I can’t seem to leave a good new idea alone. I was excited to find that swapping fresh goat cheese for ordinary cream cheese in my favorite rugelach dough recipe produced a tangy, more sophisticated and interesting pastry, so I used it to make a galette with blackberries and goat cheese. Now I’m circling back to rugelach, where the whole idea originated.
Rugelach are considered cookies, but they are really more like miniature pastries. Some are shaped like baby croissants, others like tiny logs. Either way, thin sheets of dough are rolled up around tasty fillings before baking. Rugelach are typically filled with walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon sugar—many bakers like to add chocolate, too. You can invent all kinds of rugelach by playing around with the fillings: swap any kind of diced dried fruit for the raisins; pecans, hazelnuts or almonds for the walnuts. You can trade cardamom for cinnamon, add citrus zest, and so forth; it's a good canvas.
But my biggest rugelach secret involves the pastry (dough), not the filling. Most recipes for the dough are similar, if not exactly the same—flour and very little sugar, with butter and cream cheese. Most bakers cream the butter and cheese together as though making normal cookie dough, before adding the flour. Assuming a good filling, what’s not to like, right?
You can get a delicate and flaky layered pastry—no skill required—by mixing the very same ingredients in a different way.
But there’s a better way to go with rugelach dough: you can get a delicate and flaky layered pastry—no skill required—by mixing the very same ingredients in a different way. Instead of creaming the sugar with the butter and cheese, try this: Mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold pieces of butter and mix until bits of butter range in size from breadcrumbs to hazelnuts—in other words, don’t blend butter completely into the flour. Crumble and add cream cheese (or goat cheese) and mix until it looks like a loose bowlful of damp breadcrumbs—it should not look like dough. You know you're done mixing when the mixture sticks together when you pinch it. Dump it into a plastic bag and press it very firmly into a ball. Chill for several hours. Roll out, fill, and shape as directed in your recipe (or this one).
Since the method is the game changer here (and it involves no floured surface / minimizes clean-up), feel free to try it with your own favorite rugelach dough and filling. But I think you’ll love this elegant version, with nuanced goat cheese in the shell, which is filled with crunchy toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate—like deconstructed Nutella with fragrant top notes of orange zest and cinnamon sugar.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).