Do you ever think about where your hands have been? Sure, they go everywhere you go, but have you really thought about the unique -- and often overlooked -- role they play? In the last week or so, my hands have been on an amazing journey. They touched things in four different time zones within four days. They exchanged currency for bags of presents, were intertwined with the hands of one of my closest friends, baked dozens of cookies, lit a candle at Notre Dame's grotto, and embraced a former professor.
Like most journeys, however, this one was not without obstacles and trying times. Amid the present wrapping and tree decorating, my hands found themselves in some unexpected and rather undesirable places. They rested on the arm of my recently deceased grandfather, gripped the handles of his casket, and clutched the sides of a music stand -- secretly squeezing a bracelet he once gave me -- as I sang him one last song during the funeral service. None are places I would have wished to be at holiday time, but the upside is that because it happened at Christmas, I was home to take part.
This isn't exactly the post I had planned for these cookies, but c'est la vie. Dad loved the rugelach -- he declared them the best cookies I had ever made and couldn't walk past the cookie table without sneaking a few, which is a good indicator that Grandpa would have loved them, too. In fact, everyone thought these cookies were fantastic except Mom, who abhors any dessert with "those black things that look like bugs" (currants). To each his or her own, I suppose, but Mom is in the minority here and I think the disappearing act the rugelach pulled only 4 days after I arrived will attest to that.
[Rugelach aren't difficult to prepare, but you have to work quite quickly with the disk of dough to keep it from becoming too soft and sticky to roll. Also, don't make the same mistake I did by wrapping the dough in parchment paper instead of plastic wrap. Even well-chilled dough doesn't pull cleanly from parchment.]
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Yields about 4 dozen cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon plus 1 pinch of salt
1 whole egg, lightly beaten
3 egg yolks (keep these separate from the whole egg)
2 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (4 ounces) walnut pieces
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 cup apricot jam
2 cups currants
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and beat until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each. With the mixer on low, beat in the flour to combine and then mix in the vanilla.
Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, shape each into flattened disks, and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse together the walnuts, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and pinch of salt until finely ground. Set aside.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one disk of dough into a 10" round about 1/4" thick. Brush the top with jam and sprinkle with a third of the walnut mixture and a third of the currants. Using a pizza cutter, cut the round into wedges and roll up each wedge (beginning with the outside edge) to enclose the filling. Place the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush them with the lightly beaten whole egg. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining disks of dough.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for about 1 week.