How (and how not) to make rugelach for Hanukkah

Hey, it’s your friendly neighborhood Jew(ish) lady! It’s the first night of Hanukkah tonight, and I’m here to show you how to make rugelach (and what horrible errors to avoid). The fact that I kept on chugging even after screwing it up so many times tells you how good rugelach are.

This post has been edited to reflect some changes I figured out this year. You can skip the recipe card at the end for the final version, in which I solve some of the problems described here. 

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Rugelach (pronounced “ROO-guh-lachhh,” possibly Yiddish for “little twists,”) are sticky little filled pastries, made of insanely rich, tender dough and rolled up with any kind of sweet filling you like. My favorite is apricot and walnut, but you can also use raspberry or any other fruit preserves, nuts-and-cinnamon, sour cherry, raisins, poppy seeds, even Nutella. A few years ago, for Thanksgivukkah, and I made pecan pie rugelach. Rugelach will work with you.

Other spellings: rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, rogelach. These are all plurals. I don’t know what the singular is, because who could eat only one? This recipe is from my sister, Abby Tardiff, who reminds us that these freeze beautifully.

I’ll share the ingredients and very basic directions first, and then go through it step by step with photos and more detailed instructions. This recipe will make about eighty little pastries or more.

INGREDIENTS

Dough
Two sticks of butter (half a pound)
One 8-oz package of cream cheese
Two cups of flour
White sugar for rolling

Filling: 
Maybe 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of preserves or jam
1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

You will also need parchment paper, a pizza cutter, a rolling pin, and some baking racks. It helps to have a standing mixer, as the dough is pretty stiff at first.

BASIC DIRECTIONS

Blend dough ingredients together. Roll dough into 6- 8 balls, cover, and chill them in fridge.
Roll chilled dough in sugar into a round. Add filling, leaving the center bare. Cut into triangles, roll from wide end, place on pan on parchment paper, and chill rugelach again.
Bake at 400 for 11-14 minutes.

Now here’s the more detailed instructions, with photos:

Blend the dough ingredients together until it’s smooth. This is not like pie crust dough; you can use the standing mixer and really manhandle it.

Divide and roll the dough into 6-8 balls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Chilling it should make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.

Preheat the oven to 400. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Rugelach get very messy while baking. If you want to avoid the problem of filling oozing out, pooling under the rugelach, and burning, put a baking rack on top of the parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray. 

Sprinkle the counter (or a very large sheet pan, if you have it, to contain the mess) heavily with sugar.

Yep, you’re going to roll out the dough in sugar, rather than in flour. Roll it out as thin as you can, so it’s the size of a large dinner plate. I like to turn the dough over a few times while rolling it, so both sides get coated.

It doesn’t have to come out perfectly round. It should be thin enough to flap a bit if you pick it up and shake it.

Swizzle up your jam with a fork to make it more spreadable. Spread the filling and sprinkle the nuts all over the dough, leaving a circle in the middle bare.

You really just want a thin skim of filling, even less than what is shown here. Too much will bubble over and make a horrible mess (especially if you’re not using a rack). If you are using nuts, it’s also good to chop them finer than I did here, so they stay put.

You can make more than one kind of rugelach at a time. This pic shows too much filling, though, so don’t do that.

Cut it like a pizza into 16 triangles. I use a rolling pizza cutter. It helps to hold the center in place with one finger so the dough doesn’t curl up while you cut.

Roll each triangle up, starting from the wide end.

Put the rolled-up rugelach, tip down, on the pan covered with parchment paper. Leave a rugelach’s width between pastries. These are this close together just because I was making a bunch to bake later! Bake them spaced further apart. 

Chill them again for half an hour or more before baking. At this point, turn on the oven so it can preheat while the rugelach are chilling. You can make a ton of rugelach ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator, then put them on pans in smaller batches to bake.

Bake them in the preheated oven for 11-14 minutes. They should be slightly golden on top.

They will leak a bit when baking. This is inevitable, and this is why you used parchment paper! Just let them cool for ten minutes or so before you peel them off the pan.

OR, if you want to avoid the spillage altogether, use the rack-on-parchment method.

and use a butter knife to lift them off the rack onto another pan as soon as they come out of the oven.

The finished rugelach will be slightly crisp on the outside, studded with sparkling sugar, and tender, sweet, and rich inside.

And now here are some horrible errors you can commit:

You can spread too much jam on and bake them too close together, so the filling will all leak out and form one solid platform of jam taffy with little rugelach islands trapped in it.

You can still eat them, but it cuts down considerably on how presentable they are. It’s only really a problem if you use too much filling, bake them too close together, and burn them, too:

I’m here to tell you that you can still eat them like this, if you break them apart. I did it for science.

Believe it or not, you can also get tired of waiting for them to bake, and turn on the broiler for “just a second” to brown up the tops, and then you forget to turn the broiler off before sliding the next batch in:

This, too, cuts down on their general attractiveness, as they become quite turdly.

Good luck! They’re a lot of work, but so worth it.

Rugelach

These are tender little pastries for Chanukah or any time. Use whatever kind of filling you like: Jams, preserves, cinnamon sugar, nutella, etc. These are time consuming, but don't take much skill, and they freeze well, so they make pretty little gifts.

Servings 80 rugelach

Ingredients

dough

  • half pound butter
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup or more sugar, for rolling

filling

  • 1/4-1/2 cup preserves or other filling
  • 1/4-1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Slowly add in the flour and keep mixing until smooth. You can do this by hand, but it will take a while! The dough should be fairly stiff and not sticky when it's done.

  2. Divide the dough into 8 balls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

  3. Preheat the oven to 400.

  4. Prepare a pan by lining it with parchment paper, then spraying a baking rack and putting the rack on the parchment paper. Line a second pan with parchment paper, to which you will remove the rugelach when they come out of the oven.

  5. Use the sugar to cover your work space, and use a rolling pin to roll a ball of dough into a round shape the size of a large plate. It should be thin enough to flap a bit when you give it a shake. If your rolling pin sticks, sprinkle more sugar on. You can turn the dough over to make sure both sides get sugared. It doesn't have to be perfectly round, as it will be cut into pieces.

  6. Spread the jam or other filling over the dough, leaving an open space in the middle. If you're adding nuts, sprinkle them over the filling.

  7. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 16-20 triangles.

  8. Roll each triangle up from the outside in. Place each rolled rugelach on the sprayed baking rack on the pan, with the skinny point down. They puff up a bit, so leave the space of one rugelach in between.

  9. Repeat for each ball of dough.

  10. Bake for ten minutes. If the dough isn't golden brown, give it another two minutes. These go from perfect to burnt very quickly, so be alert.

  11. When they bake, the filling will ooze out and pool and burn on the parchment paper, but the rugelach will not burn.

  12. When the rugelach come out of the oven, immediately use a butter knife to transfer them to another pan or rack to cool.

  13. Once they are cool, they can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the freezer for weeks without harm.