the very best of her

plated with wax paper

When I was a kid, visits to my grandparents' house in West Hartford began with a full-blown arrival ritual. The plane would touch down, and we would pour from the accordion mouth of the jetway, into the terminal. My grandfather, Pop, looking like he might actually pop with sheer joy, would be there waiting for us. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he would fling his arms open wide, throw back his head, and greet us with bursts and gasps of his sweet, hearty laugh. This was back when airport gates still pulsed with joyful squeals, teary farewells, lingering kisses, and the sound of shoes rapidly beating against carpet en route to long-awaited embraces. I miss it, that arriving and departing in a flurry of hugs, whoops, and sighs.

Pop and Grandma lived on a long, windy street marked by two rows of oversized mailboxes where the street branched off from the main road. We would turn, and then drive up the hill to the house. Through the trees, the sweeping back deck would appear as we rounded the bend. My eyelids would be heavy with sleep by the time we pulled into the garage. But here was where the ritual truly began. The smell of the garage always grabbed me, and roused me from my half-slumber. Were you to bottle up this smell and wave it under my nose, I could identify it in a heartbeat as Pop and Grandma's garage. Yet I'm afraid I can't figure out how on earth to describe it. Like old photographs, perhaps? And potting soil, and worn leather - or maybe wood? - and blueberries, and what I sometimes imagined my father's childhood to be, all packed into a single whiff. Maybe this is why I want to capture my arrival ritual here, to chase these bits of it onto the page, in order to make up for the parts that don't translate.

Grandma Louise would meet us at the door with her soft hands and gentle squeezes. This house was a living, breathing extension of her. Standing there in the kitchen, Grandma wore her home like an enormous, multi-roomed cloak that showed off the very best of her.

Down in our bedroom, my sister and I would change into our pajamas. It was late, but my ritual continued: I would open every drawer of the white wicker furniture, pull out the same old plastic slot machine game, costume jewelry, and dolls half-bald from my early hairdressing experiments. I would thumb through the dog-eared Little Golden Books lined up on the dresser, and peek into Pop's college scrapbook. Sufficiently settled in, I would head back upstairs, to join the grown-ups in the kitchen.

On the counter, next to the refrigerator, lay a white, cardboard box, wrapped in string. Being a kid and all, I could slide my small hand into the box without even untying the string, and pull out my bedtime snack: a single sticky rugelach. Grandma baked apple pies and zucchini bread, knitted sweaters, and grew tomatoes in pots on the deck, but rugelech, she bought. With their caramelized, slightly burnt underbellies and clingy raisins, they were as much about my grandma and her home as the things she made with her own two hands. Which just goes to show that - though I'm often tempted to think otherwise - something need not be homemade to help make a home.

Until last week, I had never tasted homemade rugelech, let alone attempted to bake them myself. Quite simply, I had no idea - no idea- what lay in store.

rugelach cooling

In her lifetime, Grandma Louise prepared me for a lot. Thanks to her, I understood plenty about the good and the bad out there: There are jeans on the rack, for example, that will zip up without a hitch, but do your hips and bottom no favors, and sweet corn so toothsome that it's best to cushion every bite with a throaty grunt of pleasure. Curly hair, she taught me, often snarls back at even the most well-meaning brush. And it's not that I look ugly in that photograph, but that the picture itself "isn't flattering." Grandma taught me that I could take lemon or cream in my tea, but not both, that a well-composed platter on a Sunday table is nothing to scoff at, and that a bowl of raspberries is often the perfect end to a late-night summer meal. Grandma knew how to love with all her heart, how to be afraid, how to set a fine table and dig in with both hands. Ultimately, she showed me that illness may pin you to your seat, but it need not keep you from crossing oceans.

Despite all of this, for hot-out-of-the-oven rugelech she left me completely unprepared. I was on my own for this one, though I suppose I can't complain. One chocolaty, raspberry-y bite sent my eyes rolling in ecstasy towards the back of my head. Fingers still sticky, I dove for the phone. I wanted so badly to call up my grandma and tell her about these incredible rugelech, curling sweetly in my hand, reminding me of her. I called my dad instead. I bragged to him about my rugelech, and we missed Grandma together.

