already deeply saddened that cherry season is now but a distant memory, i turned on Food Network over the weekend to catch an episode of Iron Chef America. as is the tradition, the chairman melodramatically waved his hand to reveal the secret ingredient: mounds of luscious, fresh cherries. Bings. Rainiers. Montmorencys. sheer torture. i could defrost some of the pie filling i put up this summer. no, exercise some self discipline; you’re saving that for the holidays. hmmmm. i could open the five-pound bag of tart, dried Montmorency cherries that just arrived from Cherry Republic. brilliant! not really, but it was a sound alternative to preserving the remaining quantity of precious cherry pie filling. and i knew immediately what i wanted to bake: rugelach.
rugelach—or little twists in Yiddish—are rolled, crescent-shaped cookies filled with dried fruit (like raisins or currents or apricots), chocolate, preserves or a combination thereof. when i was still quite small, my dad and i would go on a weekly run to our local Jewish bakery, where Bill, one of dad’s World War II Army buddies, served as the head baker. from my tiny vantage point, the bakery’s endlessly long, shiny silver and glass cases filled with pastries and bagels intrigued and overwhelmed. Bill made it simple by handing me a rugelach. sticky and sweet, the cookie made an indelible impression. but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they became a standard in my holiday cookie-baking repertoire.
i love the process of making rugelach: aside from the fun of playing with dough, when i brush the preserves on it, i feel like an artist mixing paint on an easel. yeah, i should probably stick to writing. the recipe below is a little twist on Martha’s: the plump, moist, puckery dried cherries serve as the perfect counterpoint to the sweeter Hero black cherry preserves i slather on the rugelach dough.
consume this tangy, sweet treat with a cup of tea or coffee or a big glass of milk. i can never eat just one. or two. i used up all my self discipline on saving the pie filling.
a variation based on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook i encourage you to look at the original recipe for filling variations; i’m sure you can come up with some cool ideas of your own. enjoy!
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
2 1/3 cups organic unbleached flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup walnuts (pecans work, too)
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup Hero black cherry preserves, melted (i just leave it out at room temp)
2 cups tart, dried cherries
1 egg, lightly beaten
fine sanding sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling
in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl.
add the sugar and salt; beat until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating to combine after each.
with the mixer on low speed, add the flour to combine.
mix in vanilla.
turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
divide dough into three equal pieces, and shape each into flattened disks.
wrap the disks in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
preheat the oven to 325F.
line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and set aside.
for the filling: in a food processor (i use the small, three-cup KitchenAid chopper), pulse together the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt until finely ground; set aside.
on a lightly floured work surface (i use a roll pat mat), roll out one disk of dough into a 12 x 8-inch rectangle (long side facing you), about 1/4-inch thick.
brush the top of the dough evenly with the preserves.
sprinkle 1/3 of the walnut mixture onto the layer of preserves; use the back of a spoon to press the walnuts into the dough.
sprinkle on 1/3 of the dried cherries; press the cherries gently into the dough.
tightly roll the dough into a log.
place seam-side down on pan, pinching the ends of each side of the log together. tuck ends under log.
repeat the process for the remaining two dough disks. (place the logs 2 inches apart on the pan.)
chill the pan with the logs in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
with a long, sharp knife, at 1-inch intervals, make 3/4-inch deep cuts crosswise in the dough. make sure not to cut all the way through the log.
lightly beat the remaining egg, and brush over the tops of the rugelach; sprinkle with sanding sugar.
bake each batch until lightly golden brown, about 35 – 40 minutes (in my oven this takes only about 30 minutes; watch over carefully, so the rugelach doesn’t overcook).
place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 20 – 30 minutes in the pan.
transfer the logs one at a time to a cutting board, and slice all the way through.
return cookies to rack to finish cooling.
Martha’s recipe states rugelach can be kept in an airtight container for up to four days. i’ve found that they keep really well for a week. and they are perfect gift to ship for the holidays.