Well, the weather continues to confound and disappoint.
After the bizarre end-of-days orange skies of Storm Ophelia, the almost summery temperatures interrupting the descent into the colder conditions, and the wet slap in the chops that was Brian, we now seem set for a little chill.
And there’s nothing better on a cold, miserable day, than rolling up one’s sleeves and setting to with a bit of easy, pleasant baking – especially as this recipe contains those lovely, warming bakery spices that set the nostrils twitching and build an appetite.
This week, we’re making rugelach, a pastry that, while very popular both in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the USA, is largely confined in the UK to Jewish communities and their busy bakeries.
And this is a shame, because rugelach are lovely little things – a sweet, croissant-like dough, made with cream cheese and butter, rolled around a tangy filling and glazed with sugar.
Very much like croissants to eat, they are soft with a delightful crunchy topping, and the pastry is rich and ever so slightly salty, thanks to the cream cheese.
I tasted my very first rugelach recently, on holiday in Montréal (of which much more next week) and I have to say it was revelatory.
Next to our hotel was, auspiciously, a delightful little bakery called Cookie Stéfanie. We visited every morning for coffee and a pastry before heading off on our daily adventures.
They had incredible cakes and buns, cheese toasties and really great coffee. And many different rugelach. I simply had to try them. One, in particular, was truly memorable; rolled around a slightly tart blueberry jam filling, a spiral of gorgeous warm dough and a heavenly crust of golden sugar.
Out came the smartphone immediately, and notes were made. And here we are, baking our rugelach.
Originating in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, rugelach are baked in their millions daily, as they’re a great energy boost for the Israeli commuter on the go, or the New Yorker making their way down into a crowded subway.
It’s thought that the rugelach pre-dates the croissant, and can be seen as a rather less fancy precursor – croissants, of course, being made with yeast and involving much rolling and folding.
Rugelach, fortunately for us, are far easier to make.
A simple dough, made with butter and cream cheese, is rolled out and spread with a filling, and simply rolled into shape and baked.
A good recipe to make with the little ones, this, and almost any filling you can imagine will work. Nutella, jam, marmalade, or perhaps even more exotic versions may spring to mind.
I imagined a lovely version with walnuts, goat’s cheese and honey, or even a full-on sweet-savoury version with Swiss cheese and charcuterie ham. The world’s your rugelach.
For this recipe, I decided to make a batch of lovely spiced apple butter, a favourite of mine at this time of year.
Apples, cider, sugar and spices are slowly stewed down to a thick, dark purée, which sets soft and can be spread on hot toast, pancakes and waffles, or made into cakes and tarts.
A jar is nearly always finished within days, so make plenty!
And it does fill a rugelach really well.
This recipe makes about 24 small pastries, but you can always make larger, more croissant-y ones by dividing the pastry discs into quarters at the final rolling stage.
For the apple butter:
500g sweet apples
300ml dry cider
A splash of fresh lemon juice
110g caster sugar
A pinch of ground cloves
A pinch of ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
For the dough:
225g cream cheese, at room temperature
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
55g unrefined golden caster sugar
¼ tsp Maldon salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
220g plain flour
For the nut filling:
200g almonds, pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts, finely chopped
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
Sugar, for glazing
A little ground cinnamon
First, make the apple butter; peel and core the apples, then dice roughly and toss in a little fresh lemon juice. In a small saucepan, reduce cider by half. Add the diced apple and the lemon juice. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until the fruit is totally softened. Remove from the heat and cool a little. Whizz the mixture in a blender, or pass through a sieve, and return to the pan, adding the sugar and spices. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 45mins, stirring until the mixture thickens and darkens. When it is thick and smooth, pour into a sterilised jar and set aside to cool completely. Quickly toast the chopped nuts in a dry pan, under the grill or in a hot oven, stirring frequently.
Now for the pastry; cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add 55g of the sugar along with the salt and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, wrap each piece in clingfilm, and refrigerate for about 1 hour. To make the nut filling, toast the almonds and combine with the raisins. On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a rough 9-inch disc.
Spread the dough with a couple of tablespoons of the apple butter and sprinkle with about 100g of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the disc into 6 equal wedges. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge into a little roll. Place the pastries, points tucked neatly underneath, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Pop in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4. Brush each rugelach with the egg wash. Mix a little sugar with some cinnamon and sprinkle over each pastry. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and cool before serving.