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Project Cookie: Rugelach

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Rugelach recipes are often handed down through generations. This one, shared by former Gourmet magazine food editor Melissa Roberts-Matar, came from her great-great-grandmother. 

Cookies, week three, and this is the week of the project cookie. (Week 1 of holiday cookies: Eggnog Snickerdoodles; Week 2: Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies.) I was trying to think of something other than a typical round, brown cookie. I also was trying to think of a cookie that would work for Christmas boxes and exchanges and also for Hanukkah parties, since Hanukkah starts this Sunday. Then I came across this recipe for Rugelach on Epicurious, and the reviews hooked me. But the taste of these cookies is why you should make them.

The recipe comes from former Gourmet magazine food editor Melissa Roberts-Matar. The story is that the recipe came from her great-great-grandmother, who owned a hotel in the Catskills. Epicurious writes, “A great rugelach recipe gets handed down in families, passed along on handwritten index cards or smudged printouts along with the family kiddush cups.” (For more on handed-down Hanukkah collections, read about Joyce Schechter’s antique silver dreidels here.) This recipe, though, might beat any hand-me-downs we ever got. 

The reviews are stellar (and hilarious). Barbara H. from Greenfield, MA, writes: “When my beloved Russian-Jewish grandmother died, she unfortunately took to the grave the recipe for her magical rugelach. This recipe is the closest I've ever come to capturing the flavor and texture of the rugelach she served, so it's been my go-to recipe for years now.” Floshane from Ohio: “Oh my gosh! These are amazing good!” And Lynnar in South Carolina says: "This is by far THE BEST RUGELACH RECIPE! People in Charleston,SC are addicted to them. You cannot find this kind of Rugelach down here. I'm from NYC, so up there we are spoiled. Even if you are not Jewish in NYC, everyone knows what Rugleach is. Down here in the South, they have no idea. but they take one bite and they are in heaven.”

The reviewers aren’t kidding. These cookies are wonderful, and they’re really pretty and different. A little more work than a slice-and-bake (you’ll need to chill the dough for at least eight hours, and then you’ll be rolling and filling and rolling some more), but worth the effort. Your cookie box (or Hanukkah party) needs them!

From Melissa Roberts-Matar for Gourmet

2 cups flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apricot preserves or raspberry jam
1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1¼ cups walnuts, finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies

Whisk together the flour and salt in a small bowl. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined well. Add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten (in wrap) into a roughly 7-by-5-inch rectangle. Chill until firm, 8 to 24 hours.

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 1- to 1 ½-inch deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Chill 3 pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out the remaining piece into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer that to a tray and chill while rolling out the remaining dough in the same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on the tray.

Whisk ½ cup sugar with the cinnamon.

Arrange 1 dough rectangle on your work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread ¼ cup of the preserves evenly over the dough with an offset spatula. Sprinkle ¼ cup raisins and a rounded ¼ cup walnuts over the jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar.

Using parchment as an aid, roll up the dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in the lined baking pan, then pinch the ends closed and tuck underneath. Make 3 more logs in the same manner and arrange 1 inch apart in pan. Brush the logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of the remaining sugar. With a sharp large knife, make ¾-inch-deep cuts crosswise in the dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals. (If the dough is too soft to cut, refrigerate until it is firmer, 20–30 minutes.)

Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to warm on the baking sheet set atop a wire rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer the logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through. 

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