Jewish confection rugelach the star of this year’s Blintzapalooza

Jewish confection rugelach the star of this year’s Blintzapalooza benefit for Olympia area charities

Staff writerMarch 26, 2014 

If you’ve never had the luck to taste the Jewish pastry rugelach, think of it as a delicious mash-up. Rugelach carries the puffy textured richness and appearance of a crescent roll stuffed with the delicious innards of a baklava.

As delicious as it is, the semi-obscure dessert doesn’t show up much at coffee shops or bakeries on this coast. The other coast is another matter.

So is it pronounced rug-uh-lah? Or roo-gah-lah?

Around here, most people pronounce it something closer to roo-guh-lah, but the pronunciation proves flexible depending on where one grew up, said Oscar Soule, an Olympia resident and member of Olympia’s Temple Beth Hatfiloh.

The temple will host a rugelach baking contest Sunday at its annual Blintzapalooza fundraiser featuring blintzes, bagels and books for sale to raise money for local charities.

Each year, the temple hosts a different baking competition — kuchen, bagels and challah in past years — and anyone, not just temple members, can enter by simply dropping off an entry at the temple Sunday (see box for details).

An infinite number of mix-ins tease flavor into rugelach. Cinnamon, sugar and chopped nuts make the most basic version. Currants, raisins or prunes sometimes make an appearance. Jam is a staple ingredient. Soule said he likes the popular chocolate version. Think of them as tiny babkas.

The foundation of rugelach is a tender, rich dough rolled out into a circle, brushed with butter, sprinkled with various flavorings, cut into 12 pie-shaped pieces and rolled up into little crescent shapes.

Soule said 10 or 20 years ago, rugelach rarely was baked outside a bubbe’s kitchen or Jewish deli, but today’s curious home cooks are discovering rugelach. A simple internet search shows varieties aplenty — even savory versions with jalapeños and cheddar cheese, said Soule.

At the Temple’s rugelach baking contest, for which Soule organized the judging, traditional nut-filled or experimental rugelach — think Nutella-caramel or coconut-lemongrass — get equal judging consideration. While most ingredients are welcome, due to temple dietary practices, skip the bacon.

Some say the name of the cookie with European roots nods to the Yiddish term for “little corner” or “twist” because of the cookie’s typical crescent shape. Others say it’s a modern Hebrew term for “trailing vine.” It’s not associated with any particular Jewish holiday, said Soule, although it often appears at celebrations.

Because it’s so easy to make at home, it’s an easy staple even for weeknight baking.

When baking rugelach at home, the big question is whether or not to use a cream cheese dough.

Edie Bean, who temple members call the resident baking expert, said she recommends two types of dough — a cottage cheese-based dough for beginners and a cream cheese dough for more experienced bakers. Recipes for both are included here from temple members.

“The cottage cheese dough is very elastic and easy to roll out,” said Bean, who taught a class at the temple recently on how to make rugelach. The cream cheese dough, although more rich and delicious, proves tougher to roll out, she said.

When she was young, she remembers encountering rugelach, but like many of her generation, she called them “crescents.” It wasn’t until she was browsing at a deli as a newlywed that she saw the sign calling them rugelach.

Temple member Russ Lidman also grew up calling them crescents. They were a staple as a treat when he was kid and made an appearance at his Bar Mitzvah in 1958. When he enters his family recipe in the temple contest this weekend, he’s got a secret weapon — his sister Ellen. She’s flying in and will help him make the cookies they gobbled as kids.

Like Bean, he prefers the rich cream cheese version. When Soule was a child, he remembers leftover pie dough making the foundation of rugelach.

Bean offered these tips for home baking:

Refrigeration: Keeping the dough cold is a must. That means chilling after mixing, as well as chilling after rolling, filling, cutting and shaping. Chill just before baking, too. With every step, chill the dough for best baking results.

Kitchenaid to the rescue: A mixer or food processor can hasten the process, just be careful not to overmix.

Add flour slowly: As with any pastry dough, add flour incrementally, being careful not to add too much. The dough should be pliable.

Rolling pin: Invest in a good one for easier rolling. Bean uses one her father made for her, a replica of her grandmother’s, but she also has a glass rolling pin that she fills with ice water to keep the dough chilly.

Thinness: The cottage cheese dough rolls to a more thin texture, making it ideal for beginners.

Texture: For tang and a more delicate texture, add a few spoons of sour cream to the dough.

