This post is part of the Eating New York series.
Zabar's, an upscale takeout deli and market, is an Upper West Side institution. It's strongly associated with the New York Jewish culinary landscape, and especially with baked treats, like bagels, black & whites, and, above all, rugelach. (This is in spite of the fact that Zabar's is also well known for their prosciutto.) I think of the definitive Zabar's rugelach as being squarish, squat, and absolutely, positively cinnamon raisin. (Nope, not chocolate, however much we love it.) Zabar's now ships rugelach out all over the country, and when I went looking for the product page on their website, I was perplexed by what looked like Israeli rugelach and not at all what I remembered seeing in their display. Further research determined that their kosher rugelach (which I'm going to assume is rebranded from one of the kosher bakeries) is completely different from their (not kosher certified) Fresh Baked Rugelach. The thing I had in my head is most definitely the latter, which, as advertised, looks as though it's been made by hand, being clearly rolled and sliced. And that, my friends, is what we are here to replicate: fresh baked Zabar's style cinnamon raisin rugelach.
It took some experimenting, but I knew I'd nailed it when my kitchen started to smell exactly, and I mean exactly, like walking past the corner of 80th and Broadway. The secret is in the combination of apricot jam, cinnamon, granulated and brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and golden raisins.
Preparing the dough
Rugelach dough is persnickety, to put it in a family-friendly way. Making it is easy enough—you just pulse together softened cream cheese and butter with some dry goods in the food processor—but the whole rolling it out business can be aggravating. To make it less of a pain to work with, give yourself time to chill the dough well: an hour at absolute minimum, a day ahead is even better. I have been known to fudge the chill time on cookie dough (twelve minutes basically counts as half an hour, no?), but in this case, the dough is really unfriendly without it.
Shaping and filling the cookies
When your dough is well chilled (it is, right? just checking), flour it, your work surface, and your hands very, very generously. Pick up your cold disc of dough and knead it just once or twice using your hands. It'll warm right up and become malleable enough to roll out over all that flour (thus getting flour absolutely everywhere—worth it, though). If you get a bit Type A about your baked goods, you can trim the dough so the edges are square. Otherwise, blithely ignore the ragged edges, which you'll barely see anyway, are you listening, inner perfectionist?
The rugelach filling that makes these taste like Zabar's is multi-layered. As well as cinnamon-sugar moistened by butter, it's got chopped walnuts, golden raisins, and, crucially, a layer of apricot jam. You start by spreading on the jam, then the cinnamon-sugar/nuts/raisin mixture, which you'll press down into the cookie a bit with your hands. Then you roll up the rectangle from one of the long edges.
The filling of rugelach in general and this rugelach in particular has a tendency to leak out of the cookie edges. Now that you know that this is just the way of the world, it shouldn't be upsetting (it kind of is though, see Type A tendencies above). You can minimize leaking by not slicing the cookies before baking them as I've done in the photos below. Bake them in a roll and cut apart after cooling. However, I like the way the edges turn out when the rugelach are cut before baking, so I will have to learn to tolerate the jam leakage (ahem). Theoretically, this could be prevented by making bakery-style apricot filling from dried apricots, but I think the jamminess is mandatory of the Zabar's effect. So here we are.
A final bit of egg-and-milk wash (don't skip it), a sprinkle of reserved cinnamon-sugar on top just like Zabar's does it, and you're an Upper West Sider, at least for the time it takes to eat a cookie.
Zabar's Style Cinnamon Raisin Rugelach (dairy)
For the dough:
- 8 oz package cream cheese, softened - 225 g - the kind that comes in a brick
- 1 cup butter, softened - 225 g
- 2 cups all-purpose flour - 250 g
- ¼ cup granulated sugar - 50 g
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ⅛ tsp salt - omit if your butter is salted
For the filling:
- 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped - 115 g
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar - 70 g
- ¼ cup brown sugar - 50 g
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 Tbsp butter, semi-solid (nearly melted) - 50 g
- ¾ cup golden raisins - 115 g
- ⅓ cup apricot jam - 80 ml
For the egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp cream or milk
Make and chill the dough:
- Half an hour to 45 minutes before beginning, remove the cream cheese and butter from the fridge to soften.
- Place the flour, sugar, vanilla, and salt, if using, in a food processor. Cut the softened cream cheese and butter into large bits and place in the work bowl.
- Pulse until the dough comes together. It should first look sandy, then clump together in several big lumps.
- Turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead it together - it should come together easily. Divide the dough into three portions. Flatten each into a disc, wrap each in cling wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour, or overnight.
Make the filling:
- In a medium bowl, combine the walnuts, sugars, and cinnamon. Whisk to evenly distribute.
- Reserve 2 tablespoons of the mixture in a separate small bowl. Set aside.
- To the medium (main) bowl, add the butter, which should be almost melted but still have some shape. Whisk to make a creamy mixture.
- Fold in the raisins with a flexible spatula.
Roll out the dough and shape the cookies:
- When the cookie dough has chilled thoroughly, remove one of the three portions of dough from the fridge and unwrap. Sprinkle both sides of the disc of dough with flour, then flour your work surface, a rolling pin, and your hands.
- Beginning with one half, knead the dough just one or two times with floured hands to soften it slightly.
- Roll out the dough into a rectangle until a bit less than ¼" thick (5 mm). Trim the ends to square them, if you like.
- Spread apricot jam over the rectangle of dough, leaving a small margin around the edges.
- Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar/raisin/nut mixture over the jam. Gently press down with your hands over the filling.
- Beginning with a long edge, roll the cookies into a long roll. You can place the roll on a baking sheet as is, or slice it into about 1" / 2.5 cm pieces before baking.
- Repeat with the other two portions of the dough. As you finish each portion, place the cookies (as rolls, or cut) on a baking sheet. Chill the shaped cookies in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
- Brush the tops of the rugelach with the beaten egg and cream (or milk). Sprinkle the reserved cinnamon-sugar mixture over the glazed tops.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the rugelach are golden (they should not be pale) and the dough has risen into flakey layers.