For many, this time of year means one thing. Cookies. It is a long-standing tradition to make and gift cookies for friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances…and perhaps even that weird guy in your office that sits in the corner mumbling about his stapler.

I personally hear a lot of rumblings and get a lot of invites to cookie-exchange parties right around now. And a little secret I will let you in on…I am actually horrible at baking! It’s true, for the most part unless I have a great recipe to follow because it’s so scientific and measurement based. I am more of a ‘pinch of this and that’ kinda girl, which doesn’t bode well for baking unless you are interested in making a baking powder flavored cake (don’t laugh, I’ve done it. But alas, those parties are really just an excuse to drink wine and mingle with friends anyhow. And while there is no shame in that game, I long for the days when it wasn’t acceptable to pick up processed cookies in a plastic container and pass them off as treats. When pre-made dough was unheard of, and cooking was a craft. You could taste the love in every bite.

I am at heart a traditional gal. I think this is a trait inherited by my Mom. She never takes the shortcut or compromises quality for convenience. We grew up with everything made by hand with patience and love…no shortcuts allowed. And I know everyone is saying right about now. ‘But I don’t have the time!” Granted, doing things the old-fashioned way isn’t always easiest, but it really is an important characteristic that we can’t afford to lose…that pomp and circumstance of creating recipes mired in family history. It is, after all, the essence that makes the holidays so special for us all.

I wouldn’t believe a one of you if you told me you didn’t have some favorite something or another that your Mom or Aunt Betty makes each year that you just can’t WAIT to sink your teeth into. I certainly have plenty of those items! In my house each year,the little elves are always hard at work in the kitchen making the most beautiful and elaborate cookie baskets on the planet! There are gingerbread cookies, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter kisses (or balls…what have you), M&M cookies, sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, magic chocolate bars…the exhaustive list goes on.

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My mom and brother spend hours in the kitchen, a skill that they have organized to a fine science over the past few decades. It is like watching a dysfunctional ballet, as they glide around the kitchen, my Mom mixing, my brother using the cookie press to crank out the most precise little christmas tree shaped sugar cookies you have ever seen, dusting them with just the right amount of sprinkled sugar to make them sparkle in festive hues of red and green. It really is something to watch.

I never got in the mix with them for two reasons. First, as I said earlier, I am not much of a baker, and not big on sweets, so it never roped me in so much. My Mom thinks I am an alien from outerspace, or the mailman’s child, given that I don’t like chocolate so much. I mean, she would know better than I of her scandalous relationship with our parcel carrier is what I tell her. Secondly, my brother and I would inevitably stab one or the other of us with a dull butter knife, and I would likely be the recipient of said stabbing.

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 Much like with our crayons as children, his were always perfectly pointed, stacked neatly in the two tiered cardboard container in order of color family. Mine were broken, dulled down to a nub, and shoved back in the box upside down and in no particular order (see example below to get a better picture). I liked to consider myself ‘avante gard.’ Cooking for us is the same. One look at my blobbed Christmas tree cookies deluged in a mound of mixed colored sugars would surely send my brother into a rage of fury, red-eyes widening, vein in next bulging like a Christmas time Hulk.

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So, needless to say, I am not a part of the cookie making process, but I do so enjoy watching it happen and sitting at the end of the counter and laughing along with them, distracting the dogs from their permeating beggar-like gazes.

One of the recipes that my Mom is famous for is a time-tested traditional rugelach. For those new to rugelach, it is a European pastry that is rolled into spirals with an array of toppings which are at the discretion of the baker. Its name is derived from Yiddish origin, and roughly translates to ‘little twists’ because of their rolled, crescent shape. My Mom makes the most amazing cinnamon flavored crescents, so I think for life, that will be my preference because it is what I grew up on, but go ahead and get fancy! You can add chocolate, jam, honey, crushed graham crackers or walnuts…the sky is the limit and they all taste great!

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I recently found an article on The Ktchn that featured some excellent tips for making the perfect consistency rugelach, as well as some dreamy pics…both of which I will share with you now. So print it out, save it…but most importantly USE it and start your own cookie making tradition this year!

