Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Taste of New York

For a few years when I was a little girl, my family lived in New York City, and even though I was barely five when we left, I remember a lot. Going to see the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade perched on my father's shoulders, and late-night trips to the bakery for pumpernickel bagels.

Sometimes Auntie Sharon would visit, bringing with her a box of rugelach from Elmhurst's Du Bois Pastry as a special weekend treat. Possibly the world's best cookie, this Jewish sweet has a unique, tangy dough with a sweet, nutty center. I remember the anticipation as we all gathered around the table in my parents' cramped, New York kitchen, watching the twine fall away from the white, cardboard bakery box. I loved the crunchy nuts and the way puffs of powdered sugar would swirl beneath my nose when I bit into a cookie.

Despite trying countless store-bought rugelach, and sampling other bakeries attempts, I've never been able to recapture the perfection of those New York City cookies. But I have to say, this recipe I found comes pretty, damn close.

June 11 was Auntie Sharon's 60th birthday, so I sent her a belated batch of rugelach. In addition to the traditional version with raspberry jam, raisins and walnuts, I was inspired by a jar of Nutella I found in my cupboard. I replaced the jam with the chocolate hazelnut spread, then sprinkled some walnuts and cinnamon over the Nutella and OMG! Best. Cookie. Ever.

Happy Birthday Auntie Sharon!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup, or 2 sticks, unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apricot preserves or raspberry jam
1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1 1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
milk for brushing cookies

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until well combined. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. If you have a stand mixer such as Kitchen Aid, you can replace the paddle with a dough hook.

Gather the dough into a small ball and wrap in plastic, then flatten into a rectangle roughly 7 by 5-inches in size. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, between 8 and 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the middle position. Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces. Chill 3 pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin.

Arrange dough rectangle onto work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/2 cup preserves evenly over dough with a spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and a rounded 1/4 cup of walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar. Using parchment as aid, roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath.

Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner and make three more logs. Place the logs on a pan 1-inch apart. Brush logs with milk. With a sharp knife, make 3/4 -inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough, but don't cut all the way through, at 1-inch intervals. (If dough is too soft, chill until firmer, 20 to 30 minutes.)

Bake until golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to warm on pan or rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through. Then dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Update: I took some to my mom's office and instantly got recipe requests from her co-workers. I'm bringing in another batch next week for my mom's last day of work. I think this time I'm going to add some espresso to the Nutella ... Stay tuned!

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