There are countless kinds of Christmas cookies from Swedish gingersnaps to German lekuchen to Mexican biscochitos. So naturally, people often ask me if there are any traditional cookies for Hanukkah, which often happens around the same time of year as Christmas.
In truth, the traditional foods for Hanukkah, both sweet and savory, are those cooked in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the small mount of oil left in the temple that lasted for eight days. So, in Israel, for example, the traditional sweet for Hanukkah are sufganiyot, a yeast-rised, jam-filled fried doughnut.
But there is a favorite cookie among American Jews that we eat at Hanukkah and really any other time of year: rugelach. These flaky, delicate cookies, made with a cream cheese dough, are typically filled with jam, dried fruits and nuts and rolled into crescents. (But you can also roll them into a log and slice, which is less work when making large quantities.)
Interestingly, the original European version of rugelach, which means “little twists” in Yiddish, were made with a yeasted dough. Rugelach dough made with cream cheese for extra tenderness is an American adaptation of this centuries-old cookie that started in the 1940’s and today, we know no other way. Interestingly, in Israel, rugelach continue to be made with a yeast-risen dough in the European tradition.
I adore rugelach, especially when they are made well, and even more especially when made with homemade jam or fruit butter. But a cookie without chocolate is, to me, a wasted opportunity. So I came up with a chocolate version of rugelach that is filled with raspberry jam and mini chocolate chips because I love chocolate and raspberry in combination.
It is important to chill the dough before preceding and allow the gluten in the flour to relax for the flakiest results. Once the dough has had time to chill, you then roll it into a circle, to make crescent-shaped cookies, or a rectangle for rolled cookies.
Spread the jam over the dough and top with dried fruits, chopped nuts, or mini chocolate chips. Then you shape your cookies into crescents or roll the dough into a log for slicing. If time permits, a second short chilling before baking will allow the cookies to retain their shape.
The result is a crisp, flaky cookie with a sweet, sticky-chewy-crunchy filling. I like my combination of raspberry jam, chocolate chips and nuts, but you can come up with your own combinations using different jams, fruit butters, dried fruits and other fillings. If you are a canner, rugelach is an outstanding vehicle to showcase your homemade jams and fruit spreads. But store-bough jam works well too.
So, even if your family is not Jewish and you’ve never even heard of rugelach – let alone made them – I hope you give this recipe a try when baking for the holidays this year. I think you will see why it’s been a traditional favorite among Eastern European Jews for centuries. With the addition of cream cheese, of course.
Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach
1 cup flour
2 TB cocoa powder
1/2 tsp instant espresso (optional)
4 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
4 oz cream cheese, cold and cut into cubes
8 oz raspberry jam
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans, walnuts or almonds
2 TB butter, melted
- Combine the flour and salt in the food processor, and pulse several times.
- Add the cold butter and cream cheese. Pulse several times, then run the machine at short intervals, stopping to scrape down the sides, until large clumps of dough form.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gently knead it.
- Divide the dough in two equal pieces, flatten to about 3/4 of an inch thick, and wrap each portion in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for at least three hours and up to two days. (Dough may be made ahead up to this point and frozen; let it thaw in the refrigerator.)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpat baking mats.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator, and let it warm up for five minutes.
- On a well floured surface, roll out the dough until it is 1/8” thick, about a 12” circle. If the outer edge of the circle is ragged, trim it. (For rolled cookies, skip to step 17.) Leaving a slight plain edge, spread jam all over the dough.
- Evenly sprinkle 2 TB mini chocolate chips, followed by 2 TB of the nuts, over the jam.
- Cut the dough into 12 wedges for rolling into crescents.
- Starting at the outside edge, carefully roll up the dough into a crescent, and place on the parchment-lined pan, with the end point on the bottom side.
- Repeat, until you have 12 crescents.
- Chill the formed cookies for 15-20 minutes, prior to baking.
- When ready to bake, lightly brush the tops with melted butter, and sprinkle with 1-2 tsp Turbinado sugar.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Repeat with remaining portion of dough
- Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
- Alternatively, to make rolled cookies, roll out the dough into a rectangle 1/8” thick, about 8”x12”. Leaving a slight plain edge on one long side, spread jam all over the dough. Sprinkle 2 TB chocolate chips over top of the jam, followed by 2 TB of nuts.
- Starting at the long plain edge, carefully roll up the dough tightly into a log, and pinch the seam closed. Place on the parchment-lined sheet, with the seam on the bottom side.
- Refrigerate the dough log while you repeat the process with the other half of the dough.
- When ready to bake the cookies, lightly brush the tops of the logs with melted butter, and sprinkle them with 1-2 tsp Turbinado sugar.
- With a serrated knife, cut into the dough at one inch intervals to form individual cookies, but do not cut all the way through.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden. Let cool on the pan for about 30 minutes, then slice the log all the way through to form individual cookies.