Tips & Tricks for the Perfect Rugelach
Try to make your rugelach dough in a food processor rather than with a mixer or by hand. This makes an incredibly tender dough where the cream cheese and butter are cut into the flour rather than absorbed by it. If you don’t have a food processor, though, no worries: take a look at the instructions for making rugelach by hand at the end of the recipe.

Try adding an egg yolk to your dough. It’s not strictly necessary, but it helps to create extra richness and a guaranteed golden color in the oven. These are, after all, celebration cookies, so now is not the time to shy away from a decadent cookie.

To form the perfect traditional shape for your rugelach, roll individually into crescents rather than rolling the dough around the filling and then slicing them into pinwheels. This technique is a bit more labor-intensive, but the crescent shape tends to create a more satisfying bite and pleasing appearance.

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Classic Rugelach

Serves 64
Prep time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 2 hours, 30 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Peanuts
Meal type Dessert
Misc Freezable, Serve Hot
Occasion Christmas
Region European
Website The Ktchn

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Package (8 oz) Cream Cheese (Cubed)
  • 2 Sticks Butter (Cubed)
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 Yolk Egg
  • 1 Batch Filling
  • 1 bag Powdered Sugar (for sprinkling)

Directions

Dough Mixture
Step 1
Combine the flour and salt. Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to mix.
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Step 2
Mix in the cream cheese and butter. Scatter the cubes of cream cheese and butter over the flour. Pulse 10 to 12 times until coarse crumbs form.
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Step 3
Mix in the yolk and vanilla. Whisk together the vanilla and yolk in a bowl, and the pour them over the butter-flour mixture. Run the processor continuously until the dough starts to clump together and form large curdlike pieces.
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Step 4
Refrigerate the dough. Turn the dough out onto the counter and gather the pieces into a ball. Divide into four portions and flatten each into 1-inch thick disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the dough at least 2 hours or up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months (thaw in the refrigerator before using). When ready to bake the rugelach, preheat the oven to 375°F and prepare your fillings.
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Cookie Prep
Step 5
Roll out the dough. Sprinkle your work surface generously with powdered sugar. Take one disk of dough from the refrigerator and let it warm on the counter for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle the surface of the dough and the rolling pin with more powdered sugar. Roll the dough from the center out into a circle about 1/8-inch thick. Don't worry if a few cracks form near the edges. Use more powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking.
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Step 6
Spread with filling. Spread the filling in a thin layer evenly over the surface of the dough. Make sure it goes right up to the edge of the dough.
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Step 7
Slice and roll the cookies. Slice the dough into 16 wedges, like a pizza, using a pizza cutter or sharp knife. Roll up each wedge, beginning at the wide outer edge and moving inward. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure the tip is tucked underneath.
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Step 8
Chill the cookies. Refrigerate cookies on the baking sheet, 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare remaining batches.
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Baking Cookies
Step 9
Bake the cookies. Bake the first tray of cookies until golden-brown, 20-25 minutes. Cool on the sheet, 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack. Bake the remaining cookies.
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Fillings
Step 10
Nut Filling: In a food processor, grind 1 cup walnuts and 1 cup pecans until they break into tiny crumbs, 30 to 40 pulses. (Be careful of over-processing and making nut-butter.) Combine the ground nuts in a bowl with 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) melted butter, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
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Step 11
Fruit and Jam Filling: Warm 1/4 cup marmalade, apricot jam or raspberry jam in the microwave until it liquefies. Stir in the 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside to cool until no longer steaming, still liquidy. Pulse 2 cups (roughly 10 ounces) dried fruit, such as apricots, cranberries, cherries or currants, in a food processor until it breaks down into tiny pieces. To assemble, spread the jam onto the rugelach dough; sprinkle the dried fruit on top.
Step 12
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Filling: Warm 1/2 cup peanut butter in a microwave until it liquefies. Spread over the rugelach dough; sprinkle with 1 cup miniature chocolate chips.
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