Chocolate Raspberry Rugelech
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

close up

I realize that this recipe looks long and cumbersome, but I promise that it's not as bad as it seems. Remember, I'm a wordy one. Working with the cream cheese dough, so even-tempered and perfectly suited to rolling out and rolling up, is a dream. If you ask me, you should give this recipe a try for the sake of this dough alone. If you want to spread your making and baking over a couple of days, you can prepare the dough and the dry filling the night before. Then, in the morning, all you have to do is melt the jam, fill and roll up the rugelech, and bake. And if all of this still sounds like a lot of trouble for a few dozen rugelech, then please just trust me that it's worth it.

For the dough:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 t. vanilla
A pinch of coarse salt
2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling out the dough

For the filling:
1 heaping c. pecans
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3-4 dashes cinnamon
A (hefty, if you're me) pinch of coarse salt
12 ounces raspberry jam, melted
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips, or 6 oz. of chopped bittersweet chocolate

For the finishing:
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten (I use the leftover egg whites from the yolks called for in the dough.)
1/4 c. turbinado sugar

First, make the dough: On medium speed, beat together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the 1/2 c. granulated sugar, and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, leaving enough time for each yolk to combine with the batter between additions. Add the vanilla and the salt, and beat to combine. Reduce the speed to low, and beat in the flour. Divide the dough into three pieces and pat into disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.

Next, make the filling: Toast the pecans in a 350 degree oven until fragrant (approximately 7-8 minutes). Once the nuts have cooled, pulse them together in a food processor with the 1/4 c. granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt. I like the pecans ground to a medium consistency - not too fine- to provide the rugelech with a nutty crunch.

Finally, roll and bake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Over a very low flame, melt the jam in a saucepan until it is runny enough to brush across the pastry without tearing the dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk of dough into a thin 12-inch round. (The dough should be less than 1/8 of an inch thick.) Brush evenly with jelly. Sprinkle one-third of the walnut mixture and one third of the chocolate chips over the jelly. The rugelech will roll up best if you leave about a 2-inch circle of dough in the center free of chocolate and nuts. Using the rolling pin or your fingers, gently press the chocolate and nuts into the dough. Next, cut the round into 16 equal-sized wedges with a pizza cutter or a sharp knife. At this point, the dough actually looks like a pizza, with raspberry jam instead of tomato sauce and chocolate chips and pecans in place of mushrooms and peppers.

rugelach just rolled

Starting from the "crust end," roll up each slice to the center of the "pie." Press the tip of each "slice" into the body of the pastry to seal. Place the rugelech on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Brush the tops of the rugelech with the beaten egg whites, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy at least one warm from the oven.

Makes 48.

boxed up


Colin's Mom said...

That rugelach looks really good! I just wanted to give you a post-Boston recap. We had a blast, my husband was really surprised, and we ate really, really well! The weather was great up until Saturday when it got cold, rainy, and windy - yuck. I didn't make it to Hi-Rise as you had suggested, but I did take a $10 cab ride (one way) to Flour, making those some seriously expensive pastries! I've only sampled a scone thus far and I wasn't impressed. The brownie smudged on the box so I ate that part and it was really good. I was really sad that they had sold out of their sticky buns by the time I got there. We also went to Modern and had a cannoli..and maybe a few other items (: The cannoli was good but the Napoleon left a lot to be desired. Overall it was a great trip and I want to thank you for your recommendations!

Katie said...

ah dear. You almost made me cry at work! Seriously, though thank you for your beautiful tribute to Grandma. Made me miss her quite a bit.

Jess said...

Hi, Colin's Mom. I'm so pleased to hear that your Boston trip was a success. What fun it must have been for your husband to be whisked away for a romantic weekend! I guess you'll just have to make a repeat trip to Boston so that you can give Hi-Rise a try.

And Katie, my sweet! You're so great to pipe up. I miss her too. It is hard to believe that it has been almost six years. Oh, and by the way, I of course failed to mention one of the best rituals involved in our holiday visits - sleepovers with you!

Hadley Gets Crafty said...

Those look almost as gorgeous as your grandmother sounds! Oh, raspberry! It sounds so good!

Jess said...

Hello, Hadley. She was so very, very beautiful, my grandma. I have a picture of her in a long, white, strapless dress perched on my mantle. She stands there with my grandfather's arms wrapped around her tiny waist - it's enough to take your breath away.

And yes, oh raspberry! My friend Sunny, who typically adores chocolate, actually said that these rugelach would have been just perfect with the raspberry jam and toasted pecans alone.

Jada said...

Wow, what a beautiful essay! It gave me chills. Really, it did. (Good thing I have a hot cup of coffee next to me with which to combat the chills!) This post made me long not only for rugelach (yum!!), but also for the smell of my own grandparents' garage.

