Growing up, every Christmas we had a marathon few days where we’d bake enough cookies to fortify a small army. I’d always get excited seeing the bags of flour and sugar piled into the shopping cart. Handwritten recipe cards would be pulled out from wherever they hid the rest of the year, the paper yellowed and smudged with buttery fingerprints. Recipes would get rotated in and out, but there were always a select few that were made every year. One of these was for cream cheese crescents. They were a simple cream cheese dough, cut into triangles, filled with fruit jam, rolled into a crescent and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The crescents were one of the few things my mom baked from scratch. Don’t worry, I’m not spilling any secrets here. Ask my mom, and she’ll tell you that most of the recipes I’ve asked for begin with the words, “Open the box . . .”
As soon as I looked at Dorie’s recipe for rugelach, I immediately got excited. The dough sounded almost exactly like my mom’s. And these are somewhat similar to the cookie I grew up with. Except where that was a favorite childhood recipe, this one’s grown up and graduated from college. It’s the cookie you eyed longingly but were told were not to touch because “Those are for Grandma’s bridge club.” It’s the cookie that you finally did steal when no one was looking and then promptly hid in the potted palm because it was filled with raisins and nuts and (blech!) prunes. But, now that you’re an adult, this is exactly the type of cookie you find comforting. Rich and flakey, bursting with apricots, cherries, almonds – whatever you crave – it’s both sophisticated and down-to-earth. The type of treat to be savored with a hot cup of tea, a good book and some fluffy slippers.
It’s not a difficult recipe, just very time-consuming. Plan on making the components ahead of time, unless you’ve got a full day to devote to baking and a Top Model marathon. You can save some time by buying the prune or apricot lekvar, but where’s the fun in that. Besides, it robs you of the opportunity to scurry about the kitchen, muttering the word lekvar like some sort of fringe character from middle Earth.
Since I planned on sharing these with my toddler, I omitted the amaretto. (In spite of my being at my wit’s end with his recent naptime strike.) I substituted vanilla since one of my favorite jam recipes combines apricots with vanilla. After tasting it, the vanilla flavor didn’t come through as much as I’d hoped, so I might try it again using vanilla paste. The only problem I had was rolling the dough with the filling. Half the filling seemed to spill out on the cutting board as I was rolling them and it was difficult the dough to roll up tightly. My first batch lost their shape quite a bit. I cut back on the fillings for the second batch which seemed to help.
One of the nice things about this recipe is that you can use any fillings or combinations you want. I made half the dough with the apricot lekvar, dried cherries and almonds and the other half with the lekvar and a mix of dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries and golden raisins. Both were excellent but I think I prefer the one without nuts. The dough seemed to taste flakier and richer without the texture of the nuts competing with it. I’ve seen a few people mention using Nutella for a filling as well which sounds absolutely amazing.