There was more than a touch of mystery in my grandmother’s rugelach.
When I was very young, I never sought to unravel it.
My brother and I would await her arrival, plant our feet as firmly as we could to be ready for her hugs—such was the force of her love, then beg her to make rugelach for us. The process, which always took a couple of days, culminated with rich crescent-shaped miracles emerging from the oven, glazed and golden, filling the house with the scents of sugar and cinnamon. We could barely wait for them to cool, and would snatch them off of the plate as soon as we were allowed, each bite a revelation of sweet and spice, fruit and nut.
As I got old enough to wonder how she managed it, I would go into the kitchen to observe, learn.
At her task, she was all business. After turning on the oven, she would take the dough— cream cheese, butter, and flour, which she had mixed, shaped into a ball and wrapped in paper the day before, out of the refrigerator. Then, while it was relaxing, softening, she would spread parchment paper on the table and sprinkle it with flour. Next, she would mix the cinnamon and sugar, place some in a bowl, and some on a plate, crush pecans between two sheets of parchment with a rolling pin, and empty a box of golden raisins into another bowl.
Why golden raisins?
Because they taste better.
Can I help?
Did you wash your hands?
A sharp stare. Wash them again.
I’d watch her divide the dough into four pieces, and roll them into circles. Then we would spread the cinnamon-sugar over it, sprinkle on the nuts in just the right amount so that they covered the dough, and top it with raisins. Carefully, so carefully, she would take her knife and cut each circle into wedges. These we would roll into crescents, making certain that all the ingredients were secure…protected…before dredging them in cinnamon-sugar.
I make these moon-phase delicacies still, as a woman very near the age my grandmother was when she made them for me.
My little ones, now well into mid-life, have learned to make them, too.
It’s good to pass these things on.
But for me, rugelach are more than a pastry, a tradition. They are slips of my childhood, of savoring mysteries, being in that kitchen, planting my feet on the floor. They are tantalizing aromas, complex flavors, the strength of my Grandmother’s arms…
They are hugs.
(Since publishing this post I’ve had numerous requests for my grandmother’s Rugelach recipe. So, I’m adding it below.)
Grandma Betty’s Rugelach
For the dough you’ll need:
8 ozs. light (or neufchatel) cream cheese (my grandmother used full fat cream cheese, but I’ve substituted light for it with no loss of flavor or texture)
2 sticks butter or margarine
2 cups of flour
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Soften the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. When soft, mix in flour until the dough forms a ball. Shape the dough into a 10” log that is approximately 3” in diameter. Cover with plastic or wax paper and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 375º.
Cut the refrigerated dough into four sections. Let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Mix cinnamon and sugar until thoroughly combined. Put half of the mix into a shallow bowl or on a plate.
On a well floured mat or board, roll a section of dough into a 9-10” circle. Generously sprinkle entire surface with cinnamon-sugar mix. Then sprinkle with ground pecans. Cut the dough into 12 wedges (like you would cut a pie). On each wedge, at the widest point, place 3-4 raisins. Roll toward the narrow point as you would a crescent. Dredge the rolled up cookie in cinnamon sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat process until all the dough has been used up. (You may need to make more cinnamon sugar!)
Bake from 13-16 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown.
Cool on rack.