much, roll the long sides in on themselves until they meet in the middle. They will form one long scroll.
10. Brush a little water along the middle seam to help the rolls stick to one another. Then, with a butter knife cut 1/4 inch slices. The dough will look like snails facing one another. To transform these into hearts, pinch the bottom and press the rounded “shells” of the snails together.
11. Place each heart on the plate of remaining sugar and gently coat both sides of the heart with sugar.
12. Place the hearts about 3/4 inch apart on the tray. Bake for 8 minutes on one side at 400℉. Carefully take the tray out of the oven, and with a fork or butter knife flip the cookies over. They should be a golden caramel color. If the hearts have begun to unravel you can try to reshape them now before cooking the other side. Do be careful as the sugar is very hot. Continue cooking the other side for 5-8 more minutes until they’re dark, golden brown.
13. Take the palmiers out of the oven and cool the tray on a wire rack. If you are cooking a second batch or will be making savory palmiers right away, then carefully pull the parchment paper onto a cooling rack and the cookie sheet will be ready to go with the next batch.
Savory Petit Palmiers
1. Thaw the puff pastry as directed on the packaging. Usually about 40 minutes or up to 2 or 3 hours. Once almost thawed, preheat oven to 400 ℉
2. Line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a piece of parchment paper.
3. Put another piece of parchment paper onto the kitchen counter or a table.
5. Grate Parmesan on a plate or right over the pesto to create a thin layer of cheese.
6. Roll the pastry lengthwise from both sides (as above) until they meet in the middle creating a long double rolled rope (pictured below). These rolls are attached in the middle like a long scroll.
7. Brush the middle with a little water to help the sides stick together. Then (as above) slice the rope into 1/4 inch slices and pinch the bottom to create a heart shape.
8. Beat one egg and brush the beaten egg over the savory pesto hearts.
9. Put the tray into a 400 ℉ oven for 18-20 minutes. You can flip the palmiers 1/2 way through so that they are golden on both sides, but they are just as tasty if you are too busy playing with the leftover dough with the kids to flip them.
For fun, you can try to make words or shapes out of the leftover scraps. Bake them for 12-18 minutes and you’ll have a few extra tasty treats.