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Arline Palmieri of Merrick

Arline Palmieri shows off her rugalach cookies at

Arline Palmieri shows off her rugalach cookies at home in Merrick. (Dec. 24, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A retired FedEx employee, she lives in Merrick with her husband, Vick, and has two children and four grandchildren.

How many years have you been making rugalach? Twenty-something years. I give it as gifts now. My friends, family, they say, "I don't want a gift; just give me rugalach." My brother-in-law would take his gift, and he'd be so excited he'd run and hide it in the car; then he'd hide it in the house, so no one would get it. That's funny for an Italian family - because it's a Jewish dessert.

Where did you get the recipe? I got the recipe from my sister-in-law, who's Jewish and whose mother's friend gave it to her.

Isn't making rugalach tricky? It's not easy. You have to roll out dough, work with it fast, keeping it cold, or it won't come off the board.

Have you passed on this unusual tradition? My 15-year-old granddaughter usually helps me, and I've just started with the 5-year-old twins helping out.

When did you discover you liked cooking? When I was 12, I started cooking because I came from a family of five children, and it became my job to cook because I didn't want to clean the bathroom. My brothers and sisters would bribe me: If you bake cookies, they'd say, we'll clean everything. When I got married, no one cleaned for me!

What else do you like to make? I like to make stuffed cabbage for Russian Christmas - that's Jan. 7. I don't use a specific recipe.

Do you get any help with the cooking these days? My husband helped me make the butter cookies this year, and now he helps with the cleaning, too.

RUGALACH

For the dough:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound unsalted butter
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

For the filling:

4 cups chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup golden raisins, chopped (more or less as desired)
1 (17.5-ounce) jar apricot jam
2 beaten egg whites

1. In a large bowl mix flour, butter and cream cheese until dough forms. Divide into 3 balls of pastry. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate 2 hours (or place in freezer for 1/2 hour).

2. In another bowl combine walnuts, cinnamon, sugar and raisins.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a floured board roll one ball of pastry into 1/4-inch thick rectangle, then cut crosswise into 4-inch strips.

4. Spread 1/3 of apricot jam on dough, sprinkle 1/3 of filling on each pastry rectangle. Flatten filling with the side of a knife and roll each strip, keeping the seam-side down on cookie sheet, and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Brush with beaten egg white.

5. Place on cookie sheets lined with heavy-duty aluminum foil or silicon mat and bake 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool briefly on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat the rolling, filling and baking with two remaining pieces of dough, using fresh aluminum foil or cleaned silicon mats for each batch. Makes about 80 cookies.

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