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December 13, 2005

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My Mother's Rugala
Among the best rugelach (or rugala) we have found are baked by My Mother’s Delicacies. We prefer the square-cut to the traditional crescent shape because there’s a greater concentration of tasty filling in the center.

My Mother’s Delicacies:
Take The Rugala, Drop The Cannoli

Rugelach (pronounced RUH-guh-lach, with that throat-clearing “ch” in the back of the upper palate), a traditional European Jewish pastry, is a small crescent-shaped or square-cut cookie* made of cream cheese dough with a filling—originally nuts, raisins and cinnamon. Its name comes from the Yiddish “rugel,” or royal, and it goes by other names such as kipfel (in Hungary and the Czech Republic) and horns of plenty (in non-Jewish areas of the U.S., where people “rugelach” may not sound as appetizing).

*Rugelach is called a cookie because of its size, but it has soft dough so it is really a miniature pastry. The traditional shape is the crescent, but the square cut is equally popular.

Since rugelach was made in perhaps a dozen European countries by bakers who spoke a dozen different languages, it has been variously spelled rugelah, rugalah, rugelach, rugalach, rugulah, ruggelach, and ruggalach (in other words, you can ask people to spell it, and they have an excellent chance of getting it right). We have not previously seen “rugala,” which is how My Mother’s Delicacies spells it; but when you bake rugelach this good, you can spell it as you please. (For the purposes of this review, we’ll use our preferred spelling, rugelach, except when specifically referring to My Mother’s Delicacies’ rugala.)

In Europe the dough was made with butter, sometimes with sour cream added. A circle of dough was covered with a mixture of nuts, raisins, sugar, and cinnamon; then cut into wedges; and the wedges were rolled up into crescents. Rugelach evolved when it immigrated to America. Cream cheese was added to the dough. The Food Timeline, a historical reference source, says the cream cheese recipe may have been developed by the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company, which sounds like a good bet. In the land of infinite possibilities, countless flavor variations were developed by creative bakers. Today, in addition to the original raisin and nut filling, apricot, cherry, and raspberry preserves are the most popular, plus chocolate (the latter creating, in effect, the Jewish version of pain au chocolat).

The cream cheese dough is, to our palate, the foundation of great rugelach. It imparts a special flavor that, along with the burst of fruit, nut, or chocolate filling, makes rugelach such a unique pastry (plus its beautiful balance—a rich and satisfying pastry that is not particularly sweet). While the ingredients are simple (flour, sugar, butter, cream cheese, an egg, spices, and filling), so many rugelach are disappointing: inferior ingredients†, margarine instead of butter, dough with not enough cream cheese or no cream cheese at all. We have been plucking promising-looking boxes off the shelves for years. More often than not we encounter the seven deadly sins of rugelach: bland, dry, doughy, oily, too sweet, not sweet enough and...dearth of cream cheese.

†One can buy flour, sugar, butter, preserves, et al, of average quality, or one can buy the best. It costs more to bake with top flours, organic eggs and Cabot butter, e.g., or to use Valrhona chocolate instead of supermarket-brand chocolate morsels.

There are greater disappointments in life than spending money with hope in one’s heart, only to find that one has bought a box of average rugelach. Still, it seems like a simple enough proposition for a professional bakery to get it right.

My Mother’s Delicacies gets it right. The journey began with the immigration of grandmother Bertha Hodin from Galicia, Poland in the 1880s. She baked a cinnamon-nut rugala that her family adored. Her daughter-in-law learned to make it; then added her own touches, making apricot and raspberry variations and sprinkling them with powdered sugar. Granddaughter Susie Herlands became the third generation baker; and almost 100 years after Bertha and her rugala recipe arrived on these shores, Ms. Herlands opened a small bakery in Scranton, Pennsylvania to sell the pastries to a rugala-hungry public. Thanks to e-commerce, you don’t have to live in Scranton to get your share.

If you haven’t had rugelach before, when should you serve them? While they are cookie-size, they are more related to Danish pastry (think Danish at the Ritz, not the deli variety); so you can serve them whenever you would serve either cookies or breakfast pastry. This gives you carte blanche from breakfast through dinner, and all snacks in-between.

My Mother's Delicacies Crescent Rugala
My Mother‘s Delicacies’ classic crescent-
shaped rugala.

To us, rugelach is one of the great comfort foods. Sitting down with a cup of tea and a plate of assorted rugelach is one of life’s small pleasures, a little sweetness when some is called for (My Mother’s Delicacies makes a version with aspartame [Nutrasweet] for those who need their sweetness sugar-free). You can enjoy your rugelach Russian-style, with a glass of tea sweetened with cherry preserves; or nouvelle American-style, with a latte or a cappuccino.

If you like these little “horns of plenty” as much as we do and have always wanted your own bakery to serve up comfort to the many who need it, Ms. Herlands would be happy to set you up with your own My Mother’s Delicacies shop.  So, as Christmas and Chanukah approach, you can decide to give yourself, your spouse or your kids a large tin of rugelach...or an entire franchise.

— Karen Hochman
Updated May 2007

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to your rugelach-adoring friends and anyone looking for something special to enjoy with tea or coffee.

MY MOTHER’S DELICACIES

Rugala in Apricot, Chocolate, Cinnamon-Nut,
and Raspberry plus Assorted (all flavors)
Sugar-Free Rugala in Apricot, Cinnamon-Nut,
and Raspberry

Certified Kosher Dairy by the Union of Orthodox
Rabbis

  • Small Gift Tin
    17 Pieces
    $22.99
  • Medium Gift Tin
    24 Pieces
    $27.99
  • Large Gift Tin
    51 Pieces
    $43.99
  • By The Pound (not in a tin); $19.99
    first pound, $9.99 each additional
    pound
  • Prices include shipping

To purchase, visit
MyMothersDelicacies.com

To see more of our favorite:


My Mother's Rugala
Above, small tin. Below, large tin.

My Mother's Rugala

Bake Your Own Rugelach

Baking With Julia the good cookie 1000 Jewish recipes
Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers, by Dorie Greenspan. Based on Julia Child’s TV shows, this is a great baking reference source for all bakers. There are many recipes, including ones for rugelach, and techniques from a number of acclaimed bakers. Click here to purchase. The Good Cookie: Over 250 Delicious Recipes from Simple to Sublime, by Tish Boyle. With over 250 cookie recipes scaled to different difficulty levels, readers will relish old favorites and new creations alike. Click here to purchase. 1,000 Jewish Recipes, by Faye Levy. Celebrate Jewish kosher cooking and tradition with this extensive cookbook. It offers recipes and kitchen tips on how to cook or bake foods for any Jewish holiday or meal. Click here for more information.

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