Grandma’s Rugelach

By Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

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This 2-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and/or nut fillings.

This two-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of jam, chocolate, and/or nut fillings. It’s easy to make and perfect to bring to a Hanukkah party or any gathering!

 

When Ann and I first started working together she asked me if wanted to share any of my own family recipes with the readers. This one came to mind – because it’s a good one – and also because it’s one of the only old family recipes we have.

My grandmother worked long hours in a clothing store and did not spend much time in the kitchen. As a side note, I loved visiting her at the store because she would let me play under the women’s dress racks and try on the high heels!

But when it came to any family gathering, she took the time to add this dessert to the spread. For some reason our family calls it strudel, but it is certainly more like rugelach, a traditional European Jewish pastry made with cream cheese dough rolled around a filling of nuts, poppy seed paste, chocolate, or jam.

This 2-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and/or nut fillings.

My rolled out dough circles weren’t perfectly shaped, but this recipe is so forgiving – it didn’t matter!

This 2-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and/or nut fillings.

The recipe calls for baking seam side up, but my filling would seep out when I did that. I tried seam side down and it worked out nicely. 

Interestingly, the cream cheese is an American adaptation to the sour cream which was used traditionally. It’s what gives the dough such a rich texture.

To make it, I used my grandmother’s method – hand mixing – but you can use a mixer or food processor. At first, it will seem very dry, but once all the ingredients have blended, it will be quite moist and smooth. Chilling the dough the night before is helpful, because it needs to stay cold to prevent it from getting to sticky to roll.

Once refrigerated, the dough is then cut into four quarters to make four rolls. This works out well because you can freeze unused dough if planning on a smaller batch. It also allows for options to use different fillings in each quarter.

In addition to jam (both apricot and raspberry) and Nutella spreads, I experimented with toppings such as cinnamon, cinnamon sugar, nuts, and chocolate chips. I also tried an egg wash after rolling to brown the crust.

All of these options were worth exploring, but the tastiest version (by a group vote) was the recipe the way my grandmother had originally written it. Luckily it’s the easiest method too!

This 2-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and/or nut fillings.

I usually use apricot or raspberry jam but experimented with Nutella in this recent batch. The variation with Nutella and a sprinkle of chocolate chips was quite good! 

When the dough is baked, the cinnamon and cream cheese create a beautiful aroma. This was my favorite part!

These cookies will be devoured quickly, but if you have leftovers you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. If you decided to make a smaller batch and have leftover dough it can be kept wrapped in the freezer for a few weeks. Per King Arthur Baking Company, unbaked rolled rugelach can also be kept in the freezer. Just remember to thaw in the refrigerate overnight before baking.

Of note, rugelach contains dairy, which means these cannot be enjoyed after a meal in which meat was served in a kosher home. If bringing this to a home where strict kosher laws are observed, you may want to opt for a non-dairy dessert if you are unsure what the rest of the menu will be.

This 2-bite cookie is hearty, subtly sweet, and can be filled with a variety of fruit, chocolate, and/or nut fillings.

Whether you call it strudel, rugelach, a pastry, or a cookie, I hope you love it as much as my family does. When you are ready to fill and roll, bring the kids or grandkids in the kitchen to make it with you – it’s fun, easy, forgiving, and perfect for your next holiday gathering!

Grandma's Rugelach
Yield: 8-10 pieces per roll (30-40 pieces total)
Call it rugelach or call it strudel - either way, this recipe is a traditional European Jewish dessert that's often served during Hanukkah but can be enjoyed any time of year!
Ingredients
  • ½ pound (8oz) cream cheese, well softened
  • ½ pound (8oz) butter, well softened
  • 2 tablespoons (24g) sugar
  • 2 cups (250g) flour
  • 8 tablespoons jam or spread of your choice*; 2 tablespoons per roll
  • 8 tablespoons chopped walnuts; 2 tablespoons per roll
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon; 1 teaspoon per roll
Indtructions
  1. Mix cream cheese, butter, sugar, and flour until well combined. I like to start with an electric mixer to get everything well mixed. After about a minute, I use my hands to bring into a large ball. At this point, the dough should come together fairly easily.
  2. Form the dough into a ball with your hands and wrap in plastic wrap (or tin foil, which is how my grandmother did it) to refrigerate for at least two hours, or ideally overnight**
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 350℉.
  4. Cut the dough into quarters. You may use one quarter at a time, depending how many cookies you would like to make.
  5. Roll each piece of dough onto floured surface and into a medium-sized circle, approximately 9 inches in diameter.
  6. Using the back of the spoon, spread jam (or Nutella) in a thin layer over the dough, leaving about half an inch border – similar to saucing a pizza crust.
  7. Sprinkle the nuts over the jam.
  8. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the entire dough, including the edges.
  9. Roll (like a jelly roll) and pinch the ends closed.
  10. Place on a cookie sheet, seam side down, and bake 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
  11. Allow to cool, and then transfer to a cutting board.
  12. Cut 8-10 slices, horizontally, using a serrated knife. It may be a little crumbly (this is normal), but you should see a beautiful swirl design on the inside.
Notes

*You may use any jam, though our family uses raspberry and apricot. If using apricot, remove large chunks of fruit. You may need to puree to smooth if using a chunkier preserve. We’ve also tried Nutella, which is very good – it does lose some of its richness in the baking process, but when we added chocolate chips it really elevated this to a delicious cookie.

Storage & Freezing: Once baked, the cookies can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for several days or frozen for longer storage.

The dough and the pre-baked cookies may also be frozen for a few weeks before making. Make sure to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out.

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