Black Sesame Coconut Rugelach Spirals

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I’ve always been one to dabble in different cultures. I was born in Israel, raised in California, studied in Boston and Paris, and I travel as much as I possibly can in my adult life. I’ve always connected best with others who have a connection to another culture or language. It’s such a vast world, and as lucky as I’ve been to travel so much recently, there is a dizzying array of places I’ve not been and would love to explore someday. (Let’s not even talk about how I’ve wanted to go to Australia since I had a penpal in New South Wales in grade school. It will probably never look the same in our lifetime after the devastating recent wildfires…)

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When it comes to food, I am predictably drawn to cuisines and dishes that possess some sort of ethnic/cultural influence, whether that’s a spice, flavor, technique, or garnish– something to give it a little cultural twist. I recently and happily joined the SF Bay Area’s Jewish food professionals society called The Illuminoshi, which held an event in December with the theme of Jewish-Asian cuisine, as there are strong links between the Jewish and Asian communities. (Chinese food on Christmas? Yes please, said every Jew, ever.) Our group founder/organizer asked members to volunteer to provide sweet and savory foods for the event, and I jumped at the chance to create an interesting baked treat for the event. Some type of cookie, ideally… (Incidentally, at first I didn’t realize that the event was for 80 people, so this turned into quite an all-nighter project the night before, but that’s another story.) I thought about matcha or Chinese 5-Spice, but neither grabbed me. And then it came to me– a couple of years ago I made a Black Sesame Coconut Babka that was maybe one of the best things I’ve ever made. I settled on rugelach, which seemed like a good idea with Chanukah coming up, and thus were born Black Sesame Coconut Rugelach Spirals. Why spirals? Because I still daydream about these Chocolate Pistachio Nutella Rugelach from a few years back and I thought the spiral orientation was so pretty and unique in showing off the filling. Plus, that way I could roll the outside of the cookies in more coconut, so everybody wins. Because really, don’t we all want to live in a world where there’s more coconut??

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Back in August, I attended a talk where three Jewish/Israeli cookbook authors were discussing their respective new cookbooks, one of whom was Leah Koenig, author of The Jewish Cookbook. The book features both traditional Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish cuisine, as well as dishes from Jewish cultures around the world that I’d never heard of or never seen in print before! While on stage, she talked about the concept of the “Food Jew”– basically, Jewish people whose whole existence revolves around food. Having spent half of last year living in Israel surrounded by life-altering renditions of pita, falafel, tahini everything, micro-diced Israeli salad, and so much amba sauce that I could cry, my heart ached to be transported back to the Tel Aviv beach. I thought, “YES! Food Jew! That is ME!” I was being seen, and she didn’t even know she was seeing me. With a warm, glowing heart, I chatted with the three authors afterwards at the book-signing table, and I told Leah how I’d deeply connected with her concept of food-immersed Jews. It was she who told me about The Illuminoshi and connected me to the group! I tell you this because it was for this reason, as a tribute of gratitude, that I chose to use her recipe for rugelach dough in my Jewish-Asian recipe. What I didn’t know at the time is that it would be the tastiest and easiest rugelach dough I’ve ever made! This will henceforth be my go-to rugelach dough, no matter the filling, as I don’t think I could improve upon it. So thank you to Leah Koenig for revolutionizing my rugelach! ?

I usually post a Chanukah recipe each year, and that just didn’t happen in 2019 because my day job (huh?) was insane, but February seemed like an apt time for this particular recipe because of Chinese New Year (good thing there’s an extra day this year). In fact, I also always post a New Year’s recipe and some philosophical waxing about my past year of baking, and even that didn’t happen for 2020, so ughhhh, I’m not off to a very good start! My goal this year is more writing. When I took off for my Israel/travel adventure in 2018-19, my baking and writing routine got way off-course, and I haven’t quite righted the ship yet, but I hope to do that in the coming weeks and start blogging regularly again…

In the meantime, please try out my rugelach! Feel free to roll them up in the traditional crescent shape instead and sprinkle the tops with coconut– also totally legit. If you give them a whirl, please comment below on how you liked them!

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Black Sesame-Coconut Rugelach
Yields approximately 30 cookies

For the dough (adapted from Leah Koenig):

  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks/1 cup/225g) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

For the filling (adapted from Food52):

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (105g) finely ground black sesame seeds (can be done in a coffee/spice grinder)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • ⅓ cup (27g) finely shredded unsweetened coconut

For the garnish:

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups (120g) unsweetened flaked coconut
  • ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground black sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

To make the rugelach dough:
Place the butter, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. (A hand mixer also works.) Beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, approximately 2 minutes. Add the flour and beat on the lowest speed just until incorporated and a soft dough forms. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. With your hands, knead the dough a few times to bring it together into a large ball. Divide it into 3 pieces and flatten them into round discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill them in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make the filling:
Pour the milk and sugar into a saucepan with tall sides and set it over medium heat. Stir them together to distribute the sugar, and heat the mixture until it is warm but not boiling. Stir in the ground sesame seeds and cook until the mixture thickens, about 10-15 minutes. It will start to bubble very thickly and spatter towards the end; it’s helpful to set a fine-mesh splatter screen over the top of the pot. Stir in the vanilla extract and butter and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the shredded coconut; this will significantly thicken the filling. Cool it completely at room temperature before using, stirring occasionally to release heat. You can speed this along by placing the pot in an ice bath.

To make the black sesame sugar:
Combine the sugar and ground black sesame seeds in a small bowl. Set aside until you’re ready to bake the rugelach.

To assemble the rugelach:
Preheat an oven to 375°F and place a rack in the center. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

To make spirals, roll out the dough in a rectangle about 9×5″ with a long side facing you. (If the dough is rough on the edges, roll it out bigger and trim it to a smooth-edged rectangle.) Spread about ¼ cup of the black sesame-coconut filling using a small offset spatula in a thin layer. Take it all the way to the short edges; on the long sides, leave a ½” border.

Start rolling up the dough from the long side closest to you. Fold the ½” border over the filling and carefully start rolling, gently pulling up the dough as you roll to avoid gaps. Place the long, skinny roll on a small sheet pan or platter, and place it in the freezer while you work with the rest of the dough. Freeze it for about 30 minutes, or until firm but not frozen. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.

Spread the coconut flakes in a small shallow dish or pan. Remove the first dough roll-up from the freezer and brush the entire surface with the beaten egg. Place it in the pan with the coconut, rolling it around and pressing coconut pieces onto the wet egg to adhere it all over. Transfer the roll to a cutting board and gently cut slices about ¾” thick using a sharp serrated knife.

Place the cookies cut side up on one of the prepared sheet pans spaced 2″ apart. Sprinkle the top of each cookie with the black sesame sugar and black sesame seeds.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Remove from the oven when the coconut is deeply toasted and the centers looked baked through. Place the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then cool the cookies to room temperature directly on the rack.

Store the rugelach in an airtight container at room temperature; they are best eaten within two days. They are still edible for a few more days, but will be less crisp.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020.

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