What are rugelach?

They are little tube-shaped pastries usually made with a cream cheese dough. They resemble small croissants when they’re rolled, small cinnamon buns when they’re cut. Nuts or raisins with spices are the most common fillings, at least in my experience, though they’re wicked good when they’re filled with chocolate or marzipan. Just about any sweet pastry filling can work in rugelach so long as it won’t entirely melt and run out during baking. Rugelach are best known as a Jewish delicacy, though where I learned to make them — Chicago’s North Shore — non-Jews have been wise to them for decades and snap them up whenever they get the chance. The name “rugelach” is Yiddish and means something along the lines of “little twists” or possibly “little horns”, which would also make sense.

11 thoughts on “What are rugelach?”

  1. It’s interesting that rugelach are considered a Jewish pastry, because I don’t think that’s how they started out. I’d also say (I have nothing to base this on except my memories when I was growing up, but I’m well past the half-century mark so I’m going back some time) that the dough was not originally cream cheese or butter-based, and that they don’t really have a connection to any specific Jewish holiday. They were celebratory – rugelach were not something for every day – but most celebrations involved a meat meal, and in most Jewish communities that meant the desserts would not contain dairy products. I suppose a lot of shortening was used, and sometimes a yeasted dough is used, but I guess that’s another category.

    They were also relatively simple by today’s standards. Nuts, sugar-cinnamon, or cocoa are the fillings I remember. I also remember that mostly it was the adults who ate the rugelach; the kids preferred the other stuff. They were a treat, but they were not the over-stuffed, butter & cream cheese-drenched pastries we see today. Even as a kid I always loved the flakiness of the dough (even without the butter, they were flaky). Most of the things I see now are indeed delicious pastries, but they’re very different from what rugelach once were.

    1. From what I’ve read they’re of Ashkenazi origin, but then no one seems to have definitive proof. And yes, my guess is that at one time they were probably made with other fats: shortening in the last century and before that beef fat or chicken or goose schmalz. Just a guess of course. I generally make mine with a simple filling because I’m with you, these days they’re over-stuffed!

      Thanks for a great comment,

      – Joe

  2. I make a Jewish Strudel that uses a sour cream dough wrapped around chopped nuts, apricot jam & coconut. Besides being ridiculously good it always surprises me how light and flaky the crust is. I’m excited to see your work on this one.

  3. I make them every year for Christmas, and I am not Jewish. I fill them with poppyseed/currant filling laced with orange liqueur, and my(Ashkenazi) Jewish boyfriend likes them. 🙂

  4. I always used mincemeat pie filling- it cut down the work to make filling with raisins and apples and such.

    1. Oooh…nice! Never thought of that but it would be dynamite!


      – Joe

  5. Joe
    I love your recipes and tutorials- less fussy with better results than the big timey sites like Cooks Illustrated or ATK…
    Thanks to you I have had many successful baking endeavors in 2014. Hopefully my luck will continue in the new year.
    Thanks again!
    PS. Also thinking Frankly needs to share that Jewish strudel recipe!

    1. Hey Cat!

      Many, many thanks. So glad the site has been useful on 2014. Here’s to an even better 2015!

      Cheers and yeah, Frankly…what about that?

      – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *