Something I've been trying to be better about lately is using up leftovers in the fridge before they go bad. I feel like I throw away a lot of food, which is wasteful and expensive. Yesterday, Justin and I made chicken hash for breakfast utilizing only random finds from the icebox, and it turned out mighty tasty. Continuing that trend, I decided to use up the cream cheese that was left unused after last week's hamantaschen. I could have taken the seemingly easy way out and bought some bagels, but growing up in a predominately Jewish suburb made me selective about my bagels, and there are no decent ones to be found within proximity of my apartment. Keeping with the Jewish theme, however, I decided to bake rugelach.
Rugelach are a hybrid of pastry and cookie, consisting of a rich, cream-cheese dough layered with fillings such as jam, cinnamon sugar, nuts, chocolate, and/or dried fruit, and rolled into crescents or spirals. Prior to this project, I always believed I didn't like rugelach, based on my encounters with dry and otherwise unpleasant versions served at delis back home. My dislike of the cookie is partially why I decided to make them -- I often try to satisfy my urge to bake without making food that I'll be tempted to eat. Also, rugelach presented a challenge, as it is often described as difficult to make. In fact, that reputation had dissuaded me from trying them before now, but my success with the hamantaschen emboldened me.
Actually, I discovered that the rugelach were actually fairly easy to make, though it took some time to assemble them. I think it's time for me to come to terms with the fact that I've accumulated quite a bit of baking skill and know-how, and stop being so intimidated by dishes that are supposed to be "too hard."
Depending on how you look at it, these cookies could be viewed as either an overwhelming success, or somewhat of a failure. The combination of tangy, flaky dough with sweet jam, crunchy nuts, and cinnamon (one of my all-time favorite flavors) completely won me over. These cookies were completely (and surprisingly) delicious. So much so, that I more or less abandoned my plan to dispose of the caloric little treats at the office, and ended up hoarding all of them in my cookie jar. I discovered a new dessert to add to my repertoire, but my waistline will not be thanking me. If you're going to make these, beware: you may end up finding yourself unable to share.
adapted from Ina Garten
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 c. flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 c. walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon milk, for egg wash
Cream the butter and cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer until light. Add two tablespoons sugar, vanilla extract, and salt and mix to combine. Add the flour, and mix on low until just combined. Divide the dough in half, shape into disks, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least one hour, or overnight.
To make filling, stir together 3 tablespoons sugar, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and walnuts in a small bowl.
To make topping, combine 1 tablespoon sugar with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.
Dust the counter with powdered sugar, and roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread a heaping tablespoon of apricot preserves to cover each disk, and sprinkle half of the filling over each as well. Using a pizza cutter, cut each circle into 12 wedges -- cutting the whole circle into quarters, and then cutting each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge into a crescent. Place the cookies, points tucked under, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350.
Brush each cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with topping. Bake 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to wire rack and let cool completely before eating.