What's in a name, really?
I am unable to answer a question so often asked when I am in the company of like-minded, kitchen-educated bakers;
“What is your favorite cookie?”
It is not for the sake of diplomacy that I do not respond, but simply because I cannot pronounce the name of my favorite cookie
(if I dare call it a cookie at all). When pressured to answer by a brazen few, I have retorted with the names of second and third favorites. At times, I am overwhelmed by the guilt of my betrayal, forced to recall the very incident that rendered me silent in the presence of one delightful, little pastry.
Not so long ago I was employed by a pleasant bagel shop owner who was also a formidable home baker. Often, while fastening my spotted blue apron, in preparation for a days worth of schmearing butter and cream cheese, I would engage in idle chit-chat with her. We would discuss topics such as current weather patterns, the New York Mets, the knee pain so often inflicted by elliptical training equipment, and not surprisingly, baking.
Fully aware of conversational boundaries between boss and employee, I resisted the urge to request the recipe for her famous Black and Whites (also known as “half-moon” cookies). Hers were the size of luncheon plates and could almost hold a candle to the ones from Brooklyn, N.Y, I so fondly remember.
From time to time, I would transport my own baked goods from home to the bagel shop to share with fellow employees.
On one chilly Friday during a pre-holiday-shopping rush (it seems the whole world wants a hot buttered bagel to cushion the impending shock of retail prices), I hurriedly placed a red tin with a silver bow on the back counter where she kept her payroll books, time cards, and a bagel slicer. With no time to affix a card or label, I quickly headed to the front counter and called my first customer.
Hours later, when the last customer had gone and the bagel baskets contained only two pathetic, hole-less cinnamon raisins, she called me aside, thanked me for the tin and inquired about its contents.
“They’re Rugelach,” I told her.
She looked first at the tin and then at me. There was an awkward pause.
“Oh, how lovely.”
She smiled a genuine smile, but I knew there was more.
“What did you call them?” She asked.
“Rooogle-ock,” I responded.
It was probably no more than a chuckle but what I heard (over and over again in my mind for the entire winter and until the first crocus bloomed) was a laugh not unlike Cruella DeVille’s.
She caught herself mid-chuckle and said
“I think you mean, Ruggle-ah.”
I processed this exchange for a moment.
I had given great consideration to the pronunciation of this name, based on my own limited knowledge of Rugelach, and the strange pronunciation my mother offered in an attempt to Italianize it
(which as a result came out sounding like my favorite bitter
green vegetable known to Americans as Broccoli Rabe,
or to my mother as “Roook-a-lee-Rob.”
Hence, my mother’s pronunciation for this pastry: “Roo-kaa-Laa.”).
My boss tried to ease my self-inflicted discomfort by explaining that she grew up eating this delightful pastry, and she had never personally tried to bake her own because she thought it impossible to recreate her grandmother’s specialty (ouch).
It was at this point that I proudly, but foolishly divulged my secret ingredient, believing that we—like minded women who enjoy baking but need to maintain a waistline—would be better served by a recipe which substituted whole grain flour for white flour, thus creating a more nutritional, albeit oddly-textured pastry.
“You made whole wheat Rugelach?” She asked in amusement and then laughed.
This time it really was the Cruella De Ville laugh.
In a state of giddy disbelief, she opened the tin and politely tasted one.
“Interesting,” she said (the kiss of death). “They’re good.”
The reality struck me like a cheap plastic guillotine splits a pumpernickel bagel.
I made whole wheat Rugelach for a woman who owns a bagel shop.
Oy. The absurdity.
I forced a smile and went back to work.
In the days that followed, out of total humiliation, I did a bit of my own half-baked research on the topic of Rugelach. I reviewed definitions, recipes and even stories dedicated to this delicious subject of mispronunciation.
One online resource offers this definition:
Rugelach (other spellings: Rugulach, Rugalach, Rogelach, Rugalah, Rugala) is a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin.
It can be made with a cream cheese dough, but the dough is more typically pareve (no dairy ingredients), so that it can be eaten with or after a meat meal. The different fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, or apricot preserves which are rolled up inside.
Judging from the number of spellings associated with the name of this pastry, it’s no wonder that it is often the victim
What haunts me most about my dialogue on that ill-fated day at the bagel shop, is the feeling of inadequacy I experienced as I presented that infamous red tin.
