Margaret has a passion for cooking, baking, and creating recipes that satisfy her cravings for delicious and indulgent food.
What Are Rugelach?
Rugelach are a cross between cookies and miniature pastries, made with a rich, buttery cream cheese dough encasing a sweet filling. Traditionally, they are served on Jewish holidays, like Hanukkah, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah. However, they are wonderful any time of year, and you certainly don't have to be Jewish to lose your heart—and your tummy—to these delicious treats. In fact, during the winter holidays, my Christmas cookie assortment always includes these delicious strawberry raisin walnut rugelach.
A Cherished Family Recipe
The treasured family recipe comes from my maternal grandmother, whose parents emigrated from Russia to the United States in the early 1900s when she was just a few years old. Grandma learned how to bake by watching, helping, and asking questions of her mother and grandmother. These Old World homemakers didn't use standardized measuring cups or spoons for their baking. Experience taught them much of each ingredient to start with and how to adjust the amounts and proportions, if necessary, based on the appearance and consistency of the dough, batter, or filling.
My grandmother's rugelach were delectable, and their sugar-crusted dough and unusual filling also made them unique. The recipe existed only in her memory. So, when grandma was getting on in years and had less energy for baking, my mother asked for her help in working out standardized measurements for the cookies' ingredients. This would enable not only mom, my sister, and me but also future generations to continue the tradition of baking grandma's beloved rugelach cookies.
Mom wrote down the ingredients and measurements in the back of her favorite cookbook, which I inherited, but added only minimal directions. So, I volunteered to write out a complete recipe, including detailed directions and success tips based on my personal experience.
I've decided to publish this precious family recipe of my grandmother's strawberry raisin walnut rugelach so that other parents and grandparents can also share the joy of baking these wonderful cookies for—and with—their children and grandchildren.
What Makes These Rugelach Special
There are many traditional fillings for rugelach, including poppy seed, apricot jam and nuts, chocolate, dates and walnuts, cinnamon sugar, and nuts with honey. In my grandmother's recipe, the cream cheese dough is unsweetened, rolled out thinly on a board sprinkled with granulated sugar, cut into long, narrow triangles, then filled with a thick mixture of raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and strawberry jam or preserves and rolled up like a croissant.
When the cookies are in the oven, the granulated sugar embedded in the outside of the dough becomes crunchy. It also caramelizes on the bottoms of the cookies for added crunch.
It's the contrast between the unsweetened, slightly tangy cream cheese dough and the sweet, rich filling and caramelized bottoms that makes these rugelach extra special.
Traditionally Served on Jewish Holidays, but Delicious Any Time of Year
Rugelach usually are served on Jewish holidays, like Hanukkah, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah. But for many years, I have baked a lovely assortment of holiday treats, including these rugelach and some very special Christmas cookies from my extensive recipe collection, and packaged them in pretty, doily-lined tins to give as holiday gifts to family and friends of all faiths. I have often been asked for some of the cookie recipes, and the rugelach recipe is the one that has been requested most often.
A Note About the Yield
I've never tried to count the number of cookies I've gotten from this recipe, which varies depending on how thinly the dough is rolled and how large a circle template you use. In our family, we have always made them bite-sized. While I can't quantify the yield precisely, this recipe makes quite a lot of bite-sized rugelach.
Prep Time: I've never timed it.
Total Time: Relax and enjoy the process!
Yield: Depends on what size you cut the triangles of dough
For the dough:
- 8 ounces whipped cream cheese
- 2 sticks softened butter (my grandmother used margarine)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup strawberry preserves or thick strawberry jam (do NOT use jelly!)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
For rolling out the dough:
- Granulated sugar
- Make the dough the day before. Place the ingredients for the dough in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on slow-medium speed until well combined, scraping the bowl and beaters every so often to ensure the flour is incorporated. (The dough will be sticky at this point, but it will firm up nicely after it has been chilled in the refrigerator.)
- Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Pull up the sides of the plastic wrap and press the mixture together firmly into a ball and then a thick, squarish patty, working through the plastic wrap, so the dough doesn't touch your hands. (The heat from your hands would soften the dough, and it would stick to them.) Wrap the patty of dough tightly in the plastic wrap and chill it overnight. Keep the dough chilled until you're ready to roll it out.
- The next day, make the filling by mixing all the filling ingredients well in a small bowl. The filling will be extremely thick.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets (baking sheets) with unbleached baking parchment or a silicone non-stick baking mat (even if you are using non-stick baking sheets).
- Remove the well-chilled dough from the refrigerator and loosen the plastic wrap. Press a rolling pin into the top of the dough through the plastic wrap, which will keep the dough from sticking to the pin. Lift, move and rotate the pin after each press to make the squarish patty evenly thinner and wider, loosening the plastic as necessary to minimize wrinkles. Unwrap this thinner patty and cut it into quarters. Note: Do not try to roll out the dough yet. Just press it thinner with the rolling pin, as described.
- Sprinkle your rolling surface with a generous, even layer of granulated sugar. Place one of these pieces of dough on the sugar-coated rolling surface. Re-wrap the rest of the dough and return it to the refrigerator. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible without tearing it, using a chilled stainless steel rolling pin. If you don't have one, cover a wooden rolling pin with a rolling pin sleeve, also called a rolling pin cover, and then sprinkle it lightly with flour and work it into the knitted fabric sleeve or cover, so there's no loose flour on the surface. This will help keep the dough from sticking when you roll it out, so you won't need to add flour or sugar to the top of the dough (which would change its consistency and prevent it from sealing to itself when you roll up the triangles).
