I’ve been wanting for weeks to tell you about these cookies.
And now that it’s time, I find that I don’t want to say very much. You know how some meals deserve elaborate place settings, candles lit, and a hushed expectation so your guests will say ooh when you proffer the platter? Others taste best when two of you are standing in front of the stove, hips touching, fingers outstretched toward each other’s mouths.
This is a stand-in-front-of-the-stove post.
I just want to race to the end, to the recipe, so you can start making these gluten-free rugelach.
I mean, look at that flakiness! When I first started making these a few weeks ago, the sheet tray sat on the counter while the cookies cooled, and I stood above them, just gawking. I’ve never seen this kind of flake on a gluten-free anything. Dare I say it’s a little like croissants? Or a touch like puff pastry?
Oh, I should back up just a bit. Some of you may be wondering: what the heck is rugelach?
I first ate rugelach in New York City. I’m pretty sure I bought it at Zabar’s. One bite and I wanted more. Over those years, whenever I saw a rugelach offered, my hand grabbed for it. (I also ate my fair share of knishes, but that’s another story.)
Rugelach are traditionally Jewish cookies, and the name in Yiddish seems to mean anything from creeping vine to little twists to rolled-up cookies. As the holidays approached this year, Danny and I lay out plans to develop some particularly good gluten-free holiday treats. Immediately, we wanted something for Hannukah, not just Christmas.
(I’m a Buddhist who celebrates Christmas and was often named an honorary Jew by my New York Jewish friends. Good pastries, it seems, is my religion.)
When I put up a note on Facebook, asking what people wanted to eat, I heard this chorus of voices: rugelach! rugelach! rugelach! The people spoke and I listened.
This lovely woman, Lisa Laudato, sent me her grandmother’s recipe, along with this story:
“This recipe has been handed down to my sister and me from our grandmother. Sadly, she is longer living.
Our Nonny Edith made shoe boxes of this rugelach for my sister’s Bat– Mitvah and brought them to Buffalo, NY on the airplane — all the way from Florida. Thinking they would be safe until the big day, our Mom put the boxes in the freezer in our basement. Well, what a surprise our Mom and Grandmother got a few weeks later when they opened the boxes. Almost all of the cookies were gone! Me and my sister had been sneaking down each day and eating them. Ha Ha! That was almost 26 years ago and still no one can resist these cookies.
I would be so happy if this recipe would be able to be converted to be GF! While I can no longer eat dairy, I hope that the recipe would bring as much joy to other’s as it has brought to me in the past.”
How could I not try to adapt this?
The traditional filling for these cookies seems to be apricot jam and walnuts, with a hint of cinnamon sugar. But once you start thinking of these cookies as a template, you can fill them with anything. Raisins. Raspberry jam. Cocoa powder. Kumquat chutney. Whatever the heck you want.
I have made at least a dozen batches of these (we’ve been working on these like we’ve been working on the cinnamon rolls) and every one of them left flaky sweetness on our lips. But my two favorite combinations were blueberry habanero chutney with golden raisins, and the one you see above — quince paste and bittersweet chocolate.
Here’s another present for you. The dough for these cookies doesn’t have any sugar. They’re more like a little pastry than a cookie. This means that those of you who have to avoid sugar can eat these cookies. Simply fill them with something sugar-free, a reliable favorite of yours, and you have a holiday treat.
Since the dough itself is not sweet, guess what else you can do? Make tiny crescent rolls. Can anyone say pigs in a blanket? (We are so having these for Christmas this year. I haven’t eaten them in years!
Oh, and Lisa (and everyone else in the same boat), you can make these dairy free. We tried it, several times. Earth Balance buttery sticks in place of the butter and vegan cream cheese for the cream cheese. They weren’t entirely the same but they were still flaky lovely winter holiday deliciousness.
Happy Hannukah, everyone.
I’m very much honored to be part of the 12 Days of Sharing, organized by one of my favorite food bloggers, Jennifer Perillo from In Jennie’s Kitchen. For 12 days, numbers of us have been baking and sharing recipes, urging our readers to donate their recipes to the virtual cookie jar as a way of raising money for Share Our Strength.
