Friday, December 11, 2009

Raspberry Rugelach . . . and that's just for starters!

Well, it's two weeks until the big day and there's no denying that bakers of all stripes are now in the thick of hardcore cookie-production. Can't you just hear the well-oiled gears of the Christmas cookie-baking machine churning away all over America? I can. I've been hearing them rev up for weeks now. Sometimes they're so loud they keep me up at night. Who's out there baking at 3 in the morning anyway? (Honey, whoever you are, just back away from your sanding sugar and go get some sleep. Don't argue with me.)

Until this morning, I hadn't yet put my own cookie-making pedal to the metal (forgive the mixed metaphors . . . you know I how I love to mix things). I am obligated to crank out a lot of cookies over the next few days. A few dozen for a church fundraiser, probably at least eight dozen for my husband's office holiday event, not to mention cookies to keep at home and freeze for the actual holidays themselves. Oh, and can't forget some for my 82-year old dad and my older brother. And let's not leave out my sister, Joanie, who has an annual craving for our late mom's old thumbprint recipe. She'll be blowing into town from Connecticut on the 23rd (she's always been one to cut it close).

Got my work cut out for me . . .

I waded buoyantly into the cookie-making fray at 8:00 a.m. this morning, mere minutes after my youngest son left for school. Clutching a recipe for raspberry rugelach, I felt compelled to get my foot in the holiday-cookie door largely because I knew I could throw the dough together really quickly, toss it in the fridge for its mandatory chill, and then go about the business of my non-baking life for a while and do the assembly and baking later on today (yes, I do sometimes engage in non-baking related pursuits, contrary to popular belief; woman does not live by baked goods alone, you know).

As for the particular recipe that I chose, I read through a handful of them for rugelach last night and thought this one seemed a little more logically structured than the others. It's from the book Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. (This is a great resource; the very first blog post I did was for blueberry muffins, from this book, and they were exceptional.) I made no changes at all to the formula. It sounded really good to me as is. I did, though, do some of my usual editorializing in the instructions, along with a little rewording here and there.

I'm glad I picked this recipe because the combined flavors meld together beautifully. We have raspberry (always a hit), a barely perceptible hint of chocolate (who could complain?), pecans (yeah, like those too), and cinnamon (nothing negative to say about cinnamon . . . it's so lovable). Rugelach is actually a pretty simple item to make, but it looks deceptively time consuming. That kind of deception is a good thing at Christmas. It gets you way more "ooohhs" and "ahhhhs" than a run o' the mill sugar cookie (though I have nothing against those either . . . you guys know I don't discriminate). So go ahead. No more procrastinating. Get your cookie engine running and go make some rugelach!

Raspberry Rugelach

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

2 cups All Purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups pecans, toasted
1/3 cup chopped semisweet chocolate (optional; I used mini chocolate chips)
1 cup raspberry jam (I used seedless)
1/3 cup cinnamon sugar (1/3 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon)
egg wash (1 large egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp. milk or cold water; I used water)

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese and butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until combined, scraping the bowl as needed to evenly blend. Tightly wrap the dough and chill it for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it's firm.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it's 1 inch thick all over. Fold the dough over into thirds, like you'd fold a letter. Wrap the dough and chill it for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.

To prepare the filling, combine the pecans and chocolate in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse repeatedly until the mixture forms a coarse paste. (I pulsed until a bit of it held together when I pressed with my fingers; it was not truly like "paste" for me, but it worked just fine the way it was.) Dump it all into a bowl, add in all of the jam, and stir until it's well combined.
When you're ready to assemble and bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper. Divide the chilled dough into 4 equal pieces. Return three of them to the fridge while you work on the first one.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 10" circle. Spread 1/4 of the filling evenly all over the circle, extending almost right up to the edge. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cinnamon sugar evenly over the filling.

Cut the circle evenly into wedges; 16 if you want very small rugelach, 12 if you'd like them slightly larger (I used a sharp pizza wheel to cut them; I made mine into 12 wedges and they were still small). Roll the wedges up, starting at the wide end. Curve the ends in slightly, like a crescent, if you wish.

Place them on your lined cookie sheet. Brush them gently with the egg wash, and sprinkle each one with cinnamon sugar.

Bake them until light golden brown, for approximately 25 to 30 minutes (mine only took about 22 minutes). Transfer the finished rugelach to wire racks and cool them completely before storing or serving them.

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