My Great-Aunt Doris made the best rugelach. A nurse who preferred baking to hospital work, Aunt Doris never turned down an opportunity to help cater her charity functions, Temple’s holiday dinners and family gatherings.
Her instinct to feed continually vexed her sister, because no matter how clear my grandmother was that the dinner party menu was entirely handled, Doris would show up with a Saran-covered platter of freezer strudel or rugelach. At the end of the meal, my grandmother would be forced to watch as her guests gobbled up the party-crashing treat and ignored her own carefully selected pastries.
Because I grew up a country away from my Aunt Doris, I only got to see her once or twice a year. As soon as we landed in Philadelphia, however, she’d march me up to my grandmother’s apartment (they lived in the same building), slip an apron over my head and pull a stool over to the counter so that I could help her roll the dough. We’d make cinnamon twists, Mandelbrot and rugelach.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become the keeper of my family’s culinary traditions. I have my grandmother’s fondue pots, a gorgeous carbon steel knife from our long-closed restaurant and Aunt Doris’s bulging file of recipes. And all the hits are there. Her famous brownie recipe (I have her pan, too). A three-page tutorial on how to make and fold challah. And even instructions for the cranberry Jell-O mold she made every year for Thanksgiving.
The only thing that’s missing? The rugelach. For years now, I’ve been in search of a version that could replicate hers. My trials begin sometime in November, well in advance of Hanukkah. I’ve made all-butter versions, varieties that are dairy-free and some that soften the dough with a combination of butter and cream cheese (that’s the best type). These days, my favorite is Ina Garten’s Rugelach. It uses that butter and cream cheese dough and employs a filling of raisins, walnuts and apricot preserves that tastes very much like the one I remember eating as a kid.
Though Hanukkah is coming to an end (Saturday is the final night), there’s no reason not to indulge in a little rugelach rolling. Find your favorite child, put on some seasonal music and make this your Weekender.
Before you start your dough, here are a few things you should know:
— Rugelach dough needs time to rest and chill in the fridge before baking, so make sure to plan that into your timing.
— If raisins, walnuts and apricot jam aren’t your thing, you can also fill your cookies with cinnamon and sugar, chocolate, or some other fruit preserve.
— These cookies keep well in an airtight container on the counter for a few days, but for longer storage, wrap them well and keep them in the freezer.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.
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