One Rugelah, many rugelach. The suffix lach (pronounced with a guttural h at the end) indicates a Yiddish plural. In the case of these small cream cheese filled cookies, one is never enough. Also a note of clarification for all the people who have fallen in love with the sweet greasy confection offered in the bakeries of Israel- these are different. The Israeli version is parve, meaning it contains no dairy (or for that matter meat) and uses a fair amount of oil and sugar to attain its hyper-palatable state. The down side is that after a few hours the Israeli ones taste like congealed grease. The best way to eat those is on the way home from the market.
These are less filled croissant, and more of a rolled cookie. They keep well and could even be frozen (if you manage to keep them that long). This recipe comes down on my mother’s side of the family. It was scribbled in her grandmother’s copy of the Settlement Cookbook in her own long hand. When my mother operated a bakery in Salt Lake City (yes, Jews in Utah) she sold these by the dozens to Jew and Gentile alike.
When I went to look these up in Joan Nathan’s cookbook she asserted that the cream cheese dough recipe was a product of the marketing department at Philadelphia Cream Cheese. The earliest published version turned up in a cookbook written in 1950 and its provenance was given as coming from the wife of pianist Arthur Rubinstein, Nela.
While all of that may be true, and this recipe is very similar to the one that Joan Nathan offers, it still is a bit of a family heirloom and having a chance to make these with my mother over Thanksgiving was great.
A word of caution, these contain almost nothing that is good for you (well, possibly the nuts) and they turn out to be mildly addictive. I found myself idly snacking on them if I left the cookie tin to close by, or even if I was just wandering through the kitchen.
Recipe after the break
For the filling:
1/2 lb cream cheese
1 cup plus 1 tb powdered sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup raisins
Soften cream cheese in a mixer, cream in sugar until smooth. Mix nuts and raisins in by hand. Refrigerate until ready for use.
For the dough:
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/2 pound butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
zest of orange
1/4 tsp vanilla
In a mixer soften butter, add cream cheese and mix. Cream in the sugar, until smooth. Then add in the egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Add the flour slowly, once the dough comes together in a soft ball stop. Divide dough into quarters and wrap in plastic before chilling. Chill for at least 4 hours, allowing the flour to hydrate fully and the fat to become as cold as possible.
On a well floured surface roll each piece out until it is as thin as possible without coming apart. Cut into roughly triangular shapes with a paring knife or pizza cutter. You should get 6-8 pieces from each ball of dough.
Place a tea spoon of filling in the middle of each dough section and then roll up. As you master the feel of the dough and filling it becomes easier to create uniform cookies- but they all will taste the same. the classic look is to place the filling at the large end, fold the sides in and the roll towards the long tip of the triangle.
Place on a greased or Silpat lined cookie sheet with the end of the dough tucked down and bake in a 350 F oven for 20-25 minutes until they are light brown in color. Cool on a rack and dust with powdered sugar before serving.