Apparantly rugelach, made with a cream cheese pastry, is primarily an American phenomenon. Sometime ago I posted about a savory rugelach recipe I made for a boxing day party, and I learned some things about rugelach from comments: In Israel, a croissant-like dough is most widely used. There are variants made with schmalz, rather than butter and/ or cream cheese. Some cream cheese style rugelach also use sour cream. Claudia Roden, Joan Nathan, and Mimi Sheraton have all noted multiple variations. The Second Avenue Deli Cookbook contains a non dairy rugelach made with (ack) tofutti. It seems that a yeast dough makes a more "authentic" Eastern European-style rugelach, and that it is mostly in the US that the cream cheese version is widely available in bakeries, and otherwise popular.
I have tried various recipes in an attempt to approach the very special, crescent shaped cream cheese based rugelach made by my Aunt Yetta. Always delicious, and frequently especially timely, these rugelach arrived in a tin, by mail, to cheer me during several of the most difficult times in my life. I believe they have certain ameliorating powers, in the face of unavoidable disaster, or, for that matter, petty annoyance.
The differently shaped rugelach you see here are the closest I've found so far to Yetta's, as I remember them. Kate Zuckerman, pastry chef at Chanterelle, shares the recipe in her recent book, The Sweet Life. She "isn't really sure" why the recipe works as it does, but there is definitely a multi-layered, puff-pastryish effect , without any of the turning and other complications of that preparation. I think she is justified in calling it "magic." A little fussier than an ordinary cookie dough, it repays you well. If you follow closely, handling the dough is not so tricky, and the reward is well worth it.
Here's the recipe, as adapted by me. I've added some waxed paper to the rolling processes, because the dough is thin, and a little trickier to handle than, say, pie dough. The magical Ms. Zuckerman, with her professional pastry chef hands, wouldn't need to do this, but I do. As with any pastry, if things get too soft and sticky, refrigerate the whole works for a bit, before going on. There, I've made it sound hard, and it's not really. You see, this is what you do:
First, make the dough ahead of time, preferably the night before baking.
8 tbsps (a stick) of butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
In a stand mixer, with the paddle, beat the butter and cheese until combined and fluffy- about 8 minutes on medium. Add the dry ingredients, and beat until the dough is combined, and then about 15 seconds more. scrape the dough onto some waxed paper and wrap it, flattening it out into a rectangle about 1/2 thick, using the wax paper to shape the rectangle as you wrap. Chill.
You can make the filling ahead, or right before you bake.
4 oz. walnuts, chop fine
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup golden raisins (I used them instead of currants, because I find currants don't soften much in baking)
1/4 cup sugar
Mix well in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready.
You also need:
1/4 cup more sugar
a beaten egg in a cup
Preheat oven to 350 and line 3 cookie sheets with parchment or silpats. Cut 2 sheets of waxed paper 12"X16" Put the dough between them, and roll it out to the size of the waxed paper. I did this on the pastry marble-I find the coolness helps a lot. With scissors, trim any excess dough, so that the dough is, as much as possible, a neat rectangle the size of the waxed paper. Cut the dough in half lengthwise with the scissors, waxed paper still in place. You will do each half separately.
Now carefully peel the waxed paper from the top of the first half, and set it out on a counter, long side facing you. Brush entire surface with egg wash. Spread with half the filling, covering the entire surface, except for a 1" border on the long side furthest from you. Using the bottom waxed paper to help you, roll the pastry into a long rope, tucking the filling in as you go, and sliding the waxed paper off as you roll it. Roll as tightly as you can, without tearing the dough. Go carefully. Press the last bits together, and with the help of the remaining waxed paper, and roll it gently onto one of the lined sheets, seam down.
Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling, rolling the 2nd half onto the same sheet. Brush both with the egg wash all over, and sprinkle with the 1/2 cup remaining sugar. I used demerara sugar for the crunch and color here. Stick in the freezer for half an hour.
Remove from freezer, and cut each long rope into 1" cookies. Lay on the 2 other lined sheets, about an inch apart, spiral side up. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed, rotating pans halfway through. You can also freeze one log, well wrapped to make some rugelah fast-another time. It would be nice to know you had rugelach at the ready all the time. I made them all this time. Greedy.