Monday, April 11, 2011

0 Recipe #259: Apricot Rugelach

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Rugelach are traditional Jewish rolled cookies that originated in Central Europe. They are often eaten on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the Jewish New Year), to usher in a 'sweet new year,' although they aren't really considered to be seasonal: People eat them almost any of year. :)
The word "rugelach" literally means "little twists" in Yiddish. The cookie dough is rolled around a sweet filling that can range from dried fruits like raisins or dried apricots, etc., to fruit preserves or chocolate, depending upon individual preferences. Cinnamon and nuts are typically common denominators for the filling. Depending on how they are rolled and shaped, they can have a whorl pattern that looks a little bit like pinwheel biscuits or jelly rolls from the side, or they can resemble croissants. (Please see this photo to view and compare both shapes.)

Making rugelach is quite easy and fun. It does take a bit of time to roll out and refrigerate (&/or freeze) the dough in multiple stages, but it's well worth the time investment. Also, freshly made, homemade rugelach beats store-bought rugelach any day of the week. Often, the ones they sell in delis or in the supermarket are taste like sawdust. Rugelach shouldn't be dry and crumbly; they should be moist and soft, and just a tad bit flaky. Not that I'm opinionated on this topic or anything. ;)

Originally, in Europe, rugelach dough was first made with yeast. However, American Jews later changed up the recipe by dropping the yeast and adding cream cheese. To my mind, the latter version is way more delicious. :) It's also typically a lot more fattening this way. But of course. ;)

However, rugelach doesn't have to be made with a ton of butter &/or cream cheese. The recipe I created below calls for low-fat sour cream and has a lot less butter and cream cheese than most traditional rugelach recipes. Plus, it doesn't contain any refined sugar -- these rugelach are naturally sweet!

Please note: For baking chemistry reasons, cookie dough does require a certain minimum amount of fat, in order for the cookies to have the proper taste and consistency. And believe me, I know this quite well from experience. And by experience, I mean, I went through a lot of trial and error in trying to achieve the perfect, all-natural, fat-free cookie that actually tastes good. ;) If only you were there to witness some of these attempts. Ay-yi-yi. ;) I've done a lot of experimenting in this area and am now convinced that it's not humanly possible to create a delicious-tasting, all-natural, completely fat-free cookie by natural means. Low-fat cookies, yes. No-fat cookies? Yeah, right. Remember, I said it's got to taste good too. ;)

I originally tried creating a rugelach recipe using low-fat cream cheese, but the final product ended up tasting like a flavorless brick. ;) That is, if bricks were puffy. ;) Of course, the process of achieving a flavorful cookie has to do with maintaining the proper balance, in terms of baking chemistry. The good news is that, through a lot of experimentation, I've managed to find the proper balance between flavor and fat content. In other words, I've created this recipe using the lowest amount of fat possible without sacrificing on taste. Ta-da! :)

Please note that this recipe is comparatively lower in fat than most standard rugelach recipes, but again, it still isn't exactly a low-calorie, "diet" recipe. As most of you already know, I don't do "diet" recipes. Just hearing the word alone makes me want to go on a rampage and rail against that kind of mentally and physically unhealthy approach to food. ;) There'll be no coiled-up deprivation ready to burst into an explosion of over-eating and weight gain here, not if I have anything to say about it! Moderation rules the day as the overriding guiding philosophy here on this blog, and to my mind, it's also the principle behind all things sane and good. :)

As I've probably stated here a zillion times before, it's perfectly OK to have a treat now and then, but to be truly healthy from the inside out, exercise has got to be a key part of this equation.  If you exercise, you won't be freaking out after you eat the occasional cookie. ;) Again, everything in moderation.

Moreover, I believe that taking "chemical shortcuts" (just for the sake of losing a few pounds) is just as bad (if not worse) for a person's health as eating too much chocolate cake. Both actions are unhealthy, not to mention reckless and short-sighted. In the former case, low-fat, diet this-or-that isn't good for you if it contains lots of artificial, laboratory-created ingredients, several of which scientists and medical researchers have proven to be deleterious to one's health. This is why you'll never find "Franken-foods" on this blog and that's a promise!

Chances are, if you are having a hard time pronouncing the names of the ingredients when you read the label, (provided they aren't in a foreign language you aren't familiar with -- Haha!), that's probably a sign that you should just put it down and walk away.

In other words, I'd much rather use a little bit of butter than a whole lot of margarine, which has all sorts of manufactured chemicals in it. Plus, why eat chemical-laden, highly processed (and highly unnatural!) foods when you have so many fresh, healthy and delicious options available to you?

So, now you can go and enjoy baking this all-natural apricot rugelach recipe, knowing that, after eating them, you won't wake up the next day with an extra nose, eyeball, or flipper (!) in the middle of your forehead. ;)

Apricot Rugelach

Filling Ingredients:
1/4 c. pecans
1/4 c. walnuts
1/2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 c. all-natural, sugar-free apricot preserves (a.k.a., "spreadable fruit," etc.)
1/4 c. dried apricots, finely diced

Dough Ingredients:
1/2 c. regular cream cheese, softened (let it reach room temperature)
1/4 c. lowfat sour cream
1/4 c. honey
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and softened (let it reach room temperature)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. milk (for brushing cookies)

Directions: Make the filling: Dry roast pecans and walnuts in a nonstick sauté pan on low heat for 5 minutes. Watch nuts carefully as they burn easily. Let the nuts cool for 10 minutes, then pour into a food processor and pulse only once or twice in short, quick pulses until just combined. Don't completely pulverize the nuts; they should still be in small, bite-sized pieces when you've finished processing the mixture. Next add remaining filling ingredients and pulse in short bursts until just combined. Turn off processor and transfer contents to a small bowl. Fold in cinnamon, apricot preserves, and dried apricots by hand and set aside.

