My sister, Mary Pat, is the born baker in the family. She has a sweet tooth that she has polished into a fine baking skill. Everything she makes is delicious, but she is famous for her rugelach.
As is common with rugelach, the recipe is passed down from family baker to family baker. This recipe originally came from our cousin Vera, but my sister has lovingly tweaked it to make it her own. It is made with sour cream instead of cream cheese, making the pastry lighter and flakier than most rugelach.
She also uses a simple filling of cinnamon-sugar and toasted pecans that perfectly complements the delicate dough and gives the traditional Jewish cookie a Southern flavor. Most other recipes use walnuts, chocolate, raisins, cinnamon-sugar and jam to fill the cookies, often times in combination. But this is a cookie that I think benefits from the less-is-more rule. And that's why I love my sister's version so much!
The key to making rugelach is not overworking the dough. You also have to keep the dough chilled and work fast or you will lose the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth texture. This is especially true with Mary Pat's sour-cream dough; it is very delicate.
There are many different ways to shape the cookies, but I love my sister's streamlined technique the best. She rolls the chilled dough into a circle, then uses a knife or a pizza cutter to slice the cinnamon-sugar topped circle of dough into 16 wedges. Then she just rolls the rugelach up into crescents.
Once the cookies are cool, Mary Pat packs them into brightly colored cookie tins lined with a bit of waxed paper or tissue paper to keep the rugelach from breaking. And you don't have to be Jewish or celebrate Hanukkah to love these rugelach. My sister makes them all year long and gives them as gifts.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours, plus chilling. Makes 48 cookies.
For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into chunks
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup sour cream