RECIPE: Cherry Almond Rugelach
Cherry-themed recipes work both for Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and Washington’s Birthday (February 22nd, celebrated nationally on President’s Day, which falls this year on February 16th). National Rugelach Day is April 29th.
There’s nothing better with a cup of tea or coffee than homemade rugelach. Try this recipe from QVC’s David Venable.
The history of rugelach is below.
Ingredients For 64 Cookies
1. MAKE the dough: Cut the cream cheese, butter, and almond paste into bits. Pulse the cream cheese, butter, almond paste, and flour in a food processor until crumbly. Place the mixture onto a working surface and knead the dough together. Shape it into 4 equal disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours or up to 2 days.
2. PREPARE the filling: Place the cherries, brandy, and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, place the cherries, sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a small mixing bowl and fold in the almonds. Set aside.
3. MAKE the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a well-floured work surface, roll 1 disk into a 12″ round (be sure to keep the other disks chilled until ready to roll). Spread a quarter of the cherry mixture over the dough, leaving a 1/2″ border. With a chef’s knife or pizza cutter, cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll the wedges from wide to narrow, so you end up with a point on the outside of the cookie. Repeat with remaining discs of dough.
4. PLACE the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and chill the rugelach for 20 minutes. Brush each cookie with egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
5. COOL and store in an airtight container.
 Cherry Almond Rugelach. Photo courtesy QVC.
Rugelach (pronounced RUH-guh-lach, with that throat-clearing “ch” in the back of the upper palate), a traditional European Jewish pastry, is a small crescent-shaped or square-cut cookie* made of cream cheese dough with a filling—originally nuts, raisins, and cinnamon.
Its name comes from the Yiddish “rugel,” or royal, and it goes by other names such as kipfel (in Hungary and the Czech Republic) and horns of plenty (in non-Jewish areas of the U.S., where people “rugelach” may not sound as appetizing). The traditional shape is the crescent, but the square cut is equally popular.
Since rugelach was made in perhaps a dozen European countries by bakers who spoke a dozen different languages, it has been variously spelled rugelah, rugalah, rugelach, rugalach, rugulah, ruggelach, and ruggalach (in other words, you can ask people to spell it, and they have an excellent chance of getting it right). We have even seen “rugala,” from a New York City baker.
In Europe the dough was made with butter, sometimes with sour cream added. A circle of dough was covered with a mixture of nuts, raisins, sugar, and cinnamon; then cut into wedges, and the wedges were rolled up into crescents.
Rugelach evolved when it immigrated to America. Cream cheese was added to the dough. The Food Timeline, a historical reference source, says the cream cheese rugelach recipe may have been developed by the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company, which sounds like a good bet.
In the land of infinite possibilities, countless flavor variations were developed by creative bakers. Today, in addition to the original raisin and nut filling, apricot, cherry, and raspberry preserves are the most popular, plus chocolate (the latter creating, in effect, the Jewish version of pain au chocolate).
The cream cheese dough is, to our palate, the foundation of great rugelach. It imparts a special flavor that, along with the burst of fruit, nut, or chocolate filling, makes rugelach such a unique pastry (plus its beautiful balance—a rich and satisfying pastry that is not particularly sweet).
While the ingredients are simple (flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, an egg, spices, and filling), so many rugelach are disappointing: inferior ingredients†, margarine instead of butter, dough with not enough cream cheese, or no cream cheese at all. More often than not we encounter the seven deadly sins of rugelach: bland, dry, doughy, oily, too sweet, not sweet enough, and…dearth of cream cheese.
If you haven’t had rugelach before, when should you serve them? While they are cookie-size, they are more related to Danish pastry (think Danish at the Ritz, not the deli variety); so you can serve them whenever you would serve either cookies or breakfast pastry. This gives you carte blanche from breakfast through dinner, and all snacks in-between.
*Rugelach is called a cookie because of its size and finger-food aspect, but it has soft dough so it is really a miniature pastry.
†One can buy flour, sugar, butter, preserves, et al, of average quality, or one can buy the best. It costs more to bake with top flours, organic eggs, and Cabot butter, e.g., or to use Valrhona chocolate instead of supermarket-brand chocolate morsels.