Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carol's Crescents

I need more holiday spirit. Sure, I cooked a Thanksgiving turkey. I went to the school's holiday sale and picked up an Advent wreath and an Advent calendar, which I filled with goodies and hung up. It's snowing outside, for crying out loud. But I'm not feeling it. I think I need to bake more cookies.

These are technically not cookies: they're "yeast pastries". Yes, they have yeast in them. But they also have a ton of butter and sour cream. They were fun to make, and they made lots of people smile. Maybe "yeast cookies"? No, that sounds awful.

These are really rugelach--Eastern European Jewish pastry at its finest. I handed out a lot of these--at a parents' meeting, at the market--people first said, "Mmm! This is delicious!" and "Madame, you are adorable," and even "Congratulations!" (I think the translation for the French adorable is actually closer to "sweet". And I guess "Félicitations" is something you say when you're giving compliments. You learn a lot when you hand out cookies.)

But then they asked, "What kind of pastry is this? Where does it come from? (Why isn't it French?)" It's always hard to answer that kind of question. I just usually shrug, "Well, you know, we Americans take our cuisine a little bit from everywhere." (But I love that people are interested in this!) The recipe comes from an American desserts cookbook, but this obviously has its roots elsewhere.
Just did a little research: the rugelach we know today, especially the recipe I have posted here, probably came from Hungary, and with the sour cream and walnuts, that makes sense. But read this little tidbit from Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America, "

It was Mrs. Knopf's friend Maida Heatter who put rugelah on the culinary map with Mrs. Heatter's grandmother's recipe. It is the most sought after of all Mrs. Heatter's recipes and is the rugelach most often found in upscale bakeries nationwide."

This isn't even the famous recipe that Nathan refers to: That one is in Maida Heatter's Cookie book, and it involves cream cheese (an American innovation, thanks to Philadelphia cream cheese) and no yeast. But this one should be famous--and maybe it is now, throughout my little corner of the world.

Here's the recipe (French ingredients and grams for my friend Cécile, who asked for the recipe). Crank up the Christmas carols and be prepared to share with strangers.

Carol's Crescents

1 c. (8 oz./225 g.) butter
1 T. sugar (I used a package of vanilla sugar instead of the sugar/vanilla)
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
1 t. salt
1 c. (8 oz./225 g.) sour cream (I used crème fraîche legère)
3 egg yolks
1 package yeast
3 c. (15 oz./425 g.) flour (T55)

Make the dough the day before: Melt the butter in a large glass bowl or medium saucepan in the microwave or on the stove. Make sure it's cool enough to touch, then add the sugar, vanilla, almond, salt, sour cream, and egg yolks. Mix that together well, and then add the yeast and flour. Beat well with a wooden spoon for a few minutes. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed or parchment paper, shape it into a fat cylinder, and refrigerate it.

When you're ready to roll and bake (and you can do this a bit at a time, depending on how many you need), get out the following:

1 c. (4 oz./115 g.) walnuts
1 c. (7 oz./195 g.) sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1-1/4 c. (6 oz./170 g.) currants or chopped raisins and/or chopped dried cherries

Consider starting with half the amount of walnuts/sugar/cinnamon; I only used about half of what I had. Put the walnuts and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are pretty fine. Add the cinnamon.

Cut the refrigerated pastry into 5 more or less equal pieces. Sprinkle a few tablespoonsful of the walnut/cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a rolling mat or clean countertop. Roll out the dough into about a 6-inch circle; turn it over a few times and press in the walnuts as you go. Use a pizza cutter or long knife to cut the circle into 16 wedges. On the outside of each wedge press a few raisins/currants/cherries, and roll that baby up (the picture above may help you visualize what you should be doing). Put the rolls fairly close together on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with as many pieces of dough you have the patience for.
When you have a sheet full, heat the oven to 350 (180C). When it's preheated, the rolls have probably had enough time to rest (they won't rise despite the yeast) and can go in the oven for 20-25 minutes (mine took 15). Remove the crescents from the paper and cool on a rack.
Enjoy these fresh--once you've tasted one, you'll realize the importance of giving away as many as possible!

1 comment: