To get an idea about what rugelach means to a certain generation of Jewish Americans, there’s no better guide than Philip Roth. American Pastoral, his 1997 novel, begins with a reunion of the Weequahic (New Jersey) High School’s 1950 graduating class. At the end of the evening, everyone is given a coffee mug containing a handful of rugelach, ”each a snail of sugar-dusted pastry dough, the cinnamon-lined chambers microscopically studded with midget raisins and chopped walnuts.” Like Proust’s madeleine, Roth’s rugelach somehow inspires his narrator to remember everything.
Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to love rugelach. The crescent-shaped pastries are still available at fine Jewish delis and bakeries everywhere, and with a variety of fillings: raisins, walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, poppy seeds, apricots, and raspberry. Unlike macaroons, which are identified with the Passover holiday, rugelach are not special-occasion sweets.
Using my Basic Butter Pastry and my techniques for rolling out dough, the pastry impaired should be able to sail through this recipe without too much trauma. To begin with, this dough is made with a food processor, which is much faster than doing it by hand. Second, rolling out the dough between lightly floured sheets of plastic wrap eliminates the dough’s tendency to break apart or to get too soft, which causes it to stick to the rolling surface or the rolling pin. Also, each of these rugelach ends not as a tricky little triangle, but a simple little roll, a distinct time-saver.
This recipe yields 32 rugelach, but you might want to put half of them aside in the freezer, all rolled up and ready for the oven, and bake them down the road, a quick and delicious delicacy.
Basic Butter Pastry Sweet Variation (Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners, page 28, preparation time is included below)
One 7-ounce package almond paste
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons seedless red raspberry jam
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or aluminum foil coated with non-stick cooking spray.
Prepare the Basic Butter Pastry Sweet Variation using 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Flatten the dough into 2 equal disks and chill for 1 hour.
Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll out one disc of dough between 2 large sheets of plastic wrap dusted with flour to make an 8-inch square. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap. Roll out half of the almond paste between two sheets of plastic wrap to make a paper-thin 8- by 7-inch rectangle. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and invert the almond paste onto the pastry, leaving 1/2-inch uncovered on two opposite sides. Spread half the jam (about 1 tablespoon) over the almond paste.
Starting from one of the uncovered sides of the pastry, loosely roll up to make a log. Arrange the log of dough seam side down on a cutting board and cut it crosswise to make 16 cookies. Arrange the cookies on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining disc of dough, the almond paste, and jam.
Bake the rugelach for 20 to 22 minutes, or until they are firm in the center and just beginning to brown on the edges. Transfer to a rack to cool; let cool to room temperature and serve, or store in an airtight container. The rugelach will keep for 1 week.
Makes 32 cookies
Hands-on time: 35 minutes
Total preparation time: about 2 hours