“Evelyn dropped off the rugelach!” my mother texts my sister and me to announce the annual cookie delivery from a dear family friend just in time for Hanukkah. Any plans are forgone as I rush to my mother’s, where a giant aluminum tray packed with dozens of cookies filled with dark chocolate or cinnamon and walnuts awaits, ready to be divvied up among our family. While chocolate chip cookies are great and a buttery shortbread is lovely, for me nothing stands up to a tray of freshly baked rugelach.
This Ashkenazi-Jewish confection has been near and dear to my heart for as long as I can remember. Everyone has that one sweet from their childhood that brings up all those fuzzy nostalgic vibes, and mine is rugelach. The classic features a cream-cheese dough coated with anything from chocolate, jam, or nuts before it’s cut and rolled to make a flaky cookie singing with flavor.
While most tend to keep it traditional when it comes to their fillings, I like to spice things up with my rugelach (both my pumpkin-spice and my hot pepper jelly rugelach are game changers). Let me remind you that it is completely kosher to get a little creative with the fillings, and yes, that includes venturing into the realm of savory. Just as these cookies make the ideal sweet finish to a meal or nibble with a cup of coffee, the dough is versatile enough to stand up to just about any savory filling you can dream up. These savory versions make for addictive party apps.
If it’s your first time trying your hand at this Jewish pastry, I’ll share a few tips. Rugelach is a perfect recipe to prep in advance. Make sure your dough is properly chilled so that you don’t have any issues rolling the cookies up cleanly. (I like to make a few batches of the dough and freeze them to have on hand for last-minute entertaining or a late-night sweet tooth.) Same goes for the fillings. You want them to be easily spreadable so that they don’t tear the dough. They also shouldn’t be warm, or you’ll end up with a mess as you roll and bake. Any of the recipes can be either pillow- or crescent-shaped (see how to make both shapes here).
While I’m not sure if Evelyn would approve of my modern take on rugelach compared to her classic beauties, there’s definitely a place for both in my kitchen—and in my stomach.