Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oooh, Aahh, Rugelach!

I definitely did my share of holiday baking this year, what with three kinds of candies, three kinds of cookies, and dinner rolls. It's been a busy time in the kitchen, but oh so fun.

Usually, the big focus is on all the chocolate candies that we turn out: toffee, turtles, and fudge. We do some cookies, like Mexican wedding cookies or snickerdoodles, but we're never as excited about them as the candy. Maybe that's just because we all love chocolate so much.

For the past couple of years, I've been wanting to try rugelach (pronounced rug-a-lock), a kosher Eastern European treat, not that I'm Jewish or Eastern European. If I wanted to stick with cultural tradition, I'd limit myself to stroofils (an Italian dessert of deep fried dough balls covered in honey, walnuts, and sprinkles). And then again, I only eat stroofils because they are cultural tradition. I don't actually crave them or think about them at any time other than Christmas. (I'm still trying to figure out the best way to incorporate chocolate into them. Chocolate sauce instead of honey? Chocolate sprinkles instead of colored ones?)

In any case, I stumbled upon rugelach in my cookie bible--a beautiful full-color cookbook made up of just cookie recipes. Did I mention that cookies are my favorite dessert? Sorry, I digress. This year, I finally decided to give it a go, especially since I was cooking for my Christmas party.

Albeit, there is absolutely no chocolate in these cookies, I thought they were wonderful. The cookie itself is made using cream cheese, and the filling can be made with anything from jam to nuts. Mine called for honey, walnuts, and lemon zest--not that I can get excited about any of these ingredients, but the combination was fabulous.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, divided
1 cup ground toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
powdered sugar

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat butter, cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest in a large bowl about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture. Beat at low speed until well blended.

Form dough into three 5-inch discs; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets; set aside.

Combine walnuts that have been toasted and ground in a food processor with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside. Combine honey, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl; set aside.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 10-inch circle. Keep remaining dough refrigerated. Brush with 1/3 of honey mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup nut mixture. Lightly press nut mixture into dough.
Cut circle into 12 triangles with pizza cutter. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with 2 remaining dough pieces and filling ingredients.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Let cookies stand 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store tightly covered.

A party is a party, but a Christmas Party....

I just recently hosted a Christmas party and was asked by my mother to share some pictures. It was a yummy buffet of hors d'ouvres and desserts, so what could be better? The pictures don't really do it justice, so as to the menu:

Hors d'ouvres
Little smokies in barbecue sauce
Meatballs in a sweet and savory sauce
Homemade dinner rolls
Cheeseball and crackers
Jalapeno poppers
Artichoke dip and crackers
Crudites with ranch and onion dips
Christmas punch with cranberry juice, lemon juice, orange juice, and ginger ale

Peppermint pinwheel cookies
Eggnog snickerdoodles
Peppermint fudge
Walnut fudge
English toffee with almonds
Chocolate pecan turtles

As always, it was a lot of work, and I even vowed that I would just get everything from Costco with all the business going on. In the end, the only things that were ready-made were the jalapeno poppers and the meats that I still made sauces for. Oh, and I guess the tangerines, too. We definitely had plenty of rich, yummy food, and it was a delightful party with lots of dear friends.