Rugelach are light and crisp pastry dough crescents rolled up around your choice of delicious fillings. Whether you fill them with chocolate, jam, or nuts these cookies will be a hit at all holiday gatherings. Make plenty to share for cookie exchanges, care packages, and gifting.
This recipe was originally posted 7 years ago! Creating these rugelach was my first experience baking these wonderful cookies. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to make and have made them every year since!
When my friend Laurel asked if I was going to write a post for Chanukah. I told her, “Sure!” Really, I had no idea what I was going to write about. In my house we have a cut-out lemon cookie that is a Chanukah tradition, not traditional but a personal tradition.
I have made them for decades. Friends and family look forward to the annual star-shaped cookie bake-a-thon. However, I just posted about cut-out cookies. A little variety was called for. I’ll make a point of sharing the lemon cookie next Chanukah. I began a search for mail-able Chanukah treats.
For those that don’t know but are curious; Chanukah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. In 165 BCE, oil was needed to rededicate the Temple of Jerusalem.
There was only enough purified oil to last for one night. A miracle occurred when the oil lasted the eight nights required to purify more oil. Not surprisingly then, most traditional Chanukah food involves oil.
Fried stuff like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jam filled doughnuts) are delicious but they don’t ship well. Who wants a Chanukah care package filled with 3 day old doughnuts?
Rugelach is a Jewish pastry cookie that is popular year round but is especially traditional at Chanukah (for no logical reason that I can determine). Rugelach is a funny sounding Yiddish word. That final guttural “ch”, it isn’t easy to say. Confusing to some people, the word sounds a lot like the salad green, arugula.
I told my daughter, over the phone, that I was elbow deep in rugelach and she wanted to know why I was making so much salad.(She would have known better than to ask why I was making so many cookies.) Despite the name, rugelach is easy to make and ships well. It continues to taste delicious for up to 5 days.
I had never made rugelach before. I did “some” (read that as hours and hours) research on the internet and perused 4 or 5 cook books. This is what I learned.
There are skazillion recipes for rugelach on the internet and every cookbook, from Martha Stewart to Dori Greenspan, includes a version. Even Cooks Illustrated chimes in. But the thing is, they are all basically the same recipe and the only thing that really sets one apart from the others is the filling used.
Rugelach pastry is most often made with either cream cheese (one 8 oz. brick) or sour cream (3/4 cup). The flour amount is consistently 2 cups.
Cooks Illustrated ups the flour a tiny bit (2 ¼ cups) and then adds the cream cheese plus 2 tablespoons of sour cream. The best of both worlds, maybe?
The sour cream pastry is a little bit flakier than the cream cheese version but the taste is almost the same. As for sugar in the dough, recipes ranged from no sugar at all to ¼ cup. Oddly, I thought, there was very little taste difference.
Traditionally, rugelach are rolled up triangles resembling little cookie croissants. Using the same recipe, it is also easy to make a slice-and-bake rugelach log. I think this is a great idea for make-ahead cookies or to bake only a few when the urge strikes.
Instead of rolling the dough into a circle, you roll the dough into a long rectangle. Spread the filling and roll the rectangle from one of the long sides. Wrap in plastic and freeze for up to one month.
The difference is in the fillings. Traditional filling includes apricot or raspberry jam, cinnamon sugar, walnuts, raisins, and maybe chocolate.
My personal lack of experience with rugelach has to do with those walnuts and my intense allergy to them. I not only can’t eat them, but I have trouble breathing in the same room as chopped walnuts. My grandmother definitely made rugelach, I just stayed away from them.
However, rugelach can be made with any filling you desire. This time, I kept the filling resembling the traditional (jam, cinnamon sugar, and chips) just minus the nuts. Along with the basic recipe, I am including a list of filling suggestions, gleaned from my research, that I found particularly tempting.
Directions for traditional rugelach
- Use a food processor to combine the cream cheese and butter.
- Add sugar and flour then pulse to combine.
