I purposely use the best of everything in these chubby, overstuffed eastern European pastries. There are a few things you should know before making them, however. I only recommend using homemade fruit butters since these are thicker than the commercial brands and won’t bleed out as much, during baking. Also, in order to make everything seamlessly easy, think ahead! Get all the fillings, toppings as well as the pastry dough all made ahead. That way, the process is not only efficient, but it’s really fun!
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To get ready to make rugelach, first assemble the pastry and chill it. Cream the butter with the cream cheese and salt, using an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. When well combined, gradually add the sugar, beating until very smooth, on a moderate speed. Stop the machine and add the flour. With the machine on low, incorporate the flour until the mixture turns into a cohesive mass, without over-mixing, to ensure tender pastry. Tear off four long pieces of plastic wrap and position them, in pairs, in a “criss-cross” shape on your counter. Divide the pastry mixture in half, placing each portion on the center of each plastic cross. One at a time, gather the ends of the plastic up and over the dough, loosely, to totally enclose it. Gently press the dough down, into a rectangular shape. Do the same with the remaining half of dough and place both pieces in a plastic bag and refrigerate, for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days. This dough must be cold, in order to work with it.
Now make the fillings. Prepare your fruit fillings as directed and make sure they’ve had time to become thoroughly chilled (see timing tips at the end of this recipe). Combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon, in a bowl, and set that mixture aside. Place the toasted nuts into a bowl and place them next to the brown sugar filling. Assemble an assortment of dried fruits, in separate bowls, or make a mixed medley and set them next to the nuts. When ready to assemble the pastry, take the fruit fillings out of the refrigerator and uncover them.
To assemble and chill unbaked rugelach, first line a flat cookie sheet with wax paper and place it close to your work surface. Remove one half of the cream cheese pastry from the refrigerator and let it soften for a few minutes. Meanwhile, rub an even and liberal amount of flour onto a large pastry cloth. Slip the bootie over your rolling pin and rub some flour into the bootie. Place the dough on the center of the cloth and, using the covered pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 14 x 8-inches, that’s 1/8-inch thick. As you roll, occasionally lift and reposition the cold dough, to make sure it’s not sticking. (Alternatively, if you don’t have a cloth and bootie, roll the dough out between two large sheets of floured wax paper (rub some flour on top of the dough before placing the paper on top) After rolling, use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the rectangle lengthwise, down the center, leaving each half in place. Using a long metal icing spatula, spread your chosen fruit filling generously over each rectangle, (you can use a different kind on each half). Sprinkle half of the spiced brown sugar filling mixture evenly over the fruit, smoothing it gently with your hands. Scatter 1/2 cup of each of the dried fruits and nuts over the sugar mixture, adding a few chocolate chips, if desired.
To fill the pastry, make sure the rectangle of pastry is placed horizontally in front of you (just turn the cloth, as needed). Starting on the outside (long-side) closest to you, roll the dough up going away from you, toward the dividing cut in the pastry. Lift the cloth to help you start rolling and use your fingers to help keep the filling inside, while tucking in the pastry, forming a chubby jelly-roll (things might ooze a bit). Position a prepared cookie sheet up against the log of filled pastry and carefully transfer the log (seam side down) to the cookie sheet. Roll up the remaining pastry and transfer that log to the sheet, as well. Cover the logs with plastic wrap and refrigerate them, to firm up, for at least 4 hours, (preferably overnight). Repeat this same procedure with the remaining half of dough.
If planning on baking 2 sheets, simultaneously, in one oven, position the racks on the upper and lower third shelves (the center shelf is preferable). Preheat the oven to 375oF. Combine the egg with the yolk and cream or milk and strain this through a small wire sieve, into another bowl. Line 2 to 4 cushioned cookie sheets or shallow heavy aluminum baking sheets with parchment paper. Make the sugar-nut topping by pulsing 1 1/2 cups sugar with 2 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon and the mixed chopped nuts, in a food processor, fitted with the steel blade. When well combined and the nuts are quite small, transfer this to a bowl and place it next to the glaze.
To finish the pastries and chill before baking, transfer one chilled roll of filled pastry on your cutting board and brush the top and sides with the egg glaze, using a pastry brush. Using a sharp serrated knife, slice the log into 1 1/2-inch slices. Working with two slices at a time, lay them in the prepared topping and generously coat the pastry on all sides, pressing gently to help the topping adhere. Lay the slices on the ungreased parchment-lined baking sheets, with 1-inch in between each slice. If you’ve got all three baking sheets lined with parchment, glaze, cut and top the remaining rolls. If you can’t bake them all at once, refrigerate the sheets, covered with plastic wrap.
Bake the rugelach until the tops are golden and the bottoms caramelize, about 25 minutes. If baking 2 sheets in one oven, switch their positions half way through baking. These might need a few more minutes in the oven. Remove the baked rugelach from the oven and let the pastries cool, still on their baking sheet, on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes, before running a thin metal turning spatula underneath each pastry and placing them on the rack to cool further. (If during baking, any of the filling has oozed out, forming a small puddle around the dough, 2 minutes after placing the sheets on the rack, use a metal spatula to push this pliable puddle towards the pastry. As it cools, this part will firm up (like candy) and adhere to the crust.)
Once cooled, either place the rugelach directly on a decorative serving platter or store the pastries in a large air-tight tin, separated by sheets of wax paper. When stored correctly, rugelach stay perfectly fresh for 5 days.
The dough can be assembled two days ahead and kept refrigerated, well wrapped. It can also be frozen, placed in a doubled freezer bag, for two months. To thaw, place the dough, still in it’s original wrapping, in the refrigerator overnight.
The fruit fillings can be assembled up to two weeks ahead and kept refrigerated, well covered.
The sugar filling, assorted dried fruits, chopped toasted nuts and the sugar-nut topping can all be assembled two days ahead and kept at room temperature, in separate well covered bowls.
The egg glaze can be assembled one day ahead of using and stored in the refrigerator, covered.
The unbaked pastry logs can be assembled one day ahead of baking. Keep them refrigerated, covered well with plastic wrap.