Picture this: You’re toweling off after your morning shower, your oatmeal in the microwave, looking into the mirror and thinking as per usual, “my god, am I pale. When is vacation again?” when you hear this noise from the living room. As you get closer, so does the noise, a fluttering, scratching and absolutely frantic in every little way sound. Is it (groan, another) mouse? Why does it sound like a bird? How could there be a bird in the wall? What if it’s stuck? It really sounds spazzed out in there. Calm down, Deb. Surely it’s nothing. It’s probably just a bird on the outside of your thin circa-1870 tenement walls. Sit down, eat your oatmeal, everything is going to be… #$%!!!! BIRD! BIRD! BIRD! BIRD! A BIRD FLEW OUT OF THE RADIATOR. Omg, it is THROWING itself against the window. Halp! HALP!
You do the logical thing, and call your husband, who is not yet at work, how dare he leave you at home with a WILD ANIMAL banging into the walls. You open the other window, wide, afraid to go near the one that the bird is throwing itself against because, duh, you’ve seen the movie. But it won’t pay any attention to that window, it wants to go out this window and you think, “wow, you really aren’t that bright, are you?” but no, you do not utter the word “birdbrain.” You know who’s in charge here. You finally get your husband on the phone; he’s laughing, you mentally file divorce papers.
You calm your nerves long enough to open the window that the bird is trying to exit through, which sends it cowering behind your jade plants. Now both windows are wide open (and the front door, which technically doesn’t lead outside, but whatever, this is not your problem) and what does the bird do? Nothing. This goes on for about 15 minutes. “Come on little birdie!” you reason with your new roommate. “Fly! Fly!” “Out the window!” “Come on now, I know you wanna!” “You don’t want to be here any more than I want you to be.” “Come out from behind the jade plant.” And finally, “I am TRYING to help you but you have GOT to help yourself too!” At which point it flies into the middle of the living room and lands on the floor and you’re all “No! The OTHER way! Nooo!” (imagining it making a nest out of your cashmere sweaters), and it turns around and whooshes out the open window.
And then you pour some Baileys over your oatmeal. Uh, kidding. Actually, you update your blog. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Speaking of jittery experiences… ha, no. I will not insult your attention with a painfully awkward segue. Let’s try again: In a relatively less traumatizing experience, some of you may remember a trip I took to The Martha Stewart Show a couple months ago. Despite the fact that I felt both hoodwinked and bamboozled by not being warned that we were going to be called out by the show and then tried to pretend it never happened, believe it or not, the show that day wasn’t all about us. Really!
In fact, Martha had as guest the two women who own the Sweet On You Bakery in Stamford, Conn. who made for Martha their signature pinwheel rugelach cookies. Now I love rugelach, well more than anyone should, and I spent most of the time they were cooking these questioning why anyone would fix what wasn’t broken (despite the fact that I do this all of the time).
Traditional rugelach–and hold tight, because I’ll have a recipe for these within a week, promise–are shaped more like tiny crescent rolls, but these women specifically said that they never liked how the centers got soft. But I love the soft centers! I thought, and wrote off these cookies before I even tried them.
As the credits rolled, these rugelach were passed out to audience members and guess what? They were absolutely amazing. Like, “Holy Wow OMG” good. Like, “I can’t wait to blog about these” good, which pretty much brings us up to last night.
If possible to imagine, they’re even better than I remember. They manage to be thin as a cookie while still tasting exactly like traditional rugelach–ever-so-slightly soft center and all. They’ll make your apartment smell amazing, too good even, as you might find yourself with an unwanted guest the next morning. Should this happen–and don’t say I didn’t warn you–the only advice I can give you is to cover the cookies (literally and figuratively) and don’t bother reasoning with it.
Rugelach are easily my favorite cookie, but they’re incredibly pesky to make in their traditional shape, which require that multiple circles of dough have to be rolled, spread with warmed jam then dry ingredients, cut into 8 or 16 tiny wedges, each individually rolled into crescents that are brushed with an egg wash and then, just when you thought you were done, sprinkled with more sugar before baking. A-yee. These rugelach use the same exact dough and ingredients, but save you some time by allowing you to roll it into two large logs which can be sliced and baked as needed. Plus, they’re pretty as hell. In the holiday season, I like to make a few logs and keep them in the freezer until needed. Let them warm up at room temperature for 30 minutes for easiest slicing.
Although apricot jam, raisins and walnuts are traditional, this doesn’t mean that any other jam, dried fruit or nut couldn’t be used as a replacement. We’ve used dried tart cherries instead of raisins because my husband hates raisins so much that I am certain one kicked him or something in a past life. We’ve also used dried currants, which were so tiny they required no additional chopping, and we’ve also swapped half with mini chocolate chips, to please the chocolate obsessives in the house.
New notes, added 12/22/14: Additional tips to help with rolling, slicing, cooling and restoring shape after baked, if needed. I found that only half of the final cinnamon-sugar was needed for dipping, and have adjusted below accordingly.
New note, 12/17: I found many ways to streamline and quicken the process of making rugelach dough. Those tips work here for the dough assembly (namely, no softening needed if you have a food processor). You can then continue with the rolling, filling and slicing instructions below.
Makes about 50 cookies
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup golden raisins, or another dried fruit of your choice, chopped fine
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or another nut of your choice, toasted first if you’ve got time
1/2 cup apricots or raspberry preserves, heated and cooled slightly
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and continue processing until fully incorporated. Add flour and salt and pulse just until dough comes together.
Don’t have a food processor? A stand mixer or electric beaters will work just as well. Beat butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Add sugar, beat until combined. Scrape bowl down very well; I find cream cheese likes to leave hidden deposits at the bottom of the bowl. Add salt and flour and mix until just combined, with no flour visible. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make filling. In a medium bowl, toss together granulated and brown sugars, cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts; set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick, roughly 12 or so inches wide. (I find making it wider makes it harder to manage or store.) Spread a thin layer of preserves evenly over dough; sprinkle with filling mixture. Roll dough into a tight log beginning with one of the long sides; wrap in plastic wrap. Transfer dough log baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining piece of dough. Place dough logs in refrigerator; let chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar for the topping; set aside.
Slice chilled dough logs crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Toss each cookie in the cinnamon-sugar mixture with a fork to easily shake excess off. On the first batch, place cookies 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets to gauge how much yours will spread; I usually find that I only need them an inch or so apart for the rest of the trays.
Bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. When you remove them from the oven, if any “tails” or layers have sprung loose, you can use your fingers to press the cookie back into a round shape. Let rest on baking sheet for another 2 minutes after that, after which they will set in their re-formed shape, before transferring cookies to a cooling rack which has been lightly coated with a nonstick spray. (It helps keep their warm jammy edges from sticking.) Let cool completely on racks. Repeat with remaining pinwheel dough and cinnamon-sugar.
Once cool, cookies can be packed away and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for two weeks.