- Divide the dough, wrap and refrigerate to chill.
- When ready to bake, prepare fillings.
- For crescent cookies roll out dough, spread with jam, sprinkle with fillings. Cut dough into 16 wedges and roll up into crescents. Freeze for 15 minutes.
- For slice and bake spirals, roll out dough, spread with jam, sprinkle with fiilings, then roll up into a log. Freeze for at least 1 hour, then slice into cookies.
- Before baking crescents or slices, coat with glaze and cinnamon sugar.
- Bake until golden.
- Don’t over mix the dough. Once you add the flour, pulse only 6-10 times just until the ingredients come together. If a dough ball forms, you’ve pulsed too long, resulting in tough pastry.
- Don’t worry about rolling out a perfect circle. A lop-sided circle works just fine.
- Don’t spread the filling all the way to the center of the circle. Leave a 1”-2” circle at the center. This will make the rolling process less messy and the pointy end will stick better to your cookie.
- A pizza or pastry wheel is the easiest tool for cutting.
- This one is really important. FREEZE the formed cookies for 15 minutes before baking. This will reduce spreading and create fluffier cookies.
- Remove the rugelach from the baking sheet immediately out of the oven. Otherwise, the oozing filling makes the cookie stick to the pan.
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Tools you may need
More Chanukah recipes
Whatever holiday you celebrate and bake for, rugelach are sure to become a baking tradition in your kitchen! These special cookies are requested over and over by everyone who tastes them.
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature –or- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into chunks
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 9 tablespoons jam
- ¼ cup brown sugar packed
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup nuts chopped fine
- ½ cup raisins and/or mini-chocolate chips
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon water
For crescent cookies
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough (leaving the others in the fridge until needed) into a circle about 12” in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. (The dough can be sticky. Sprinkle with additional flour as needed and/or put a sheet of wax paper between the dough and the rolling pin.)
- Spread 2-3 tablespoon of jam over the dough, leaving a small 2” circle in the middle. Sprinkle remaining fillings over the jam.
- Cut dough into 16 wedges. Roll up each piece starting at the wide end. Place on baking sheet pointed end tucked under.
- To apply glaze, mix egg and water, then brush over cookies. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over cookies.
- Freeze for 15 minutes.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.. Transfer immediately onto wire racks to cool.
- Store at room temperature in air-tight containers for up to 5 days.
For slice-and-bake cookies
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough (leaving the other in the fridge until needed) into a rectangle about 12” long and 1/8 thick. (The dough can be sticky. Sprinkle with additional flour as needed and/or put a sheet of wax paper between the dough and the rolling pin.)
- Spread 2-4 tablespoons of jam over the dough. Sprinkle remaining fillings over the jam.
- Roll the dough into a log, starting at a long side. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour.
- When ready to bake, cut log into ¼” slices. Dip both sides of cookie in the cinnamon sugar topping (no egg wash needed) and place on cookie sheet. (Because these spiral cookies will already be partially frozen, additional chilling is not needed at this point to prevent spreading.)
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer immediately onto wire racks to cool.
- Store at room temperature in air-tight containers for up to 5 days.
- Peanut Butter and Jelly: 2-3 tablespoons jelly, about ½ cup peanut butter chips
- Milk Chocolate Toffee: ½ cup milk chocolate chips, ½ cup toffee bits
- Cream Cheese: cinnamon sugar, cream cheese filling( ½ cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon orange or lemon zest)
- Lemon Tart: granulated sugar, 2-3 tablespoons lemon curd, ½ cup white chocolate chips, 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted almonds
- Peppermint:½ cup dark chocolate chips, 2-3 tablespoons crushed candy canes
- Coconut-Chocolate: ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut, ½ cup mini chocolate chips, 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted almonds
Crescent rugelach can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap or wrapped in pairs with bottoms together. Slice-and-bake rugelach can be stacked (about 4 per stack) then wrapped in plastic wrap. Place cookie bundles in a large zip lock bag or air tight container.