Apricot Walnut Rugelach
It takes exactly two minutes to walk from my dorm building to the restaurant where I work.
I know this because I usually tumble out of bed, still sluggish from my afternoon nap, and throw my work clothes into a bag. I half-jog, looking down at my watch at every intersection. In the basement I twist my hair into a side ponytail and tuck a bundle of pens in my apron. I step onto the floor, barely on time.
You’d think I’d learn, but I frequently forget to eat before realizing my shift is in five minutes. Most days I arrive at the restaurant on an empty stomach, thoroughly unprepared for the physical and perhaps emotional stress a nine-hour waitressing shift demands. I’m not really supposed to snack while working, and I don’t have time anyway between running plates and dropping checks.
It takes me six minutes to walk back from the restaurant. I’m considerably slower on my feet by the time I’m through. Eight months experience and I’m still unused to the soreness that seeps into my body at the end of the night. Sometimes the rumbling in my stomach distracts from the tenderness of each step home.
One night, after a particularly taxing shift, I walked straight to my boyfriend I-’s room and pounded on the door, still in chocolate stained work clothes. “I really need to eat,” I said. It was 1:15 am on a Thursday but he shook off the sleep and grabbed his keys. “Wherever you want to go,” he replied, and then we were back outside.
I picked a dumpling house in Chinatown, one of my favorites. I like it because the food is steamy and succulent, I find the Korean pop music they play hilarious, and best of all, it’s open until 2 am. He wasn’t really hungry, and I over-ordered: fried rice, beef kabobs, eggrolls and dumplings. But just before the waiter grabbed our menus, I- added, “And an ice cream sundae too.”
For whatever reason, the sundae came out before the meal. Just a few scoops of store-bought vanilla ice cream, with a quick drizzle of chocolate syrup and a ruffled dome of spray-can whipped cream. For a second, I considered not eating it. But then my hand automatically reached for a spoon and dug in, beyond caring. I don’t know if it was hunger, exhaustion, or the happiness that overcame me sitting with I- in that empty restaurant, but the first bite comforted like cool watermelon juice in August. I scraped the spoon against the bottom of the bowl.
The food that followed was predictably satisfying, but when I look back on that night, what I remember is the sundae we demolished.
Since then, I- texts me throughout my shifts – “Do you want Chinese, pizza, or Mexican when you get back?” Whenever I can, I try to bring him something back from the restaurant in return. Usually, it’s a cookie. The cookies at our restaurant are tangible temptation beneath a glass cake dome. They don’t often last, but if any remain at the end of the night, I snag a peanut butter cookie for myself, a sugar cookie for I-, and triple chocolate for I-’s roommate D-. Mine usually disappears in the six-minute walk back.
I’m a quiet fan of the cookie. They’re irrefutably a childhood staple, considering that at 19 years old, I experience nostalgia when I eat them. I think of the butter cookies my grandma and I made for holidays. The coconut sugar biscuits my Chinese teacher offered during recess. Gingersnaps return me to the 8th grade, sitting Indian-style on the kitchen floor with my nose against the oven’s glass window, watching the tops crack.
As much as I like them, I don’t bake many. I get bored scooping mound after mound, or I get frustrated with the capriciousness of roll-out cookie dough (it’s too soft! Too cold! Too sticky!) With that kind of time, I’d prefer to pipe buttercream onto cupcakes or delve into yeast-risen territory.
This rugelach, though? Worth it, worth it a million times.
As cookies go, these ones are a considerable amount of work. The dough needs to be chilled, requiring some forethought. Then you have to roll out, sprinkle toppings, slice, and bundle into crescent-shaped pillows of brown sugar and apricot preserves. An egg wash coat and dash of cinnamon before the rugelach bakes.
But the resulting cookie is pure heaven. The apricot preserves bubble and transform into a sticky sweet filling, alluring as honey and perfect with milk. The walnuts add just the right textural crunch. Throw in the moist chew of dried cranberries and the soft flakiness cream cheese introduces? An all around winner. Even better than those peanut butter cookies.
Maybe, when I get my hands on a real kitchen and kiss finals week goodbye, I’ll make these cookies for I- and D-. They might not know how much effort goes into them, or how long I spent with floured palms. All they’ll know is that it only takes two minutes to polish off an entire plate, and an afternoon to shake off the smile.
These cookies are easy to customize. Use raspberry jam and almonds, toss in mini chocolate chips, swap dried cherries or raisins for the dried cranberries. Be careful, because they are strangely addictive. I don’t know if it’s the buttery, delicate dough or the wonderfully chewy and crunchy filling, but the combination is incredible.
Apricot Walnut Rugelach
Just barely tweaked from Ina Garten
Makes 4 dozen cookies
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of a tangerine
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup apricot preserves, pureed in a food processor
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Beat in 1/4 cup sugar, the salt, the vanilla extract and tangerine zest. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Transfer the dough to a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the mound into four pieces, wrap each quarter in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
Make the filling by combining 6 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the dried cranberries, and the walnuts.
On a well-floured board, roll each quarter of chilled dough into a 9″ circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons apricot preserves and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling mixture. Lightly press the filling into the dough, then cut the circle into 12 equal wedges. I used a pizza roller to cut the whole circle into quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Roll each wedge up into a crescent shape, starting with the wider end. Set the cookies, with the points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make the topping by mixing 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
Lightly brush each cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with the topping. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.
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