Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Rugalach

Since the month of May has 5 Tuesdays, and my Tuesdays with Dorie group bakes on the first and third Tuesday, we had the option to make a recipe we might have missed on the fifth week.  I decided to bake Rugalach.  Have you ever had a rugalach?  If not, I am happy to introduce you to these delicious treats.  First of all, lets talk pronunciation.  Rugalach is pronounced like you might say arugula, the green, but drop that first 'a'.  RU-gu-la.  Since we can now discuss the treat appropriately, let's talk about what it IS.  Rugalach is a Jewish rolled cookie, having origins in Eastern Europe.  In Yiddish, rugalach means "little twists".  Traditional rugalach are shaped more like crescent rolls, rolling a triangle onto itself.  This recipe made the rugalach more like a jelly roll and then sliced them.

The TWD group originally posted about rugalach on March 6, 2012, which is before I joined this group, and I was especially bummed to have missed this recipe.  Why?  Well, we have come to another family tradition at our house.  We make rugalach every year for Christmas.  Obviously it is not supposed to be a Christmas cookie, but, well, it is for us.  My dad was actually raised Jewish and converted to Christianity as an adult, and our recipe is from my grandmother.   My cousins (my dad's brother's kids) also grew up with rugalach as a Christmas cookie.  What can I say?  Anyway, as it is my "job" to make the pecan sticky buns each year, it is my sister's "job" to make the rugalach each year. 

Rugalach dough tends to be made with sour cream or cream cheese.  The older recipes tend to have sour cream, and the cream cheese was an American innovation.  (Side note - isn't it amazing how many things are made with cream cheese?  I once helped host a baby shower and every appetizer we served was made with cream cheese, not intentionally!  I think for us Americans, cream cheese = goodness.)  Okay, back to rugalach.  My family's recipe actually uses a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese, so I guess we add a bit of new with the old.  The TWD recipe uses cream cheese.

Enough babbling!  Let's get on to the actual cookie!

This recipe called for homemade lekvar, also known as fruit butter, and recommended prune or apricot.  I decided to make both and see what I thought.  The prune lekvar was made with prunes (obviously) simmered in water, that you then put in the food processor with a bit of the liquid from simmering, lemon juice, sugar and chopped walnuts.  The apricot lekvar is made the same way, but uses apricots, light brown sugar, amaretto, and chopped toasted almonds.  I have to say from the get-go that both of these jams are yummy!  On a  unhappier note, I noted an error in the cookbook while making these butters.  The cookbook claims that each recipe makes about 1 cup (for the prune) and 3/4 cup (for the apricot).  Perfect, I thought.  The rugalach recipe calls for 2 cups of lekvar, so I'll just make a little extra of the apricot and we'll be good to go.  HA.  The prune recipe made more like 3 cups and the apricot recipe made more like 2 cups.  LOTS more than the recipe stated.  That sort of thing irks me.  So now I have lots of leftover lekvar at my house.  Though it is delicious, I don't use that much jam on a regular basis and this only lasts about 2 weeks.  Grrr.  Anyone want some prune or apricot lekvar??

Time to start making the dough.  You mix room temperature cream cheese, butter and a little salt together until nice and creamy, then gradually add sugar and flour.  Turn that out onto the counter and pat it into a ball, then split it into two sections and shape them into rectangles.  Refrigerate for about 2 hours.  This recipe, like the pecan sticky buns recipe, has lots of stages of refrigeration, so it takes a while to complete!

While the dough is in the refrigerator, you can get all of the fillings together.   Yes, not only is there jam in the rugalach, there is also cinnamon-sugar, toasted chopped nuts, and chopped dried fruit!  I chose to use dates, tart cherries, and apricots for my dried fruit options, and toasted walnuts and almonds for the nuts.  Each of these I chopped pretty finely, as I knew it would be tricky to roll everything up together to make the rugalach.  The fourth bowl you see is a mixture of more cinnamon-sugar and really finely chopped toasted nuts.  This is for the topping of the rugalach.

Once the dough is chilled and the filling is prepared, you can start the cookie process!  Roll one of the dough rectangles into a bigger rectangle of 14x10 inches.  They should have this dimension and still be about 1/4 inch thick.  This part was a bit tricky for me.  Not the actual rolling, but getting the size AND thickness correct.  Once you have a good rectangle, slice the dough in half with a pizza cutter (what a smart tool to use!!) so you now have 2 14x5-inch rectangles.  Spread each half with:
  • jam
  • cinnamon-sugar (the one without nuts)
  • dried fruit
  • toasted nuts
Above you can see both of my concoctions, with the apricot version on top and prune on the bottom. 

Now is the tricky part.  Roll those suckers up into a tight jelly-roll and put them on a baking sheet to refrigerate more.  I did the apricot version first and had a hard time getting them rolled without the fillings popping through the dough.  I did not accomplish the 1/4-inch thickness very well on the apricot one.  The dough kept splitting open and I kept pinching it all back together.  It didn't look very pretty, but eventually I got them rolled and into the refrigerator.  I was more careful rolling the prune version and it wasn't as hard!  Now the rolls are refrigerated for another 4+ hours.

Take the chilled rolls out of the refrigerator and put them on a cutting board.  Brush with an egg-milk wash and then cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch slices.  I did 1-inch slices.  And yes, I did use a ruler for this.  I think they help!  When you are done you can just throw it into the dishwasher!  So take each slice and dunk it into your bowl of cinnamon-sugar-toasted nuts to coat them all over.  Above you see my prune roll and a prune rugalach in the toppings bowl.

Put them onto cookie sheets and into the oven they go!  You are supposed to put them cut side down on the cookie sheet so that is what I did with the apricot version.

Then I thought I'd try baking the prune ones on their edge so I could visually tell the cookies apart. 

Yum.  There you have an apricot rugalach on the left and a prune rugalach on the right.  They are delicious.  Though I thought I would like the apricot better, I actually prefer the prune.  Somehow, the prune seems to really highlight the flavors of the cinnamon and fruit more than the apricot. 

It worked out that I visited my family right after making these rugalach (which is a rare treat since we live in separate states) so I brought rugalach to share.  My sister said, "These taste like they came out of a bakery!"  My parents said they are delicious.

You might be wondering how they compare to our family recipe.  Honestly, they are so different it is hard to compare.  Our family recipe does not have any jam, and the filling is made of ground raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon.  So it has many of the same components, just all mixed together, with the addition of chocolate chips.  There is no sugar in the dough (there is very little in the above recipe) and no topping on the outside of the cookie, so the dough itself is not sweet.  The above cookie has the topping, which makes the overall cookie a bit sweeter.  They are just really different.  I am sure we will continue using our family recipe for Christmas, but it is fun to have this recipe in my back pocket.  Maybe we'll try incorporating ideas from this recipe into the other and see what we get! 


  1. Hi, it's great that you could compare "your new Rugelach" with the one your family always baked and I'm glad you liked it.

    We loved it too, and we loved the "tons" of homemade lekvar. I was a bit disappointed that the quantity did not match the book and also a bit worried, as it was my first recipe and I didn't know what to expect from the other ones...but so far, no other "bad surprises".
    For today, I've made the white loaves (recipe from Feb.) and please allow me to suggest you to bake them, absolutely bake them: easy - quick - almost no mess - and delicious!
    Greetings from Switzerland

    1. It is definitely disconcerting to find errors like this in a cookbook. I am glad we haven't found any more! Thanks for the white loaves recommendation! Sounds great!

  2. My grandmother made fantastic rugelach too. Yours looks great.

    1. It's hard to compare family recipes to new ones, but I love trying new things to see the differences. You never know what you'll find!

  3. Nice write-up and beautiful pictures! I loved that rugalach, but I never made any other. They were certainly better than my local bakery's version.

  4. I cannot believe that you actually made two fruit butters before even making the dough! It think you deserve extra points there...both fruit butters look wonderful and your rugelach look delicious. You certainly went the extra mile!

    I also looked at some of your other posts, your sewing and knitting are amazing - I will take some time in the near future and look at all your projects.

    Have a wonderful week!

  5. Your rugelach look wonderful! I agree, I liked the prune one better also, it had a great blend of flavors!


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