Monday, January 29, 2007

Rugelach

As a young school girl, growing up in a quiet town north of Seattle, I was mostly surrounded by other children like me. That is to say, white. Always having been a blue collar town driven by paper mills and an airplane factory, Everett was not a hot bed of racial diversity. But those children of other cultures that did mix into our classrooms were celebrated. They shared with us foods, traditions, art, song and dance from their culture, and I sat with glittering wide eyes, awed by the differences their lives held from mine. My eight year old heart wished with all I had to have a heritage like they did.

Sure, my mom's family holds dear the Irish in them, come via Newfoundland about 7 generations ago. My strongest tie being weak, the faint Irish in my past mixed with other northern European blood lines to make me something of a mutt. While as an adult I have learned that the mutt in me is a pure bred American, the child in me still glitters at bits of heritage from cultures and histories that will never be mine.

When I was challenged by my Jewish pantry cook, Cara, to make a dessert celebrating her own heritage, the child in me took it to heart. In choosing Rugelach, an cookie of Ashkenazi Jewish tradition I made it with respect to the generational ties it holds. A simple flaky pastry of cream cheese, butter, and flour creates a rolled shell holding a filling traditionally made with currants, cinnamon, and sugar. (Or so I am told by my pantry cook)

Sounding much too like a cookie version of cinnamon rolls to resist, I was quick to deviate a bit from a tradition I had only just adopted. Dressing them much the way I dress my buns, the rugelach's filling was gussied up, first adding the zest of an orange to the cinnamon sugar. The raisin hater I once was long ago banished the seedy pellets from my cinnamon rolls, opting instead for chopped bittersweet chocolate and pecans. I since may have learned to enjoy a nice plump raisin here and there, but because my motivation to perfect these cookies came from an earlier version of myself, I thought I could certainly hold fast to my raisin swap, and fill my rugelach with chocolate and pecans too.


The dough is rolled out in a 12 inch disk, egg washed, and covered in a thin layer of the filling ingredients, cinnamon sugar first. Looking much like a pizza, the "pie" is cut in 16 equally sized wedges, and rolled up fat end first to make little crescent rolls. The tops are egg washed and sprinkled with what I call disco sugar. The addition of the large granule sugar on top adds not only an impressive sparkle, but very nice crunch to the texture of the flaky cookie. If you don't opt for the disco sugar, regular sugar, or even just egg wash will do just fine.

Rugelach

for the dough

1 cup cream cheese, cold
1 cup butter, cold
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar

1. Cut the butter and cream cheese into inch pieces. Paddle them in the bowl of a kitchen aid on medium speed until they are well combined.

2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the sugar and salt. Mix until combined and scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

3. Add the flour and mix on low until the flour is no longer visible and the dough comes together into a large curd, lumpy mass.

Alternately...(and I often alternate to this) Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse 15 to 20 times, or until the dough comes together into a large curd, lumpy mass.

3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and separate the dough into 4 equally sized balls. Press the balls into disks, wrap with plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or a month in the freezer.

for the filling

1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
zest of 1 orange
4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate (roughly half a cup)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. In a bowl combine the sugar and cinnamon evenly. Zest the orange directly over the bowl of cinnamon sugar to capture all of the oils being released by zesting. When the entire orange is zested, mix it into the sugar with your fingers, breaking it up as much as possible.

2. Chop the pecans and chocolate fairly small. Large chunks will either fall from the cookie when it is rolled, or break through the dough.

Assembly

Preheat the oven to 350
Have ready sheet pans lined with parchment or sillpats. Sugar leaks from the cookies during the baking process, making it very hard to remove from unlined pans.

Have ready Egg wash (one egg beaten well with 1 tbsp water) and a pastry brush to apply it
Disco sugar (large granule decorators sugar)



1. Roll the dough into a 12 inch circle. Apply a light coat of egg wash to the entire face of the dough.

2. Sprinkle 1/4 of the cinnamon sugar to the dough and spread evenly with your hand.

3. Sprinkle 1/4 of the chopped pecans and chocolate over the cinnamon sugar leaving a 2 inch circle in the center void of large chunks.

4. Cut the circle in 16 even wedges and pull them apart. Starting with the fat end of 1 wedge, roll the cookie up. Dip it in egg wash, place it on the lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle it with a bit of disco sugar. Repeat with the remaining wedges.

5. Bake the cookies at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops are a deep golden brown and the bottoms are clearly done. If under baked, the dough will not be flaky and the center will be uncooked.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An interlude

If you have noticed a change in the frequency of posting lately, then to you I apologize. It's not my lack of passion that has changed, nor my desire to tell you all about it. The amount of desserts I have produced this month is extreme, some refinements of recipes in my book, some new additions that are worth keeping around. Many classes taught, cookies made, and menu items developed.

But along side my own exciting developements, I have been struggling every day along side my mother. Just a month past her 55th birthday, she is coming to the end of a 4 year battle with a very agressive and debilitating form of Parkinsons desiese called striato-nigral degeneration. She suffered through the kind of degeneration that took something from her every month. From fine motor skills, to balance, walking, talking, swallowing, and finally breathing, she held her head up high as all these human qualities slipped away from her.

I have been by her side managing her care for the last 2 years, day in, day out. It's been nothing but a blessing to have spent so much time with her and been able to give back as much of me as she needed. As her lungs weaken and struggle to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, my sisters and I are spending as much time with her as we can, and the rest with eachother.

Forgive the lapse in posting, bear the month or more it takes to for my fingers to grow nimble and my mind to warm up to writing. And if you can, send your prayers for my mother, Denise, who has been so brave in the face of such a terrible desiese.