Next, make the dough: Cream together cream cheese, sour cream, honey, butter, and vanilla extract in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment on low-speed, until fluffy and smooth. Keeping the mixer on low speed, sift in the flour and salt (to aerate and remove any lumps), and mix together until just combined. IMPORTANT: Be very careful not to overmix dough, or else your rugelach will be heavy and doughy. (When dough is ready, it should easily peel off the sides of the bowl.) Scrape the mixture off the paddle and sides of bowl. Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap that's been laid out onto a clean surface and roll into a ball. Then fold up corners of the plastic wrap, and wrap around the dough ball. Chill in the freezer for a minimum of 1 hour, or until firm. (This is a lot faster than the conventional method of chilling the dough in the refrigerator, which takes a minimum of 2 hours. If you're making the dough in advance, you can also chill the dough overnight if you wish.)

Prepare the dough: When ready, remove dough from freezer and place it onto a floured surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, and roll out dough to a 1" thickness, forming the dough into a rectangular shape, roughly 7" x 5". Use a dough scraper (also called a "pastry scraper" or a "bench scraper") to straighten out the sides of the rectangle. Chill in the freezer for another 30 minutes. Next, perform the three-fold technique: Remove dough from freezer and place back onto the floured surface. Make sure the longer side of the rectangle is parallel to you, and fold the furthest side towards you to the middle of the rectangle. Next, fold the nearest side on top of the layer you just folded. (Fold the dough sheet together as you would with a sheet of 8 1/2" x 11" letter paper before placing it into an envelope. ;) This makes the dough flaky and ensures that the ingredients are well-distributed throughout the dough.) Wrap in plastic wrap and chill it again in the freezer for 30 more minutes. Remove from freezer and divide into 3 equal portions, using a dough scraper (or pizza cutter). Be sure to cut down the shorter side of the rectangle shape.

Make/assemble the rugelach: With a lightly floured rolling pin, take one portion of the dough you just divided and roll it out onto a floured surface, until it's a 1/4"-thick and at least 9" x 9" in dimension. (Don't be too concerned if the edges aren't perfect. They'll be rolled up anyhow after you've assembled the rugelach, so no one will notice. ;) ) Next, take a 9" cake ring (or the rim of a mixing bowl that's 9" in diameter), and press down firmly to cut out a perfectly-round disc. Place a third of the filling into the exact center of the circle, and using a spatula, gently spread out the filling as thinly as you can, leaving about a 1/2" circumference around the outer edges of the dough circle. Lightly press the filling into the dough. Using a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or sharp knife, divide the circle into 8 equal triangular wedges. (Start by quartering the circle, then cut each quarter in half, etc.) Starting with the widest (curved) edge of the triangle, roll the base of the dough triangle away from you (from wide base to narrow point) into a tight croissant-like shape. If you roll up the cookies this way, you'll end up with a small point on the outside of the cookie; gently press this point down to seal. (It's very important that the dough is well-chilled before handling it; otherwise it'll get sticky and be hard to work with and shape.) Repeat this procedure for the remaining dough and filling, or refrigerate/freeze the dough for future use. (If you aren't going to use all of the dough right away, only make enough filling for however many sections of dough you're planning to use. In other words, cut the filling recipe by either 1/3 or 2/3.)

Bake the rugelach: Place each rugelach, points tucked under, onto an ungreased, parchment-lined baking sheet, evenly spacing them about 1" apart from one another. Chill them for another 20-30 minutes in the fridge before baking. When ready, remove from fridge. Whisk together the egg and milk in a small bowl, to form an egg wash. Using a pastry brush, coat the top of each cookie with the egg wash. Then place rugelach onto the middle (and bottom) rack(s) of an oven preheated to 375°F and bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Be sure to rotate the cookie sheet(s) between upper and lower racks halfway through baking time. Immediately remove rugelach and transfer to wire racks to cool, about 30 minutes. (This step is important as it prevents the rugelach from getting soggy on the bottom, or sticking to the baking sheet.) Either serve immediately and enjoy, or refrigerate in a tightly covered container. Rugelach will keep for a few days in the fridge. If you don't plan to serve them within a few days time, then freeze them for future use. Rugelach freeze very well, and so, will keep for several months in the freezer.

Yield: 24 cookies.

Variations: You can also try adding other fruit like dried cranberries, fresh diced strawberries, etc. Another favorite of mine is raspberry preserves, which you can substitute for the apricot preserves and dried apricots.

Chef's Notes: Traditionally, after the rugelach is baked and cooled on wire racks, it is then sprinkled with granulated or powdered (confectioner's) sugar. Of course, since this blog is all about healthy gourmet foods and living the lifestyle that goes with it (i.e., regular exercise, good nutrition and health, etc.), I've obviously omitted this step. Really, rugelach is already so freakin' sweet by itself that adding refined sugar to an already sweet recipe is a bit of overkill. Plus, there's no need to send people into a sugar coma. ;)

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