Chocolate fig rugelach
2013 got off to a rocky start: About a week into the new year my grandpa went into hospice care back in Michigan, and later that week D and I hopped on a plane to be with my family during his last couple days and attend the funeral. My Papa would have been 93 (!) at the end of this month. He was a great man who lived an incredibly full life (it’s actually pretty amazing), was always so proud of his daughters and grandkids, and he died peacefully, which is the best anyone can ask for. I’m thankful I was able to spend so much time with my family, but it was an exhausting rollercoaster of a week. And I’m also thankful I had someone willing to put his own life on hold for a few days to keep me sane as we drove back and forth from hospice and all around metro Detroit, then rushed from the funeral to the airport, only to find out our flight was delayed four hours (public service announcement: never fly Spirit Airlines). I was a wreck, he is a champ, and I am a very, very lucky girl. Between losing my grandpa and a few other goings-on, we can already tell there will be some challenges as we head into our second year together — but that trip was a reminder that we can handle whatever comes our way.
Yo La Tengo’s new album Fade sums up a lot of what’s been in my head these last couple weeks: The overall theme is that sometimes things fall apart, it’s OK to be scared when they do, and if we stand together we can get through it. In the first track, “Ohm,” Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew sing in an awesome chorus, “Nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained/ The harder we go, the longer we fly.” “Stupid Things” is about the everyday bumps in the road (and, as Matthew Perpetua at Fluxblog more eloquently put it, “a song about realizing that even the dullest moments of your life are precious, and recognizing the value of a longterm partner”), and in “The Point of It,” Kaplan sings, “Say that we’re afraid/ Say that we were wrong/ Maybe that’s okay/ If we’re not so strong/ That’s the point of it.”
Baking projects can be exhausting, but sometimes when I’ve had a stressful week, being in the kitchen calms me down — I’m using my hands and channeling all my energy and thinking in one direction. I get lost in it; kind of like I do in Yo La Tengo’s music (not so much on Fade, which doesn’t have any of the long, droning songs found in much of their catalog, but certainly during their live shows). Rugelach is fitting because it takes a while to make but it felt like the time went by quickly. It’s also a pastry with Jewish history — like my family, and like members of the band, who put on eight Hanukkah shows almost every year (those shows are something special). And, it was fitting that in Deb Perelman’s writeup about this recipe in her Smitten Kitchen cookbook, she talks about her husband being “the great voice of food reason” behind her site, always making suggestions, and the recipe is dedicated to him. It summed up how I feel about my wonderful partner in life and in the kitchen, who often has his own great ideas, and I used fig jam and chai spices in this because they are a couple of his faves. Anyway, there might be a tough year ahead, but I can rest easy knowing I have Yo La Tengo and this guy to help make it all OK.
Makes 48 small rugelach. Slightly adapted from the amazing Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package), at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fig jam
2/3 sugar plus 1 tablespoon chai spices (below)
1/2 cup mini bittersweet chocolate chips or finely chopped dark chocolate (next time I will go with the latter)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
Chai spice mix:
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
• In an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until creamy. In a small bowl, combine flour and salt and add to the butter and cream cheese. Beat until just combined; do not overmix.
• Form dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours or up to three days. (Deb at Smitten Kitchen says you can also do this in the food processor.)
• While the dough is chilling, line three baking sheets with parchment paper.
• Put the jam in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds to loosen it up (SK says to do this on the stove, but microwave worked fine for me).
• In another bowl, combine the sugar and chai spices.
• In a third bowl, combine egg yolk and water and beat with a fork until smooth.
• Divide the chilled dough into three equal pieces; set one on a floured counter or silicone work mat and leave the other two in the fridge until you need them.
• Roll the dough into a circle (it does not matter if it’s not a perfect circle or even close; none of mine were) about 10-12 inches in diameter.
• Use an offset spatula to spread 3 tablespoons of jam over the dough in as thin a layer as possible.
• Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar-chai mixture on top of the dough, then add 3 tablespoons of the chocolate.
• Use a piece of wax paper to press the fillings into the dough; this will help when you roll up the pieces of rugelach. Use a knife or pizza cutter to slice the dough into 16 pieces. Roll tightly from the outside in, and place on the baking sheet with the pointed end underneath.
• Freeze the tray for 15 minutes.
• Brush with egg mixture and sprinkle more sugar-chai over the top.
• Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden. Move rugelach to a cooling rack while they’re still hot; otherwise it’ll be harder to get the cooked jam off from the parchment. I got into a nice groove with rolling out one round of pastries while one was in the oven.