Cutting: After rolling out into a pie shape, brush the dough with butter and add the fillings. Then, use a pizza wheel, or a dough splitter like Bean uses, to cut each round into 12 pieces.

Rolling: Roll the cookies from the wide side to the narrow point, like a crescent roll. Then, shape into a horn, if desired.

Alternate: Soule said he’s seen plenty of cooks use the “rectangular method.” That means rolling larger rectangles of dough up jellyroll style, then cutting the cookies into pinwheels. Either way is acceptable for the competition if entering, Soule said.

Baking: Watch the temperature. The fillings have a habit of oozing out and a too-hot oven could mean scorching. To help the filling from oozing, chop the nuts finely.

Silpat: Use a silicone baking pad in case of jelly or jam oozes. For non-jelly versions, parchment paper will work.

Handle carefully: After baking, the cookies will be tender, be careful when removing to a cooling rack.

Edie’s Rugelach

Yield: 48 cookies

For the cookies:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

For the filling:

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

1/2 cup apricot preserves

1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk for egg wash

Melted butter

Cream the cheese and butter in bowl of electric mixer until light. Add 1/4 cup sugar, salt and vanilla. Add flour in small increments and mix until combined. Dump dough onto well-floured board and roll into a ball. Cut ball in quarters, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. For the filling: Combine brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and walnuts, finely chopped, and set aside.

On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread dough with melted butter, then apricot preserves and sprinkle with filling. Cut the circle into 12 wedges.

Starting with the wide edge of the piece, roll up each wedge into a cone shape. Place cookies with points tucked under on a bakery sheet. Chill for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush each cookie with egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle onto cookie brushed with egg wash.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Cottage Cheese Crescents

Yield: 24 cookies

For the cookies:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1 stick nucoa margarine (vegetable spread)

1 cup cottage cheese

2 cups sifted flour

For the filling:

Melted butter, for brushing dough

Chopped nuts (we suggest 1/2 cup chopped walnuts)

Brown sugar ( we suggest 2 tablespoons-1/4 cup)

Cream shortening with cottage cheese. Add sifted flour until dough is soft enough to handle. Divide dough into two parts Roll dough out on floured board. Brush with melted butter.

Sprinkle with brown sugar. Spread chopped nuts on brown sugar. Cut into pie-shaped pieces. Roll up and shape into crescents.

Put on greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until brown.

Rugelach

Yield: 48 cookies

For the cookies:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

1/3 cup sour cream

For the filling:

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

For the cookies: Cut cold butter and cream cheese into bits. In food processor, pulse flour, salt, butter or margarine, cream cheese and sour cream until crumbly.

Shape crumbly mixture into four equal disks. Wrap each one and chill two hours or up to two days.

For the filling: Combine sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and finely chopped raisins (can substitute miniature chocolate chips instead of raisins).

Roll each disk into a nine-inch round, keeping other disks chilled until ready to roll them. Sprinkle round with sugar and nut mix. Press lightly into dough, with chef’s knife or pizza cutter, and cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll wedges from wide-side to narrow. You will end up with a point on outside of cookie.

Place on ungreased baking sheets and chill rugelach 20 minutes before baking on ungreased baking sheets and chill rugelach 20 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. After rugelach are chilled, bake them in the center rack of your oven for 22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.

Variations: Before putting the filling on the dough, use a pastry brush to layer apricot jam as well as brown sugar. Then add the recommended filling. You may also make a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and roll the rugelach in this prior to putting them on the cookie sheets.

Bob Levy’s Mother’s Rugelach

For the cookies:

3 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 package yeast

1/2 pound butter or margarine (2 sticks)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup warm milk

3 egg yolks

For the filling:

1/2 cup sugar

3 egg whites

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Mixture of chopped nuts raisins and jam

Dissolve 1 package of yeast in 1/2 cup warm milk. Soften margarine and beat with sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks, one at a time. Add vanilla and yeast/milk mixture. With mixer on lowest speed, add flour in small increments and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Refrigerate overnight

To bake: Beat the egg white until stiff. Mix 1/2 cup sugar with 11/2 tablespoons cinnamon. Roll out dough and cut into four pieces. Brush with beaten egg white. Spread sugar and cinnamon-nuts-raisin-jam mixture. Roll like jelly roll and cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 inches each). Brush top with egg white. Place on baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes

Source: Barbara M. Soule

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