- Using an 8-inch plate or 8-inch round cake pan as a template, cut a circle from the dough. Cut the dough circle into eight identical wedges/triangles. (You can make the circles of dough whatever diameter you like, but 8-inch circles yield small rugelach, which is how my family has always made them.) Press any small pieces of trimmed dough trimmings into a ball, rewrap and refrigerate it.
- Place a small amount of filling onto the wide base of one of the dough triangles, centering the filling on the dough about 1/2 inch down from that edge. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of filling if you cut eight triangles from 8-inch circles of dough; a little goes a long way.
- Fold the edges of the dough over the filling, then fold over the end with the filling and tuck in the sides again. Then roll toward the point of the triangle, keeping the point centered as though you were making a crescent roll. The finished cookie should look like a closed envelope. Be gentle to avoid tearing the thin dough. Pinch the edges of the dough "envelope" firmly to seal in the filling, checking to ensure that there aren't any gaps. Repeat with the remaining seven wedges/triangles of dough and filling, then place the eight rugelach 1 inch apart on a lined baking sheet.
- Cut another 8-inch circle from the sheet of dough, if possible, and repeat. When you don't have enough dough left to cut an 8-inch circle, knead together the leftover rolled-out dough with another chilled quarter of the original dough patty. (If the dough softens too much from the kneading, wrap it in plastic and chill for 20 minutes to firm up again.) Roll the chilled dough out as thinly as possible, cut out 8-inch circles, cut them into wedges, add the filling and roll up as before. Continue until you no longer have enough dough left for an 8-inch circle. (Gather and roll out the last of the scraps, sprinkle the dough lightly with cinnamon sugar, cut into strips, twist them if desired, and bake as extra treats.)
- Place the pastries an inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven just until the pastries begin to turn color at the edges and the undersides are a deep golden brown. The tops should remain pale and just barely tinged with golden color. Cool the cookies on wire racks for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the pans and finish cooling them directly on the wire racks.
- Repeat with the remaining chilled dough and filling. Enjoy them while they're fresh, or wrap them tightly in plastic freezer wrap, place them inside a plastic food storage freezer container and freeze.
Keep the dough chilled until the cookies go in the oven.
- It's important not to let the cream cheese dough warm up too much before it's baked. So, when you remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, cut off only the amount you are going to roll out immediately, then rewrap and put the rest back in the fridge to stay cold.
- Right after you roll out and trim the dough, gather the trimmings into a ball, then rewrap and refrigerate them.
- It's also important to keep the chilled dough as cold as possible while you're rolling it out. I used to use a marble rolling pin, which worked well because marble is naturally cool, but I found it too heavy and cumbersome to work with. I highly recommend using this stainless steel rolling pin, which can be chilled in the refrigerator or freezer ahead of time. I've found that it does a great job of keeping the rugelach dough cool while it's being rolled out, weighs less than a marble rolling pin, and provides a better sense of how much pressure to apply than a rolling pin with handles.
Don't use too much filling.
- Even if you seal the edges of the dough very well, if there is even a tiny tear or gap, a bit of filling may ooze out during baking. A very small amount of filling oozing out is no problem. But if there is more than that, your pastries won't taste the way they should because they will be missing most of the strawberry preserves and brown sugar from the filling, and the jam and brown sugar that comes out will burn.
Always line the cookie sheets with baking parchment or silicone baking mats.
- It's essential to line the cookie sheets with either unbleached baking parchment paper or reusable silicone non-stick baking mats. Even if you use well-greased, nonstick baking sheets without adding parchment paper or a silicone liner, when the granulated sugar embedded in the dough's surface caramelizes on the bottom of the cookies, it will essentially glue the cookies to the pan.
- If you prefer using parchment paper, I highly recommend getting flat, pre-cut sheets of unbleached baking parchment. They are safer (from a health perspective) than bleached parchment paper, and unlike parchment cut from a roll, the pre-cut sheets don't curl up. Of the brands I have tried and recommend— the Comfylife 16x12-inch unbleached baking parchment sheets—are the best value. They also come in a box, so they stay perfectly flat until I'm ready to use them.
- If you are a fan of reusable cookie sheet liners, I've found that the set of two AmazonBasics silicone non-stick baking mats works as well as my old, much more expensive Silpat mats. Best of all, a set of two AmazonBasics nonstick mats costs significantly less than just one Silpat liner of equivalent size. They also have nice, wide, nonwoven silicone borders that can be trimmed to size if needed (as I did with the smaller mats I bought for my tabletop oven).
Make the Dough and Filling Ahead and Bake Later
The dough for this recipe needs to be made in advance and refrigerated at least overnight, which means you can't just whip up some rugelach when a neighbor stops by for coffee or you have last-minute dinner guests. It's also not always easy to find enough uninterrupted time to make the dough, chill it overnight, and then make the filling, roll out, trim, and cut the dough into wedges, fill them, seal them, and bake them the next day. Fortunately, both the cream cheese dough and the jam, brown sugar, raisin, and walnut filling freeze extremely well and don't take long to defrost.
How to Freeze the Dough
To freeze the dough for a week or so, wrap and seal the dough tightly in a sheet of plastic freezer wrap (Freeze-Tite works better than any other brand I've tried), then use a second sheet to wrap and seal it again.
For longer storage (up to several months, at least), wrap and seal the dough in a single sheet of plastic freezer wrap, then place it inside a freezer-safe, airtight food storage container. When you're ready to bake, thaw the dough in the refrigerator so that it will remain chilled when you roll it out on the granulated sugar.
How to Freeze the Filling
Scrape the prepared filling into a small, airtight freezer container and freeze for up to six months. Thaw it at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before filling the cookies.
© 2013 Margaret Schindel