The single most frequently asked (possibly rhetorical but I’ve never let that stop me before) question in regards to the sweet recipes on this site is “How do you not eat all of these?” And I finally have an answer: They’re not rugelach. I love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, I think snickerdoodles are wildly underrated, but rugelach — those impossibly flaky Central European crescent cookies — are the single item in the category of foods that are just not allowed to be here ever, because there’s something about the glorious harmony of it all (the salty cheese, the tart jam, the cinnamon aroma, the crunch, and if you love your people, the chocolate, gaaah) that it will not be safe with me. Or I will not be safe with it. Which is unfortunate, because I have an avalanche of rugelach in my apartment right now.
Previously, the only things that prohibited me from an all-rugelach diet were the fact that: they are never as good from a bakery, even a great one*, as they are homemade and that they’re pretty tedious to make. Butter and cream cheese must be softened, which takes forever in the winter. The dough has to be beaten with a mixer, then chilled, then rolled out, one-quarter at a time, then spread with jam and nuts and dried fruit and, because you love your friends, chocolate and then cut into 16 wedges and each rolled individually then arranged on a baking sheet, brushed with egg or cream wash, sprinkled with more sugar, baked and cooled then repeated three more times with the remaining dough and even I don’t love them enough to do that more than once a year.
This year I set out to prove that they could be made with much less work and much less tedium, and unfortunately (for me, send help) succeeded. Because you don’t obsess over these pastry wonders as much as I do without picking up a few things along the way, first, let me throw down some bossy Rugelach Knowledge:
- There’s only one cream cheese dough recipe. You may say you love Ina’s or Martha’s or Maida’s or Rose Levy’s (I do too) but they are all exactly the same: 1/2 pound butter, 1/2 pound cream cheese, just shy of 1/2 pound flour (2 cups) and a little bit of salt. There are versions that use other kinds of tangy dairy — farmer’s, quark, and even sour cream — but the formula is the same. Trust it; it’s perfect.
- Many people add sugar to the dough. You should not. The beauty of rugelach is in the contrast between the faintly salty dough and the sweet, nutty, aromatic and lightly tart fillings. Don’t even try to argue with me over this.
- All rugelach worth eating leak because the ones that don’t are scant on fillings and that is unacceptable. Shrug off the mess and focus on all the good stuff that stayed inside.
- If you have a food processor, you can make rugleach dough in under 60 seconds. You don’t even need to warm the ingredients up first. [Imagine the praise-hands emoji inserted here.]
- Rugelach don’t need to be rolled into painstaking crescents to be amazing; in fact, I had a little too much fun coming up with new, pretty ways to shape them, our favorites are what we are calling the pull-apart rugelach ring. Bonus: It’s the simplest thing since rolled dough.
Plus, the two new ones I learned this week:
Now, let’s get to work!
* but I fear Breads is upending that theory and it’s too close to my apartment for me to argue that I “walked it off” on the way home. Hey, are you visiting New York City this winter? Check out my other favorites over here.
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Rugelach fillings are as flexible and creative as you are. Here, we use some jam, cinnamon-sugar, and a mix of chopped nuts, dried fruit and chocolate as the “coarse” mix but you can swap this with 1 cup of whatever you’d prefer. I use an egg wash for shine on top, but if eggs are an issue for you, brushing some cream over the top works too. In regards to the dough, I just want to underline that unlike pie crusts, puffed pastry or croissants, the flakiness here is not something it takes magic and/or advanced skill to create; you don’t need to cut cold butter into flour, envelope, roll, or anything else. No matter how you blend it, the results will be incomparably flaky.
Makes 40 to 48 rugelach
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 pound (225 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 pound (1 8-ounce or 225-gram package) cream cheese
2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips or finely chopped bitter- or semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup toasted nuts, chopped small (I used walnuts)
1/3 cup dried fruit, chopped small; (I used tiny dried currants, no chopping needed)
1/2 to 3/4 cup jam (I used seedless raspberry, apricot is more traditional)
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water or milk
Remaining cinnamon-sugar from above
Make the dough:
In a food processor: Place flour and salt in work bowl fitted with standard blade. Pulse to combine. Add cream cheese, chopped into large chunks, and run machine until it’s fully dispersed into the flour. Add butter in large chunks and run machine until dough starts to clump. Dump out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a flattish disc.
With a mixer: Let butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature. Beat both together until light and fluffy. Beat in salt. Add flour, beating until it disappears. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a flattish disc.
Both methods: Chill dough until totally firm — about 2 hours in the fridge you can hasten this along in the freezer for about 30 minutes. (Dough keeps in fridge for up to a week, and in freezer much longer.)
Form the pastries:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
Stir cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish. Combine coarse mixture of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit in a second dish.
Divide dough into quarters and roll first quarter out on a floured counter into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 7 to 8 inches long, with the wider side to you. Thinly spread dough to all but the furthest 1/4 inch from you — which seals better once rolled if bare — with about 2 to 3 tablespoons jam. (I find that with seedless raspberry, 2T covers nicely but with thicker jam, you’ll need 3T to coat it thinly. If your jam is difficult to spread, you can warm it gently in the microwave for a few seconds first.) Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar mixture, then 4 tablespoons coarse fruit and nut mixture.
Roll dough from the 12-inch side in front of you into as tight as a log as you can, using your fingers to lightly seal the ends onto the log. Repeat with remaining logs.
Now, choose your final shape:
To make classic, easy sliced cookies: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. Cut log into 10 to 12 even slices. Arrange on prepared baking sheets a couple inches apart from each other.
To make a ring of spirals: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. Cut log into 10 to 12 even slices. Arrange them in a ring formation on prepared baking sheets so that each link touches. Do note: This will be the hardest to lift in one piece from the baking sheet once cool.
To make a pull-apart wreath: Form log into a ring, connecting the ends and smoothing the dough to seal the shape. Place ring in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. On prepared baking sheet, cut 10 to 12 evenly spaced apart notches in ring, cutting through all but the last 1/4-inch of log so it stays connected.
To make a pull-apart log: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. On prepared baking sheet, cut 10 to 12 evenly spaced apart notches in log, alternating sides that you cut from, cutting through all but the last 1/4-inch of log so it stays connected.
To make a split log twisted together like a babka: Don’t. It was a flopped-open mess. We couldn’t even eat it. [biggest lie, ever]
For all shapes: Brush top(s) lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a total of 1 teaspoon of the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Individual cookies need to cool only a few minutes on baking sheet before they can be transferred to a cooling rack but larger rings, wreaths and logs do best if they cool at least 3/4 of the way to solidify more before attempting to carefully transfer them.
Cooled cookies keep in a container at room temperature for a week, and in the freezer for a month. Just not around here.
More do-ahead tips: Your filled log of rugelach is also easy to freeze until needed (I did this with the two I had left). Wrap well, and you can slice it into cookies straight from the freezer, baking them while still frozen — you’ll just new a few extra minutes in the oven.