Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hamentashen, Rugelach and a Houseful of Cookies

What kind of cruel joke is this to force upon my waistline?

I was obligated this week to bake two large batches of ethnic cookies. It’s Purim, for goodness sake. We couldn’t let this week go by without making hamentashen. It’s tradition. Heaven forbid my children should be forced to eat the store-bought monstrosities they try to pass off as “authentic” around here. Plus, real hamentashen rank among my favorite cookies, so despite the prune bread episode, there was no way I was going to let this annual opportunity slip by.

And then there are the thoughtful folks at Tuesdays with Dorie, who assigned a rugelach recipe as our baking project for this week. I am a huge fan of rugelach, and having spent a great deal of time in NYC, the unofficial rugelach capital of the world, I had high expectations for the outcome. So the pressure was on, for my belt and for my ego. Did I mention that the rugelach recipe starts with 3 sticks of butter and 12 ounces of cream cheese? If you don’t know what that looks like, picture a 5-quart mixing bowl, overflowing with fats. (Really! I had trouble keeping this dough in my KitchenAid, even before I added the flour.)

Sidebar: Guess what Mom sent in her care package this week? A shoebox full of cookies (three varieties, and we tried them all immediately). Perfect. Then good friend HW stopped by with some cranberry-chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookies for us to try, just to see if we could take it. I told her it was like Christmas time around here with all these cookies, but she had a better name: XPurimas. We're witnessing the birth of a new interfaith holiday here -- one that demands feats of gastronomic fortitude that rival Thanksgiving, Christmas, Festivus and every other Judeo-Christian holiday, all rolled into one.

But back to the baking story: As usual, we had some success and some mishaps along the way with both recipes. We had a baking party with our good friends for the hamentashen, which was a pleasure once I stopped worrying about the kids’ triangle-shaping deficiencies.

We tried some new flavors alongside the requisite apricot and chocolate chip. This year we replaced the prune with fig butter (just eh), tried red currant jelly (note to self – jelly seeps), and scored a big win with lemon curd. I have been fixated on lemon curd ever since our outing to the teashop, and although I know it is fairly simple to make, who’s got the time when there are so many other baking projects on the docket? So I was thrilled to find a jar of real English lemon curd at Trader Joe’s. Lemon filling will be a permanent fixture in the hamentashen pantheon going forward. Being the tastiest choice, we gobbled these up before I got a picture, so here is a photo of the other three surviving varieties for your drooling pleasure. Happy Purim!

Although the rugelach was another long, messy baking project, the recipe is simple to follow and definitely a keeper. The hardest part was deciding which fillings to use. I had four sections of dough, so I ended up using the leftover apricot and fig preserves for the first two and some Nutella on the third. But on the final section, I took a risk with lingonberry jam (yes, straight from Ikea). I topped them all with pecans and the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Just look at how lovely they were!

Everything was going swimmingly until it came time to roll up the dough. It took me several hours before I realized my critical mistake, and by then it was too late. Somewhere in heaven, a disappointed Jewish ancestor is wagging a bony finger at me and spitting noisily – pht pht pht! 

What kind of a Jew doesn’t know how to roll up a rugelach? It turns out that rolling from the bottom up, instead of left to right, creates an enormous roll that more closely resembles a Carvel log-cake than any realistically-sized cookie.

I couldn’t imagine how these beasts would turn into the plump little treats I’d had at so many bar mitzvahs and delis over the years. But no matter, I soldiered on. I cut the rolls much narrower than any natural rugelach should be to make up for some of the bulk. This meant that I had to bake them flat on their sides. No problem. Except they unrolled a little during baking.

Although these cookies were delicious, I just can’t call them rugelach. Calling them “rugelach pinwheels” makes it sound like I did the whole thing on purpose. Sort of.

Still, I'm proud of my Swedish twist on a classic. I think I’ve birthed a cookie that successfully combines sour and sweet, creamy and crunchy. The lingonberries popped magically within the cream cheese dough, and the cinnamon-sugar mixture balanced out some of the tang of the berries. Someday the Jews of Scandinavia (all 12 of them) will thank me.

Next time they'll actually look like rugelach too. (Not some huge freak twist of bloody pastry coil.)

Below is the hamentashen recipe, which you should know is more art than science. You may find, for example, that you prefer a sweeter dough, or that you need more flour to get the dough to behave. Use your best judgment, and don’t worry too much – unlike the rugelach, it’s hard to mess these up.

For the rugelach recipe, please visit Jessica of My Baking Heart. , or Margaret of The Urban Hiker, or buy the book: Baking With Julia.

Happy XPurimas to all!


4 eggs
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
scant ¼ cup honey
2 tsp. vanilla
5 cups all purpose flour (or more)
4 tsp baking powder
dash of salt

Filling suggestions:
Apricot jam
Boiled (3 minutes), chopped prunes with orange zest and ground almonds, to taste
Chocolate chips
Lemon curd
Strawberry jam or any other jams you have laying around (not jelly)

In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs until lightened. Beat in sugar, oil, honey and vanilla. Sift
4 ½  to 5 cups of the flour with the baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and gradually stir it into the egg mixture. Mix until a soft, wet dough is formed. Oil hands and make a ball out of the dough. Cover it in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide dough into three sections. Knead one section until it is smooth enough to roll out. Use the remaining flour to flour a rolling pin and work surface, and roll the dough out to ¼ inch thickness.

Use a large glass to cut rounds and put a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each. Close the top of the cookie with a pinch, and pinch both sides and bottom to form a triangular shape, leaving the filling exposed in the center. Pick up scraps and form another ball. Repeat until all the dough is used. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on thickness, until just lightly browned all over.


  1. Yours look delicious! I'm glad I made my rugelach last week. We had a hamantaschen baking party at our house yesterday. Yum!

    1. I'm guessing your hamentashen were prettier than ours. You'll notice that I only got three that were picture-worthy. What flavors did you use for filling?

  2. your cookies looks prefect .. good job ... Aren't they a delight !!! Loved it !!!! you have a cookie treat going on !!

  3. I'll have to make hamentashen one day. The rugelach were messy but oh so tasty.

  4. The lingonberry version is beautiful -- what a great color!

  5. your rugelach looks absolutely delicious!

  6. Your hamentashen look great! I love the lemon curd filling idea, I never would've thought of that. I've never tried lingonberries, but they sure do look pretty, and I can imagine that a slightly sour fruit would work great with all of that cinnamon-sugar.

  7. Yes, it seems we had a sour fruit theme with both recipes.

  8. I love lingonberry. I wish they were a little more mainstream.
    Kudos for tackling both projects. Well done.

  9. I very nearly rolled mine up the wrong way & then realized it! I bet you had some "big man" sized rugelach (which my DH would have loved). I have been a fan of lemon curd for a long time- it makes anything taste better- great idea! Cook on.....


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