Cookie of the Month: Cheering for cherry rugelach

Rugelach — little bites of buttery, cream cheese dough rolled up with fillings (jam, fruits, chocolate and nuts) into crescent-like swirls and baked to a golden brown — fall somewhere between a cookie and a pastry. I was excited to run across the term “pastry cookie” recently in my rugelach research. I was imagining other members of this category (palmiers came to mind).

Rugelach have Polish Jewish origins, the word in Yiddish meaning “little twists.” They are often served around Jewish holidays like Hanukkah in jDecember or Suuvot in the late spring, but can be found in bakeries (or made) yearround. They can be filled with any type of jam or preserves (apricot is common), nuts, chocolate and spices. They can be rolled up and sliced, but are most often shaped croissant-style and their rich taste reminds one of a little concentrated bite of pie. Several years ago, I made apricot rugelach at Christmas time. They were so good, I had vowed to make them again.

After a very sweet holiday season that lasted through Valentine’s Day, my February was winding down into a desire for — dare I say it — a cookie that was a little less sweet. Rugelach seemed to fill the bill, since the dough usually contains little to no sugar and the sweetness comes only from the fruity jam within. February often being cherry-themed for President’s Day, my mind, too, was on cherry as my rugelach filling.

I found a recipe for Cherry Almond Rugelach through the Land O’ Lakes website (https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/17866/cherry-almond-rugelach/), The simple cream cheese dough was flavored with a little bit of almond extract and a whiff of nutmeg, and cherry jam formed the base for the pastry cookies’ filling.

To begin, one has to make the dough. Softened butter and cream cheese are creamed with salt, almond extract and nutmeg.

Flour is added to make a soft dough, which is shaped into a flattened ball and chilled for at least one hour (I chilled mine overnight).

The filling is made by blending (in the blender or food processor) cherry preserves with sugar and nutmeg to a semi-smooth consistency.

Tart dried cherries and toasted almonds are chopped finely to be sprinkled on top of the jam filling.

The chilled dough is rolled out to a 12-inch circle. The dough had a nice smooth consistency, easy to work with.

The ruby jam is spread across the surface of the creamy dough, leaving a border of about a half an inch.

The chopped cherries and nuts are then sprinkled over the jam.

I used a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 16 wedges.

I rolled up each little wedge into what looked like a mini croissant, with the filling fruit and nuts peaking through.

I placed the rolled up rugelach cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

In about 20 minutes at 375°, the cookies baked up to a golden brown with some of the cherry filling oozing nicely from the swirls. The almond and cherry, along with the buttery dough, smelled irresistible..

I ate one while it was still warm…the flaky, tender pastry was perfect, not at all sweet with just a hint of almond and the filling was a perfect tart cherry, with the chew of those dried cherries and just the right amount of textural crunch from the almonds. These cookies go great with a nice afternoon cup of strong coffee.

For the Cherry Almond Rugelach recipe, go to: https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/17866/cherry-almond-rugelach/

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