Rugelach: The Mysteriously Delicious Treat
By Sophie Kaufman
Next week, as part of our December holiday week offerings, Museum Deputy Director Amy Stein-Milford and Director of Family History Center & Cultural Programs Hanna Griff-Sleven will pass along their rugelach wisdom. Participants will learn how to roll doll and mix fillings, and leave with treats to share with the family. Here, intern Sophie Kaufman explore the origins of this traditional Jewish pastry.
In preparation, Amy and Hanna have been testing recipes and getting their final concoction down to a science. What are a few secrets they have discovered? Beyond perfecting the most malleable dough, they have discovered the creativity of the classic rugelach model. Amy describes her rugelach experiments: “Beyond the dough, we’ve been exploring the boundaries of the rugelach filling. This is fun. We’ve used just cinnamon and sugar – the simplest and my favorite – and then chocolate, fruit and nuts. We’ll have lots of fillings for people to explore with, including nutella and crushed up Oreos.” Yum.
Eldridge Street’s upcoming rugelach making workshops inspired a consideration of the history of this delicious treat, proving that rugelach’s appetizing reputation is on par with its mysterious lineage. While there are many claims regarding the origins of rugelach, their conflicting nature forces one to assume that the true story of rugelach is lost in the years of Jewish migratory flux. Yet, a little bit of investigation has allowed us to compile a list of possible narratives.
The word rugelach is believed to be derived from the Yiddish word meaning “little corners,” “little twists,” or possibly “royal.”
Rugelach has existed since at least the 18th century. Some sources say that rugelach originated in Austria to commemorate the expulsion of the Turks and the lifting of the Turkish siege. Austrian bakers celebrated the victory by making the crescent-shaped pastries known as Kipferin. The crescent shape was supposedly chosen to mirror the emblem of the Ottoman Empire, allowing the jubilant Austrian victors to symbolically devour their enemy. While this account is certainly entertaining (and along the lines of Hamentaschen lore), some historians believe it to be pure legend. They assure that rugelach’s ancestor, the German Kipfel or Kipferl, pre-dates the Early Modern era. Others believe that Rugelach’s Romanian counterpart called Cornulete is a more probable origin.
Whatever the true origin or inspiration for Rugelach, it is clear that the Ashkenazic Jews, and their utilization of rugelach for many Jewish holidays, has disseminated this tasty cookie to the world. Presumably, the first recipes for a Rugelach pastries were introduced to America by immigrants from Hungary, Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia and other neighboring countries.
What is the biggest change this little treat has gone through as a result of its travels? In Europe the rugelach dough was made with yeast, but American Jews introduced a cream cheese based rugelach dough. What dough recipe will Hanna and Amy use? Come find out next week at Eldridge Street’s rugelach making workshop! RSVPs are required!