I’ll let Jennie explain it to you here:
“For the 12 days, we’re baking our hearts out to make sure no kid goes hungry this holiday season. How can you help? It’s easy. See that badge above? Click on it and make a donation. The feeling that will wash over you, knowing you’ve made a difference in a child’s life, will be the best gift you get this season.
And because we can’t thank you enough for your generosity, we’ve found some amazing corporate donors to help us. Each donation you make via the 12 Days of Sharing badge between today and December 18th equals a free entry into a giveaway for some pretty cool prizes. How cool? Well, let’s start with a brand new Cuisinart Stand Mixer? Check out the complete list of giveaway prizes. How about setting a challenge for yourself, and pack breakfast or lunch for the next week? Use the money you’d normally spend and donate it to Share Our Strength each day.”
Gluten-Free Rugelach, adapted from Lisa Laudato’s Nonny Edith and Dorie Greenspan
Besides the flaky texture, the sweet pastry crust and sweet surprise of an inside, and the fact that these are so darned good, the thing I like best about this recipe is how easy it is. Simply gather your flours, some xanthan gum, salt, cream cheese, butter, and your food processor. That’s it. Once I started making them, I stopped looking at the recipe. I had the ratio in my head.
I’m telling you now, if you are at all serious about gluten-free baking: buy a kitchen scale. These cookies work every time when I measure them out in ounces, instead of cups and tablespoons. And here’s the best part — if you bake these cookies with 7 ounces of flours? You could almost use any flours. I have made these with teff, oat flours, tapioca, potato, almond flour, and sweet rice flour. They all worked. The combination I’m going to give you here is our favorite, the most supple and flaky. But as long as you measure out 7 ounces of flour, you could use the first three flours you have in your cupboard. Or a mix. You can substitute out the cornstarch, if you are allergic to corn, and put in arrowroot powder instead. It’s that simple.
And, starting in January, we’re going to be writing all of our baked goods recipes in ounces and grams. So get ready, people. Buy a scale. Believe me, these cookies alone make the purchase worth it.
4 ounces cream cheese (that’s half of one package, in its usual form)
4 ounces unsalted butter (that’s 1 stick)
2 ounces super-fine brown rice flour (1/3 cup)
2 ounces potato starch (1/4 cup)
3 ounces cornstarch (2/3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Set the cream cheese and butter out on the counter about 10 minutes before you start working with them. Cut the cream cheese and the butter into 4 equal pieces. They should be starting to soften when you work with them.
Put the brown rice flour, potato starch, cornstarch, salt, and xanthan gum into a food processor. Run the processor until the flours are well mixed.
Drop the 4 cream cheese pieces and 4 butter pieces into the food processor. Pulse them 5 to 10 times, then turn on the processor full force. At first, the flours will spin round and round and you’ll think you need some liquid to make them stick. Be patient. After a few moments, you’ll see the forces start to gather. Watch carefully. Stop the processor when the dough looks like giant curds, before it has formed a solid ball.
Form the dough into two balls with your hands. Cover them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes, to allow them to rest and harden up just a touch.
Roll out the dough balls between two pieces of parchment paper. You want about a 10-inch circle at the end, as evenly round as you can. Peel off the top layer of parchment paper and spread your favorite fillings onto the dough, leaving at least 1 inch space around the edges. Using the bottom piece of parchment paper, nudge the edge of the dough forward until it begins to curl inward. Roll the dough, stopping after each turn to press down lightly. Keep the log of dough as tight as you can.
Or, if you want little crescents instead, spread the filling on the rolled-out dough and press it in with your fingers. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into 8 triangles. Starting with the wide end, slowly roll up the triangle until you have a cresent roll. Voila!
Put the shaped dough back into the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Whip the egg and water together to form an egg wash. Brush the log or triangles of dough with an egg wash.
Bake in the oven until the crust is firm and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow them to cool to room temperature before cutting them up.
Makes about 2o cookies.