Friday, December 13, 2013

Cranberry-Pistachio Rugelach

A few years ago while working on recipes for a new version of my holiday cookie class I came across an unusual recipe for rugelach in Fine Cooking.  The cream cheese dough was traditional (it changes very little from recipe to recipe)...the filling (plain raspberry jam) and form were not.  I was most intrigued by the form.  Instead of being rolled into a round and then cut into wedges in the traditional manner of crescent-shaped rugelach, the dough was rolled into a long rectangle, filled and then rolled up into a jelly roll-style log that was then cut cross-wise into fat little pinwheels.  I liked this method of forming the cookies so much that I borrowed it for the Cranberry-Pistachio Rugelach that I had promised to teach in my new class.

The jelly roll-form of these rugelach solves what I consider to be the more objectionable qualities of an otherwise delicious little cookie.  The traditional crescent shape of these cookies is formed by topping the round of rolled-out dough with the filling, then cutting the wedges and then rolling the wedges into crescents.  This process is messy—the sticky filling adheres to your knife as you make the cuts, then it tends to want to fall out all over the work surface when you roll up the crescents.  If the cookies then baked into a neat, beautiful little crescent, the time necessary to wipe the knife in between each cut...and then scrape all of the stray bits off of the counter before filling the next round...might be worth it, but they don't.  The filling oozes freely as they bake and the resulting cookie is frankly messy.  The roulade style, on the other hand is a breeze to form and cut.  Best of all, it bakes up into a neat, uniform cookie.    

Traditionally, the filling is comprised of a layer of apricot preserves and a mixture of walnuts, raisins (light or dark), sugar and cinnamon.  Because I wanted to change up the recipe to make it a bit more Christmas-y, I decided to top the apricot preserves with a layer of finely  minced pistachios and dried cranberries, sugar and orange zest.  The traditional walnut-raisin filling is usually quite coarse—chopping the nuts and dried fruit finely (use a food processor) creates a more uniform filling.  I also puréed the preserves (which can be quite chunky) so that they would be easier to spread evenly over the dough.  A helpful by-product of doing this is that I can use less jam than is normally used...which makes it so the cookies won't ooze quite so much when baked. 

To make the process of forming the rugelach as neat and efficient as possible, work in stages.  First, roll and trim all of the dough, refrigerating the rectangles (stacked with parchment between each rectangle of dough) as you work.  This will give the dough a chance to firm up a bit...which will in turn make it easier to spread out the filling (particularly the jam).  Next, form all of the logs/roulades.  Place the logs in the refrigerator or freezer to allow them to firm up.  (The logs may even be frozen at this point—essentially producing a "slice & bake" rugelach.).  Once the logs are firm enough to slice neatly (after about 30 minutes in the fridge or 10 to 15 minutes in the freezer), simply slice,  arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets, brush with milk, sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake.  Finally, use a narrow spatula to remove the cookies from the baking sheets immediately after removing the sheets from the oven. (Even in this neater form, the rugelach ooze a bit.  If they are left on the sheets for any time at all, they will stick...even on parchment.) 

Oozing cookies...right out of the oven....

Cookies after removal from sheets...and what was left behind...

Another problem with many of the rugelach that I have sampled over the years is that they can be quite doughy in the center.  I like my pastries to be fully cooked (and rugelach really is more like a pastry than a cookie).  I am guessing that rugelach are often under-baked because the bottoms of the cookies want to burn before the cookie is baked all the way through.  I have done a couple of things to try and avoid this problem.  First, I bake the cookies on a cushionaire-style baking sheet.  Then I place the sheet in the upper third of the oven to get it as far away from the direct heat source as possible.  These two things will allow you to leave the cookies in the oven for a longer period of them time to bake through, without burning.  Most of the time, I'm not a fan of the cushionaire-style baking sheets....but there are occasions when I have found them to be quite useful.  If you don't have one, you don't need to go buy one to make these cookies. Simply stack two cookies sheets together.  This will provide the protection you need from the strong bottom heat of the oven. 

I love the way these cookies turned out.  They are loaded with fruity flavor and have an addictive chewy, candy-like quality.  I am a huge fan of the combination of dried cranberries and pistachios, but if you would like to make these cookies with the traditional filling of walnuts and raisins, I'm sure they would be delicious that way too. 

Cranberry-Pistachio Rugelach

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
1 c. (2 sticks/8 oz.) unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour (8 oz.)
1/2 t. salt

2/3 c. pistachios (3 oz.), very lightly toasted
1/3 c. blanched almonds (1 1/2 oz.), very lightly toasted
1 c. Craisins (5 oz.)
2/3 c. sugar
zest of 1 orange
1/3 c. apricot preserves, puréed in the food processor

milk, for brushing
Turbinado or sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Soften the cream cheese and butter. In a mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in the sugar and vanilla extract. On low speed, beat in the flour and the salt until incorporated.

Alternatively, make the dough in the food processor: Place the cream cheese in the food processor.  Cut the butter into a few pieces and add it with the motor running. Process until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and process until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and the salt and pulse in just until the dough starts to clump together.

Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it together to form a thick, flat rectangle. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  If time allows, and overnight chill is best.

Place the nuts and craisins in the bowl of the food processor (fitted with the metal blade) along with the sugar.  Process until the nuts and craisins are ground medium fine.  Add the orange zest and pulse in.  Transfer the filling to small bowl and set aside.

When ready to form the cookies, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit on the counter until it is malleable enough to roll.  Cut the dough into 4 equal portions.  Working on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece out into a long and narrow rectangle that is a scant 1/8th inch thick.  Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter and a straight edge, trim off the ragged edges to make a rectangle that is 4 3/4-inches wide and 15 inches long.  

one quarter of dough, rolled into a rectangle...before trimming

After chilling and trimming...

Roll out all four portions of dough.  As you work, keep the finished rectangles and trimmings chilled.  To finish, press all of the trimmings together and roll out one more rectangle.  Chill the rectangles until firm enough to handle.

To form the cookies, place one of the rectangles on the work surface in front of you with one long edge running parallel to the edge of the counter.  Place a tablespoon of the jam on the rectangle and using a metal spatula (offset is best), spread very thinly over the entire surface of the rectangle.  Scatter 1/2 cup of the filling thickly and evenly over the jam.  Press lightly to help it adhere (it works well to cover the filling with a piece of parchment and lightly roll over the parchment with the rolling pin—the parchment can be re-used for each cookie roll). 

There is less mess if you leave the dough rectangle on the parchment when you spread the filling.

Roll the dough up jelly roll style.  It is very important to roll the dough and filling up loosely.  If the roll is too tight, the filling will be pushed out when the cookies bake. Fill and roll the remaining rectangles of dough, wrapping each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate (or freeze) the rolls until firm enough to cut.  Repeat with remaining dough, jam and filling.

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350°.  Unwrap the rolls and using a sharp knife cut each log crosswise into twelve 1 1/4-inch wide cookies.  Arrange cookies seam side down 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with Turbinado or sanding sugar.  Bake until the rugelach are golden brown, and the filling is bubbling—about 20  to 25 minutes.  Immediately transfer the cookies to a rack to cool completely.  Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.

The filled dough logs can be wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 month.

Note: In my oven, these bake best in the upper third of the oven and on "cushion aire"-type sheets.

Adapted from Fine cooking and Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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