Rugelach, those curled-up wisps of cream cheese-based pastry filled with fruit, nuts and spices, are the epitome of an Old World classic. Except they're not.
Sure, the traditional Jewish pastries have their roots in Central Europe, descending from the Austro-Hungarian kipfel among other shaped and filled treats. But after being brought to the U.S., rugelach got a makeover, thanks to an all-American ingredient.
Knowing this, we felt free to make a few changes of our own in pursuit of a lighter, easier cookie.
Originally, the pastries were made with a yeast dough that required kneading and rising. Soft cheeses sometimes were worked into doughs, but they had an unavoidably short shelf life.
Then came refrigeration (and refrigerated transport) and the arrival of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese. Kraft bought the brand in 1928 and began promoting easier, yeast-free, cream cheese dough.
By the late 1930s, cream cheese-based rugelach began to emerge.
Rugelach in Israel, on the other hand, remains old-school and is typically made from yeast doughs, often elevated to a croissant-like texture with layers of butter.
For our version, we went with cream cheese pastry. But to get a delicate flakiness in our dough, we folded the dough three times, like quick puff pastry, then left it to chill. This created pockets of fat that create flaky layers when baked.
We spiced the dough with cardamom, coriander and cinnamon for extra flavor and used dried sour cherries for a rich filling cut with a pleasant tartness. Apricot preserves served as the base for the filling.
Rugelach come in varying shapes. So instead of laboriously forming each cookie into a crescent, we found it easier to roll the dough into rectangles that were filled, then rolled into cookie “logs.” We sliced the logs into 2-inch pieces, but cut only three-fourths of the way through so the pieces hung together during baking.