Lovely, lovely!

Elishag said...

I can't believe you posted these rugalach on Pesach!!! You are killing me! And by the way, I have had the pleasure of tasting Jess' rugalach and they are amazing- which makes this even worse :)

Julie said...

Wow, these are fantastic! I am going to try mine with homemade apricot jam...

finsmom said...

My husband LOVES raspberries in baking, and I bet he would really like this recipe! I will be bookmarking it to make soon :)
Thanks for sharing!

carmencooks said...

This is such a sweet, sweet post.

I made my first rugelach a few months ago and absolutely loved it!

megan said...

Oh, teary! These look amazing, and I don't even like rugelach...


Ingrid said...

That was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your story as well as the recipe. It made me think of my wonderful grandma who has only been gone for a year.

Linsey said...

Beautiful post...and those pictures just keep getting better and better. Lovely!

Jess said...

Thank you, dear Jada. Sorry about those chills. You, on the other hand, warm my heart. It's good to know that there are other garage sniffers out there.

Elishag - I know. I kind of stink. But hopefully those cherry almond chunkies and coconut macaroons the other night made up for it?

Julie - Homemade apricot jam? Oh, does that sound good! I would love to have a seat at your table when those babies come out of the oven!

Hi, finsmom - I hope that you and your husband enjoy.

Thank you, carmencooks. Speaking of sweet, that Nutella cake over on your site looks quite scrumptious. Glad to hear that you're a rugelach fan!

Megan - xx to you too. And oo, while we're at it. About the rugelach, perhaps you just haven't yet tasted one worth liking...?

Ingrid - Thank you for your lovely note. It really is quite a thing to have such special memories of our wonderful grandmas. We are so lucky.

And hello there, Linsey. Your kind words always mean so much to me. Thank you.

YP said...

Your post about your grandmother was so well written that I nearly felt a tear coming on. It reminds me of the memories I have of my own grandmother. We still bake and cook in the kitchen together. I can't imagine life without my grandma's influence on it. Here's to all grandmothers who have taught us so much in the kitchen, but more importantly, about life! I can't wait to try this recipe!!

Jess said...

Hi, YP. Thank you for writing. I will gladly join you in raising a glass to our grandmas. It sounds like we both were blessed with grandmothers eminently worth toasting!

徵信社 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.


Yelena said...

Hi there.
The other day I was craving rugelach, and did a google image search to find a recipe that matched my mental image... something nutty, raspberry-y, and golden. That's how I came across your site. Thanks Jess, for your great recipe & instructions. I'd never made anything quite like this before, but it was easy & fun. The resulting rugelach came out beautiful and almost too good. :) I'd never had fresh rugelach before either. This batch fed the two of us and some coworkers for days, with some still in the freezer - but even that's going fast. :) Next time I think I'll split it into 2 versions -- 1/2 with nuts + raspberry, and 1/2 with nuts + chocolate. Yum.

Jess said...

Hi, Yelena, and welcome. What a lovely note. Thank you! I'm very happy that you stumbled upon this site, and happier still that you enjoyed the recipe. I wish I had some rugelach in my freezer right now. Or, better yet, hot out of the oven and on my table! Thanks again for reporting back. Have a great week.

Sweet And Crumby said...

I made them and LOVED them! Thanks for the great post. I also linked to your site. Have a great weekend!

Jess said...

So happy to hear it, Sweet and Crumby. I've just clicked over to your post, and your rugelach look beautiful! Well done.

Laura Rezko said...

I made these twice at Christmas last year. The first batch didn't quite turn out, but the second was HEAVEN. I'll be making a big batch again this year.

Ms. T said...

What a beautiful post. The description of your grandparents meeting you at the airport and the smell of their garage could've been written about my grandparents and made me miss them in the sweetest way.

Luckily it's my other grandmother and her sister who are the rugelach fans in my family, and these incredible ladies (both in their 90s) are alive and well, so you've inspired me to bake a batch of these and send them a box for Hanukah :)

What if I don't have turbinado sugar?

BTW, I've been really enjoying your blog--gorgeous photos and words that capture the delicious every day moments.

Jess said...

Hi, Ms T. Thanks for your kind note. I'm glad you're here. As for the turbinado sugar, if you can't find it, you can skip it. No problem. Cheers to you and your rugelach-loving grandmother and aunt! Wish I could be a fly on the wall when they receive and open your package...