The first time I leafed through Nonnie’s cookbook, I was surprised to find that there are barely any cookie recipes in there — just three, in fact, and one of them is secretly a cake.
Hidden in another section, though, there was something called “Cream Cheese Pastry” — a simple, cream cheese-enhanced dough that’s rolled out, cut, and filled with jam.
“Oh!” I thought. “So they’re rugelach!”
Not really. Rugelach, the crown jewel of the Jewish dessert pantheon, are usually made by rolling cream-cheese spiked dough into a circle, spreading on filling — jam, cinnamon-sugar, nuts, chocolate if you’re feeling a little sacrilegious — cutting the circle into equally-sized wedges, and rolling each one into a cute little crescent.
Nonnie’s recipe, however, called for cutting the dough into circles with a cookie cutter, spreading jam onto every circle, then folding each one “into a cornucopia.”
I can’t even tell you how many different searches I tried in a vain attempt to understand what the hell she meant by that.
Cornucopias look like this. While I’m no geometrist, I’m preeetty sure there’s no way to fold a circle into one of those — especially a teensy circle oozing with jam. So I Googled and I Googled, trying to figure out how to turn these cookies into rugelach — until I had the bright idea to look at the book’s table of contents, which revealed an alternate name for these things: jelly-filled horns.
Which led me to this recipe for jam kolache, a Polish cookie that looks a little like an envelope.
Ta-da! Behold, my (unbaked) interpretation of Nonnie’s cream cheese pastry cookies, which hopefully look more “authentically rustic” than “assembled by a child.” (Please ignore the upper left corner, which contains my few attempts at rolling the dough into a more recognizably cornucopia-esque shape.)
I still don’t really know what to call these things; additional searching reveals that kolache are actually usually circular, not folded-envelope-shaped, and that sometimes they have hot dogs in them instead of jam.
I do know, though, that what I ended up with tastes pretty incredible — even if they’re not the rugelach I signed up for.
Cream Cheese Pastry, a.k.a. Jelly-Filled Horns, a.k.a. Little Jam Tacos, a.k.a. Not Rugelach; main text Nonnie’s, italicized asides my own
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened [These cookies also bear a striking resemblance to The Gourmet Cookie Book‘s crescent jam and cheese cookies, which use farmer’s cheese instead of Philadelphia. Do that if you want to make them Brooklyn-ier]
1 cup butter, softened [Buy the good, cultured, European stuff, which has a higher fat content and therefore makes for flakier layers]
2 cups sifted flour
Jam or jelly [Any flavor will do; two 3.75 oz. jars wasn’t quite enough for me to fill every cookie, so I also added a tablespoon or so from another jar I had open in my fridge. Related: Do I have a jam problem?]
Sifted powdered sugar
Cream together cream cheese and butter. Add flour and mix thoroughly. [Stick it in the fridge for about an hour at this point; it’ll be impossible to work with until it’s chilled. When you’re ready to roll it out, cut your dough ball in half and stick the rest of it back in the fridge.]
Roll out on floured board. [Like, heavily floured, with flour on top too — it’s a soft dough, and you’ll want a little insurance.] Cut with 2″ round cutter. [Ball up the remainder and chill it in the fridge.]
Drop a little jam or jelly onto center [of each circle] and roll into a cornucopia. [Don’t do this, because it’s impossible.
Instead: Heat your jam in the microwave for about 30 seconds so it’s easier to work with, then a spread little jam onto each circle. The amount will depend on how thick your jam is; I used around 1/2 teaspoon of raspberry and a heaping 1/2 teaspoon of blueberry.
Fold the top end down, about halfway down the circle.
Then do the same with the bottom end, gently sealing the cookie shut. You’ll probably get some jam oozing out the top; if anyone has a bright idea for preventing that, my inbox is open.
After you’ve filled and folded every circle from the first dough ball, take the second out of the fridge, roll it out, and repeat. Then roll out the remainder from the first ball, followed by the remainder of the second, and so on. As the amount of dough decreases, you might want to use the freezer rather than the fridge to speed the chilling process.]
Bake on greased cooky sheet at 375 for 15 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes six dozen. [Confession: My cookie cutter’s slightly bigger than Nonnie’s recommended size, so my yield was 55 rather than 72.]
The verdict: Maybe not the most photogenic cookies before they’ve been sprinkled with powdered sugar — and I couldn’t quite figure out a way to keep them sealed, much less shaped like a cornucopia.
But provided you use a high-quality jam (and you will, right?), you’ll end up with something entirely delicious — perfectly sized bites of lightly sweetened fruit nestled in a buttery, flaky crust. Bonus: Unbaked, they freeze beautifully. I’m planning to break out the rest of my batch for Mikey’s family at Christmas Eve, where they’ll have to compete with seven fishes and God knows how many other kinds of cookies.
I’m pretty sure they’ll hold their own.