(recipe, Joan Nathan)
In the Middle Ages it was traditional to eat cheesecakes at Hanukkah in commemoration of the cheesecakes or pancakes Judith gave to General Holofernes. After eating these cakes, the general became thirsty for wine, which Judith also served him. Soon he swooned, Judith slew him, and the Jews were saved. Today many people serve sour-cream pancakes at Hanukkah in memory of Judith. Others serve rugelach, a half-moon cream-cheese cookie, which may be a far cry from the original cheesecake but is nevertheless a melt-in-the-mouth delicacy perfect for the fanciest party.
Probably the most popular of American Jewish cookies, this horn-shaped treat was made in Europe with butter; cream cheese was added in this country. I love Ann Amernick's version: it has no sugar in the dough but a sprinkling on top of the finished cookie. She also uses this dough to make hamantashen.
- 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 cup thick apricot preserves
- ¾ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 cup (about 8 ounces) shaved bittersweet chocolate
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- Confectioners' sugar
- To make the dough, place the cream cheese and the butter in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Cream at a low speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix until a very soft dough is formed, about 2 more minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with baking parchment (or a Silpat baking mat).
- Mix the ingredients for the apricot or chocolate filling and divide the dough into 4 balls. On a lightly floured surface roll the balls out into 4 circles about ⅛-inch thick and 9 inches in diameter. Spread the apricot or chocolate filling over the dough. If using the cinnamon-sugar filling, brush the melted butter on first, then sprinkle the combined cinnamon and sugar.
- Using a dull knife, cut each circle into 16 pie-shaped pieces about 2 inches wide at the circumference. Roll up from the wide side to the center. Place the rugelach on the lined cookie sheets. Bake in the oven on the middle and lower racks, switching after 12 minutes, also switching back to front. Continue baking about 13 more minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the rugelach to racks to cool.
- Sprinkle the apricot and chocolate rugelach with confectioners' sugar just before serving.
From the Culinate food editor: I, too, like the not-sweet dough, but think it could use a little salt, so I've added 1/4 tsp. salt.
My family also liked these variations: For the chocolate filling, I used Green & Black's Maya Gold (dark chocolate with orange and spices), and to the cinnamon-sugar filling, I added currants and orange zest.