Holiday Heritage Cooking: Rugelach

It's that time of year to ring in new holiday traditions and question the old.

by John D. Ivanko
PHOTO: Douglas W. Jones

It’s that time of year to ring in new holiday traditions and question the old. On that note, it seems every holiday season brings a slew of well-intended advice to simplify, scale back or be super-efficient in plowing through to-do lists. But here’s contrary counsel related to the kitchen: ’Tis the season to build family connections and celebrate your heritage with lengthy and complicated heirloom recipes.

While our Farmstead Chef blog and cookbook champions unprocessed food and cooking from scratch, what we’re talking about here is using the holidays as the impetus to rekindle our food roots and craft kitchen traditions that involve the whole family helping with recipes. As the saying goes, many hands make light work—but they do much more than that: These kitchen collaborations build family connections.

Our fellow food-writer friend, Terese Allen, reminds us of this in her new cookbook: The Flavors of Wisconsin for Kids: A Feast of History, with Stories and Recipes Celebrating the Land and People of Our State (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012). Co-authored with Bobbie Malone, this book showcases the rich and diverse culinary heritage of our home state of Wisconsin, from woodland foraging by Native Americans to the multiple ethnic flavors of our state today, which includes anything Norwegian meatballs to the recipe below for rugelach made in Jewish homes. Just like every state in our nation, Wisconsin’s many ethnic foods and flavors create a rich heritage that has been preserved in home kitchens for generations.

“Food is an ideal lens through which to learn about the world around us; that is, it’s geography, science, history, culture and values,” Terese explains. “My co-author, Bobbie Malone, and I wanted to help today’s youth—who are largely surrounded by so much ‘unreal’ foods these days—to get more closely connected to this very basic and all-important facet of life. When today’s youth engage with food, they learn healthy, happy, sustainable ways to live their own lives.”

A key ingredient Terese recommends in this process, especially around the holidays, is time. “Many traditional holiday foods, such as Christmas cookies or tamales, are more time-consuming to prepare than ‘everyday’ food,” Terese adds. “But it is that very labor intensiveness that brings people together, literally and figuratively.”

A piece of advice: Cut back on the number of holiday dishes and instead focus on the collaborative process in the kitchen. “You don’t need to make 25 dishes, just one or two,” Terese says. “Get friends or family around a table and make the dish together, and watch how more fun and celebratory the holiday suddenly feels.”

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Collaboration offers another perk: Many hands for an easier clean up!

Terese shares the rugelach recipe from The Flavors of Wisconsin for Kids as a great example of collaborative cooking: Many hands make the dough-rolling part easy, and it’s a job even little kids can readily help with. Often enjoyed during Hanukkah, this cookie has a flakey outside and is filled with mixture of cinnamon, sugar, nuts and raisins.

Recipe: Rugelach
From The Flavors of Wisconsin for Kids by Terese Allen and Bobbie Malone

Yield: 32 cookies


  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Blend cottage cheese in food processor or blenter until creamy and smooth.

Place the creamed cottage cheese and butter in large bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in flour.

Divide dough into four equal-sized balls. Wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap or waxed paper and place in refrigerator to chill at least two hours, until dough is firm.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle some flour on clean table or countertop, and use floured rolling pin to roll out one ball of dough into 8- to 9-inch-diameter circle. Repeat with other three dough balls.

Sprinkle each dough circle with one-quarter of the cinnamon, sugar, raisins and walnuts. Use a floured knife to cut each circle into eight wedges (like a pie). Starting from wide end, roll each wedge. Place cookies at least 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let rugelach cool on wire racks before serving.

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