Putting aside my whole-wheat flour faux-pas, I felt as though any Rugelach I may have presented would have been less than adequate, for the simple fact that I did not share a tradition with this pastry.
I suppose the reaction from my boss to my tin full of rugelach is no different than the reaction she might have received, had she presented my own grandmother with a bowl full of homemade meatballs.
Perhaps, if I hadn’t surrendered my maiden name (so often mispronounced as “Landau”) for the sake of marital bliss, I might have seemed more credible as a baker of Rugelach.
But this Shiksa and her mixer were ready to set the record straight.
After several attempts with only mediocre results, I stumbled upon a recipe that has become my gold-star standard for Rugelach.
It appears in Dorie Greenspan’s book,
Baking from My Home to Yours.
The recipe stands on its own merits but I must also give credit to the methods by which the author creates this light, flaky pastry. Her efficient use of the food processor and one clever tool she refers to as a dough rolling “slipcover,” is pure genius.
My first batch came out as perfectly as my tenth (and yes, I’ve made them that many times with as many filling variations).
Ironically, I never did present the new, improved variety to that bagel shop owner because I left that position to pursue my current one as CEO of Cookies at a rather drab but welcoming establishment.
Someday however, my current coworkers will have the pleasure of noshing on these delightful little pastries.
And when they ask me what they are called, I will simply remain silent and let the Rugleach speak for themselves.
Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food
From Dorie Greenspan’s
Baking From My Home to Yours
For The Dough:
4 oz. Cold Cream Cheese, cut into 4 pieces
1 Stick Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
¼ tsp. Salt
(please note: I prefer a sweeter dough so I usually add 3 TBS sugar to flour)
For The Filling:
2/3 Cup Raspberry Jam or Apricot Jam or Marmalade
2 TBS Sugar
½ tsp Ground Cinnamon
¼ Cup Chopped Nuts—Pecans Preferred
¼ Cup Moist, Dried Currants (I’ve had success using raisins and dried cherries-chopped)
Optional: 4 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate finely chopped or 2/3 Cup Store-bought mini chocolate chips
For the Glaze:
1 Large Egg
1 tsp. Cold Water
2 TBS Coarse Sugar (Decorating Sugar, Sugar in the Raw)
To make the dough; let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes—you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.
Put the flour, salt (and sugar if using) in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds—don’t work it so long that it forms a ball on the blade.
Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to one day (wrapped airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to two months).
To make the filling:
Heat the jam in a sauce pan over low heat, or do this in a microwave until it liquefies. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
To Shape The Cookies:
Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. If it is too firm to roll easily, leave it on the counter for 10 minutes. If using dough slipcover, place unwrapped disk into slipcover and zip shut and roll as follows; Or, alternatively, on a lightly floured surface roll dough into an 11 inch circle (approximately). Brush a thin layer of jam over the surface of the dough and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half of the nuts and currants (or other dried fruit). If you are using chocolate, sprinkle half of chopped chocolate, or chips over dough. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough and then remove the wax paper. With a pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges or slices (as if you were cutting a pizza). The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into four triangles. Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll ups on one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat process with second disk of dough and remaining ingredients for filling. Refrigerate crescents for at least 30 minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Stir egg and water together. Brush a bit of glaze over each crescent. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until puffed and golden (rotate rack if necessary halfway through baking time). Transfer to cooling rack to cool. Serve just warm or at room temp.
These can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 3 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.
Dorie says you can bake two sheets at once if you rotate racks and watch carefully. Personally, I only bake one sheet at a time.
I prefer to omit the chocolate from my recipe. Dorie swears by this addition, so if you are a chocoholic like many, go for it.
My favorite filling is raspberry jam with a dash of extra cinnamon in the sugar mixture.
For those of you who aren’t purists and welcome an opportunity to make a healthier (and quite edible version), the Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book offers a recipe for Whole Wheat Rugelach.
As for the dough slipcover; I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it. I purchased my first one from an online resource (and paid way too much). I soon discovered that most kitchen stores carry these in their baking departments. They are often listed as “Pie Crust Makers” and look like round, zippered garment bags for pie crust. They come in a few sizes but I have found that the larger ones are always easier to use as they leave more room for rolling. They cost just dollars a piece and I recommend you buy more than one because they will eventually tear, split and lose zippability. Toss a pinch of flour into the slipcover before you place your dough in for rolling.