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?

Yes, Grandma.

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:

ground pecans
golden raisins
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.

To prepare:

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.






I can’t see bell peppers without thinking of my mother.

A tiny woman, fragile, loose-limbed, and notoriously accident-prone, she could find the single crack in a sidewalk over which a thousand people had stepped without falling, and lose her footing.

Despite her delicate constitution, she had a sharp mind, wicked wit, and will of steel. In all matters, she was determined, tenacious, and thoroughly unconventional, a sylph with the heart of a daredevil.

Her greatest dream was to do biological research. Her high school teachers and guidance counselors encouraged her to pursue her dream in college. But this was during the 1930’s. There was a Depression. My mother was instructed by her family to find a job, and then a husband.

I can only imagine the discoveries she would have made had she been given the support she needed. She had an unwavering in her own abilities to solve life’s greatest puzzles and mysteries, defy odds, even when life was throwing obstacles in her way.

Thus she broke through an oppressively low glass ceiling, and became a corporate Chief Financial Officer. As busy as she was, on weekends, she was in the kitchen experimenting, mixing her mother’s old world culinary practices with a desire to understand how and why they nourished the body, and satisfied the senses so completely…

…which is how I wound up roasting peppers. During one of her visits, she laughed when I tried to put a jar of roasted peppers in my cart, and took them out of my hands. Before I could protest, she had walked off to the produce aisle to find the perfect peppers for the lesson she planned to give me.

Her insistence on my learning how to roast them amused me. But now I realize the value of it, the importance, in everything I do. How lucky we all were—my father, brother, and I, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, then grandchildren—to be the recipients of her teaching, her gifts, her need to create, solve problems. How blessed we all were to be in the presence of such an extraordinary woman….