It’s easy to forget, with all the snow and holiday hoopla, just how much of winter is still yet to come after the new year. The French use Epiphany as an excuse to keep eating sweets throughout the month of January, in the form of the galette des rois. And I think they’re right. Gloomy January days are no time to give up the pleasures of rich, buttery doughs baked to an appealing golden brown or sweet, nutty fillings. Besides, Philly cream cheese has finally arrived in France! I think we should celebrate with some rugelah.
You might spell it another way (I most often see “rugelach”), but orthography aside, this is really a wonderful little pastry. Crumbly cream cheese dough, sticky fruit and nuts, and ridiculously easy to make. Rugelah come from the Eastern European Jewish baking tradition, and I first learned to bake them in a Jewish-owned, European-style bakery in Dallas, of all places. The ones we made there were filled with walnuts, which I can’t eat, so I had to sate myself with the incredible smell of roasted flour and caramelized jam when I pulled them out of the (enormous) oven every night.
One Thanksgiving the chef took pity on me and let me use the filling for the pecan rings in the rugelah so I could finally taste them. My nose had not let me down – they were fantastic. Since then, I’ve had to make my own walnut-free version at home from time to time.