I grew up celebrating Chanukah, and frankly all things Christmas were discouraged in our home… but secretly, I always thought Christmas was beautiful… and delicious. The brightly colored sugar cookies, swirly candy canes, and gingerbread soldiers always looked so tempting, and I made a point of partaking whenever possible. Fortunately, there was no shortage of blue-and-white-sprinkled Chanukah sugar cookies or sufganiot (jelly donuts) for those of us whose houses Santa would be passing over! Another of my favorite Jewish sweets is rugelach, those rolled up cookies filled with chocolate, nuts, or fruit jam, which are now abundantly available in many a bakery and grocery store. They can be shaped either as tiny crescents or as roll-and-slice cookies; I prefer the former, which is how they are typically made in Israel. While their consumption is not limited to Chanukah (can I get a hallelujah??), rugelach are traditionally enjoyed with gusto during the Festival of Lights—I’m more than happy to celebrate with eight days of rugelach… 😉
Along with babka, I’m thrilled to see that rugelach are becoming more widely known and loved. Thanks to pastry chefs like Mindy Segal and Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin of Ovenly, rugelach are now featured in several popular cookbooks, as well as prominent blogs and magazines like Bon Appétit. Given my penchant for both Christmas and Chanukah pastries, I was delighted to find this recipe for Gingerbread Speculoos Rugelach by HummingbirdHigh on the Crate & Barrel blog, which combines elements of both holidays! I don’t need to remind you how much I love speculoos, so it was basically a no-brainer that I would try these out immediately.
The recipe consists of a super-easy spiced cream cheese dough which is brought together practically in seconds in the food processor, and is then filled and rolled with speculoos spread and chocolate chips. The gingerbread-cream cheese aroma that wafts from the top of the food processor is heavenly, and speculoos is the perfect accompaniment with its toasty spiced flavor. At first, in what can only be explained as a temporary fit of insanity, I wondered if the chocolate chips were even necessary, and forgive me… I even pondered whether they would hinder the other flavors. (I was very wrong, and we don’t need to ever bring that up again.) They also make the rugelach prettier, especially if you can find teeny chips like the ones I used. I buy them at Spun Sugar in Berkeley, which stocks Guittard Semisweet Micro Chocolate Chips (about 10,000 tiny chips to a pound). Regular mini chips will work as well, but regular-sized would be too awkward to roll up. Another thing I love so much about this recipe is the dough. I have to say that it’s not the prettiest dough, BUT it bakes up very flaky—you can see the layers, almost like a laminated croissant. The rugelach are therefore tender and light, and the whole pastry-speculoos-chocolate business simply melts in your mouth.
A few recipes notes:
- When mixing the dough, take care not to overwork it in the food processor. The mixture will form “curds”—that’s the word used in the original recipe, and it’s the perfect way to describe the chunks that will form. Stop pulsing once the dough consists of large curds; it should not form a uniform dough.
- If you can find Biscoff brand speculoos (cookie butter spread), I recommend using it– it’s much easier to find than even a couple of years ago; check well-stocked supermarkets (Whole Foods, etc.) and markets that carry international foods, such as Cost Plus World Market. The Trader Joe’s version is made with margarine, and I’m not sure how well it would hold up for baking– it was a disaster of greasy proportions when I once tried to make speculoos ganache…
- Make sure to let the speculoos cool almost to room temperature before spreading it over the dough. If it’s any warmer, the dough will get soft and melty.
- You can use a smooth or fluted pastry cutter/wheel to cut the dough. I did both, and I found that the smooth cut rugelach looked prettier. (Though the cookies I photographed were the fluted ones…)
And yes… I do realize that Chanukah has been over for more than a week now. Every year I have so many holiday recipes lined up, and every year I run into the same problem: so much time spent baking leaves woefully little time for writing! (I have no fewer than 14 blog drafts in progress…) I am always determined to post recipes *before* the holiday, but that’s me, the girl who posts a week later… At least in this case, since these rugelach are a little Christmasy (what with the gingerbread spices), I think it’s perfectly appropriate to continue stuffing your face with them. In fact, I’m sure Santa would even love a plate with milk? 😉
Gingerbread Speculoos Rugelach
Adapted from HummingbirdHigh and Crate & Barrel
Yields 16-24 cookies
This recipe doubles beautifully and the dough freezes very well if you don’t want to roll and bake all of it.
For the rugelach dough:
- 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup (1 stick/4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1″ cubes
- 4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 1″ chunks
For the filling:
- ⅔ cup (180 grams) speculoos spread (cookie butter), preferably Biscoff
- ⅓ cup (65 grams) micro or mini semisweet chocolate chips
For the glaze:
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon cold water
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar or Demerara sugar
Place the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse about 5 times or until the spices and salt are fully incorporated into the flour. Add the cold butter and cream cheese and pulse about 8-12 times, until the dough forms large “curds”. All the loose flour should be blended in, and the mixture should be fairly wet, but should not form a ball. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and pulse one more time to pick up any last bits of flour.
Turn the dough chunks out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently a few times to bring it all together into a ball. The dough will look quite speckled from the white cream cheese and butter bits. Divide the dough in half. Form each piece into a small disk and wrap with plastic wrap; chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Over low heat, melt the speculoos spread in a small saucepan. Keep a close eye on the pan and stir occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom. Remove from the heat when the speculoos is completely liquid and allow to cool until it is just warm to the touch.
Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and let it soften slightly on the counter for a few minutes. Lightly flour your work surface and roll the dough out into a large circle about ⅛” thick. (Kindly ignore my abysmal dough rolling– I can’t roll dough into shapes to save my life.) Pour half of the speculoos over the dough and spread it to the edges with a small offset spatula. Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips over the speculoos.
Take the second round of dough out of the refrigerator to soften while you finish up with the first.
Cut the circle into either 8 or 12 wedges by cutting it in half, then quarters, then smaller. Starting at the wide ends, roll up each wedge into a crescent shape. Roll snugly, but use gentle pressure. Arrange the rugelach on one of the baking sheets with their points tucked underneath.
Transfer the pan to the fridge to re-chill the cookies and repeat the rolling out, filling, cutting, and rolling up process with the second piece of dough. Put the second pan of rugelach in the refrigerator and retrieve the first one.
Make the eggwash by whisking an egg with 1 teaspoon cold water in a small bowl. Brush the rugelach with eggwash using a pastry brush and sprinkle them with cinnamon-sugar or Demerara sugar.
Bake the rugelach one pan at a time for 20-25 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden. (I made these 3 times and every time there were small pools of butter around the rugelach when they came out of the oven, which do not affect the final product.) Transfer the pans to a wire cooling rack for about 5-10 minutes, then slide the pan out from under the parchment and allow the cookies to cool completely on the parchment and rack. Repeat the eggwashing, sprinkling, baking, and cooling with the second pan of rugelach.
The rugelach keep well for several days in an airtight container… but they won’t last that long. 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.