"I was 21 before I realized that everyone else didn't have rugelach and brisket for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner," said cookbook author Linda Merinoff.
Rugelach is a nut- and raisin-stuffed pastry shaped like a crescent roll and typically found in Jewish bakeries and delis. Merinoff departs from tradition by spicing the dough liberally and coloring it with molasses. That gained the recipe a place in her book, "Gingerbread" (Simon & Schuster/Fireside: $8.95).
Merinoff, a Los Angeles resident, defines gingerbread as "a cookie, cake, pastry or bread in which the taste of ginger is distinctive." Her book ranges from classic gingerbread cake to such innovations as spiced corn pancakes and cabbage and bacon strudel flavored with gingersnap crumbs. There is also a Christmas section that includes instructions for making a gingerbread house.
Here, for holiday bakers, is the Rugelach recipe. Merinoff notes that the pastry can also be used for pie crust, and other dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and pears can be substituted for raisins.
LINDA MERINOFF'S RUGELACH
1 cup plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups unbleached or presifted all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups raisins
1 1/3 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, packed
Beat 1 cup butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Lightly whisk together eggs, molasses, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt, then beat well into cream cheese mixture. Beat in flour just until completely mixed. Form dough into 8 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes to 2 days.
When ready to bake, mix together raisins, nuts and brown sugar in bowl. Remove 1 dough ball from refrigerator. On lightly floured board pat dough out into small circle, then quickly roll into 6-inch circle. Cut into 6 wedges, but do not move them. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Brush dough circle with butter, then scatter 2 small handfuls of nut mixture onto it. Lightly press nuts and raisins into dough without breaking through.
Starting with outside edges of circle, roll each wedge up croissant style to enclose nuts and raisins. If any nuts and raisins fall out, push them back into place. Move rolled cookies to greased baking sheet, point side down. Curve cookies slightly to make crescents. When all cookies are prepared, brush with any remaining melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes, until browned all over. Cool on wire racks. Makes 4 dozen.