One of the recipes that I have talked about making since I first started blogging is rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry that has been a favorite dessert in my family for generations. Last weekend, I decided to finally take on the challenge of making the dish, with the help of both my mother and my Grandma Susan.
Rugelach originated in the Eastern European Jewish communities, and came into fruition as cooking with sour cream became widespread. The dough is made with sour cream (or in the more recent, Americanized version, cream cheese), and then rolled into flat circles, covered with fillings, and then rolled into crescent-shaped cookies. The name “rugelach” is Yiddish, deriving from the word “rugel,” meaning royal, and are loosely associated with Hanukkah celebrations, despite being consumed year-round.
When my grandmother was growing up, her next-door neighbor, Fanny, used to make huge batches of rugelach and bring them over to my grandma’s house for her and her family to enjoy. My great-grandmother, Ethel Weinick, copied the recipe on her old typewriter, and the yellowed recipe now has a place of honor in my grandma’s own recipe box. My grandpa, Lloyd, also remembers his grandmother making the treats for him when he was a child.
Rugelach was made occasionally for my mother and uncle when they were growing up by both my grandma and my great-grandmother, and was made for me and my sister as well. However, Grandma Susan explained that since rugelach is traditionally associated with orthodox jewish celebrations, they did not have it often since they were not as strict, and therefore did not celebrate many of the orthodox holidays.
I distinctly remember making rugelach with my grandma, mom, and sister when I was little. I loved getting messy while mixing the dough, and I’m pretty sure that more of the filling ended up in our stomachs than on the dough, but my grandma didn’t seem to care. After all of the fond memories associated with the treats, we all had high expectations for the recent batch.
To make our rugelach, we made the dough using cream cheese, and then rolled it into balls, which we then let chill for a few hours. When it was time to craft the cookies, we rolled the balls out into flat circles (think pizza crust shape and size), and then covered the top in apricot jam, and a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Once the dough was evenly coated, we took a knife and cut the dough into triangular slices, and rolled them up from the wider side to the point to make crescent-shaped cookies. We brushed the top with melted butter, sprinkled more cinnamon and sugar on the top, and then baked them for about twenty minutes, until they were golden brown.
And the rugelach did not disappoint. The dough was perfectly moist, the filling melted and gooey, and the top was crispy and light. With each bite, I was reminded of the rich Jewish heritage which I am a part of, and the generations of children in my family who enjoyed the same cookie made by their grandparents as a treat. The rugelach recipe continues to live on, fueling memories and celebrations both past and present.