When I was young, there were two cookies that captured the essence of home and tradition. They were “rugelach” (sometimes called “der ahnderer” or the other ones) and “der geralte”, the rolled ones, which were damson plum jam, raisins and nuts rolled in a pastry dough and sliced. The recipes were passed down from my Grandma Fredyl. Fredyl, having grown up in the “old country”, did not have recipes; she cooked by eye and feel. Family legend has it that my Aunt Gladys stood by her side as she cooked, and every time Grandma tossed in an ingredient, Gladys stuck out a measuring cup to measure the recipe. Now I have the recipe on my mother Sylvia’s recipe cards, a memory of her since she’s gone. They still evoke home. Once I was visiting my sister when she lived in North Carolina, and we baked “Grandma cookies”. Her husband thought we were crazy, since we rarely saw one another, and we were spending our precious time together baking cookies. We told him that we were “channeling Sylvia”.
For several years, I’ve been looking for a way to make low fat rugelach. After all, the family recipe started with a quarter of a pound of butter. I thought I found a recipe in a low fat baking book. The recipe was a bit fussy, and after my experience with the lemon bars, I decided to calculate the fat content of my family recipe. I was delighted to see that Grandma’s rugelach were quite reasonable in fat grams, so here is the recipe.
¼ pound of butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour + up to ¼ cup flour if needed (I used about a Tablespoon)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped small
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or to taste)
Preheat oven to 350. Sift 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour and baking powder into a medium bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until well-blended. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating at low speed until flour is incorporated. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead in enough of the ¼ cup of flour to firm up the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Take dough out of refrigerator and cut about ¼ of the dough. To make rolling the dough easier, roll it out between 2 pieces of either parchment paper, wax paper, or plastic wrap, with the lower sheet lightly sprinkled with flour. Use new sheets for each ¼ piece of dough. This makes it much easier to get the cookies off the paper. Roll the piece of dough into a rough square, about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle with ¼ of the walnuts and a bit of the cinnamon and sugar (I have a shaker with mixed cinnamon and sugar, so I don’t usually measure them). Gently roll the rolling pin over the dough to set the filling. Cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Don’t worry about ragged edges. I find that I have to shape each cookie by hand, and rough edges can be tucked in. Put 2 raisins at each end of the squares.
Roll up each square, pushing the dough around the raisins to cover them up. Try to make them approximately the same size so they will bake evenly – I am not always successful in doing this. Bend the cookies into little crescents. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
I was rather distressed the first time I made these, since my rugelach were rather bumpy and unshapely. But then I remembered that the rugelach of my youth looked that way, too. They are a homey cookie, not a glamour cookie – but oh the taste of them. Here they are in their lumpy splendor on the cookie sheet waiting to be sprinkled and baked.
Sprinkle the unbaked rugelach with the cinnamon and sugar mix. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Do not let them get too brown. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then cool completely on rack (Try not to eat too many of the “broken ones). This makes 60 cookies at about 2 grams of fat/cookie. These keep well, and freeze beautifully. We always had them in the freezer when I was growing up for a late night “nosh” or if unexpected company came.
NOTE: My mother didn’t toast the walnuts, but toasting brings out the flavor so that you can use fewer of them.
Now if I can only figure out how to make low fat geralte.