I’ve never been much of a holiday person, but for some reason, I’m feeling especially festive this year. So far, I’ve published a gift guide, bought an advent calendar, drank my first glass of honest-to-goodness eggnog (thanks Organic Valley, for sending me my first carton of eggnog ever!) as well as dedicated an afternoon to making Christmas wreaths with a friend (although my wreath was beyond ugly and not even worthy of Instagramming — Tumblr and Pinterest make it look so easy, dammit).
Unfortunately, because all those things are primarily Christmas-related, my Jewish side is feeling a little bit left out. And with Hanukkah already underway, I decided it was time to celebrate with a batch of Nutella rugelach:
Growing up, traditional rugelach filled with jam and nuts always appeared around the family table during Yom Kippur and Purim. As a little kid, I always avoided the stuff. At the time, cookies with nothing but fruits and nuts just seemed like the most depressing thing and ruined the whole point of, you know, cookies.
Little did I know that I was kind of missing the point of rugelach — because rugelach is basically pie crust, rolled up into little crescents resembling mini croissants. Fresh from the oven? It’s flaky, buttery and everything you want good pie crust to be. The fruit and nut filling is almost an afterthought. Almost.
Because as an homage to my childhood, I decided to whip up a batch of rugelach that my young self would heartily approve of: rugelach filled to the brim with Nutella. I spent last Friday afternoon testing out different fillings — jam, peanut butter, halva (as the wonderful Molly Yeh recommends), almond butter... but the clear winner for me was Nutella. No surprises there since I've basically been having a love affair with the stuff since my youth (and yep, I just admitted to loving a sandwich spread on the internet), BUT the very competitive and way-too-close-for-comfort second place winner? Speculoos, the gingerbread cookie butter that is basically dessert crack. I stuffed a test batch of my rugelach cookies with a generous swirl of both Nutella and Speculoos and ohhh boy, those cookies were devoured within minutes.
Other test batches included more solid ingredients to give my rugelach the somewhat gritty texture I remember from my childhood. Contenders included mini chocolate chips, chopped up nuts like pistachio and hazelnut and dried fruit like cherries, peaches and strawberries. I was fully expecting my sweet tooth to proclaim chocolate chips the winner, but I found that they were too one-dimensional and didn’t add anything special to the Nutella rugelach. Instead, the dried cherries worked best, adding a wonderful chewyness to the cookie’s texture, as well as bursts of tart fruity flavor that played well with the Nutella.
I’m including the recipes for both the Nutella and Speculoos / Nutella and Dried Cherry combinations, but know that the recipe is super flexible and you can swap out my fillings with your preferred fillings. Happy Hanukkah!
Some baker's notes:
- I've written the recipe the way I made the rugelach — using a food processor to cut butter and cream cheese into the dough. The trick is to just pulse the ingredients for a few seconds at a time until they come together; do not overmix the dough or you'll be in danger of tough cookies! I realize that not everybody has a food processor though, so note that you can also make the rugelach by hand by cutting the cream cheese and butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives. Stop when the dough forms large curds.
- Rugelach usually comes in two shapes — pinwheels (where the dough is rolled around the filling and then sliced into individually cookies) and crescents, like you see here. Crescents tend to be more labor intensive, but they're the shape I remember from my childhood and so I'm biased and think they have a better texture. To get the crescent shape, you roll the rugelach dough into a circle and then proceed to slice them into wedges. This process is greatly helped by a pizza slicer (if you're looking for a good pizza slicer, I recommend this beauty by Savora), but you can also use a sharp, serrated knife or a bench scraper.