It’s Hanukkah this week, which means it’s time for rugelach, people. I really can’t say why I don’t eat rugelach much during the rest of the year; there’s no actual reason not to, and a host of reason to eat them. But for some reason, I relegate these cookie rolls primarily for the Jewish Festival of Lights. And that means I want to shove a hell of a lot of them into my piehole during the 8-day holiday… and I’m not even sorry about it.
Few sweets in the Jewish culture are as iconic as rugelach. They are found in every shop and market in Israel, and I’m so happy that they are now quite common in American bakeries in areas with significant Jewish populations. The cookies’ roots are in Eastern Europe, and they traveled with the Jewish diaspora to Israel and to America, evolving into two very different products. In the old country, they were made with a yeasted dough and involved a fair amount of labor; the typical modern Israeli versions resemble this original method more closely than their American cousins. These are soft, flaky pastries that melt in your mouth; you can actually find them at Breads Bakery and Aroma Espresso Bar in Manhattan, which both bake in the Israeli style. By contrast, Americans developed a yeast-free dough made with cream cheese that was quicker and easier, which results in a crisper, denser cookie. I have had plenty of both (you know, for research) and I love them for their respective characteristics. I’ve never tried to make the Israeli kind, but now that I have Uri Scheft’s Breaking Breads in my hot little hands, I can’t wait to embark on that project. But that’s for a different day– not while trying to bake flurries of holiday cookies and wrap up work before Winter Break!
The traditional American rugelach are made with a golden dough and a fruit or nut or chocolate filling, and these are all well and good. Sometimes they are rolled up like baby crescents, sometimes rolled in a thin log and baked with the cut sides facing outwards– I prefer the former. Last year one recipe in particular caught my eye among the plethora of Bon Appétit magazine holiday cookies: Chocolate Pistachio Nutella Rugelach (aka Chocolate-Nut Rugelach). First of all, the dough is a dark, striking cocoa hue, and it’s made with sour cream rather than cream cheese. Furthermore, they were presented in a spiral shape, which I’d never seen before, and which was positively mesmerizing. The chocolate dough gets slathered with Nutella, sprinkled with chopped nuts, and rolled into a thick log and sliced, then baked with the cut sides up, rather than facing out to the sides. The result is a beautiful coil of dough, creamy nutella, and bright green pistachios– it’s like if a rugelach ever tried to masquerade as an Italian cookie, this would be it. I decided to make some crescent-shaped ones as well, just for a little visual variety.
You can use the nut of your choice here– pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts. I used pistachios like in the magazine, though I would love to try hazelnuts as well. There are so many flavors in these rugelach, and with the Nutella I assumed they would be quite sweet. However, the chocolate dough is very cocoa-y; in fact, I found it to have a slight bitter note– in the best possible way (don’t take that as a bad thing– it’s all chocolate). And there’s a nice salty foil due to the pistachios and sea salt– they have an unexpected slightly sweet and salty note. The nuts give the rugelach a nice crunch, while the cookie dough wrapped around them provides a tender contrast. These are among my favorite ever rugelach, and they will surely be in my holiday treat rotation from now on. Happy Hanukkah!
Chocolate Pistachio Nutella Rugelach
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine, December 2015
Yields approximately 24 cookies
My dough turned out a touch dry this year. If this happens to yours, add up to an extra tablespoon of sour cream to the food processor after you’ve added the liquid ingredients.
- ½ cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder
- ¼ cup (53g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 2½ cups (300g) all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup (1½ sticks/6 ounces/12 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup (85g) sour cream, plus 1 tablespoon if needed
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 13 ounces Nutella, divided
- ¾ cup (95g) finely chopped pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, divided
- 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar, divided, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), divided, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream or 1 beaten egg
Place the cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and flour in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse until the largest pieces are pea-sized.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sour cream, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth and homogenous. With the motor running, stream the mixture into the food processor tube and process until the dough forms large clumps– it will still be crumbly. If it is excessively dry, add up to another tablespoon of sour cream to the food processor and pulse it just until combined. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface and bring it together with your hands, kneading just until it forms a mostly smooth dough, and divide it in half. If you plan to make the spiral-shaped cookies, form each dough piece into a rough ¾”-thick square; this will make it easier to roll out into the proper shape later. If you plan to make crescent-shaped rugelach, form them into round disks. (I did one of each.) Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and chill until firm, about 3 hours.
Preheat an oven to 350°F and place a rack in the center position. Line 2 rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper and set them aside. Retrieve one dough round/square from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes until it has softened slightly.
Place a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and lightly flour it. Roll out the dough on the paper to a 12″ square or circle, moving it around gently to avoid sticking and adding flour as needed (though try to keep the flour to a minimum). With a small offset spatula, spread half of the Nutella in a thin layer over the dough. Sprinkle half of the pistachios, 1 tablespoon Demerara sugar, and ½ teaspoon sea salt over the Nutella; lightly press the nuts into the Nutella to help them adhere.
If you are working with a dough square and making spiral rugelach, carefully roll up the dough to make a tight log, using the parchment paper to help. Keep the parchment wrapped around the log and place it in the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm up.
If you are working with a round piece of dough to make rugelach crescents, go through the steps above to layer the Nutella, nuts, sugar, and salt. Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the dough in half, then quarters, then cut each quarter into 3 sections for a total of 12 wedges. Starting at the wide end, roll up each triangle into a snug crescent. Place the crescents on one of the prepared cookie sheets and place it in the fridge for 15 minutes or freezer for 5 minutes.
Whichever shape you’re working with, repeat the rolling, layering, shaping, and chilling with the second piece of dough.
Remove the dough log(s) from the freezer and cut into ¾”-thick slices– each log should yield about 12. Place them cut-sides-up on one of the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1½” apart.
For both rugelach shapes, brush the tops with cream or beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with Demerera sugar and flaky sea salt.
Bake the rugelach one pan at a time for about 20-25 minutes, or until the centers are set (for the spirals) and tops are firm to the touch. (I find that the crescents bake a few minutes quicker.) Set the cookie sheet over a wire cooling rack and let the cookies cool completely.
Make Ahead: The dough can be made 1 month ahead and frozen in disks/squares. Thaw it in the fridge overnight.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.