The love and stress of the holidays…ah the joy! This Thanksgiving was the first time in about a dozen years that I didn’t make a turkey as we were invited to a catered holiday, and I admit it feels really odd. I almost bought one of the sad leftover birds today at the market. Instead I battened down the hatches and got organized for the two holiday parties that are coming around at shocking speed—my family’s Hanukah party, and Christmas dinner for my husband’s family. It will all be happening here in Brooklyn this December, though I’m hopeful my husband will be surprising me with a birthday dinner somewhere in between. I stocked up on some of the things we can make ahead and to lessen the mammoth shopping.
There is a method to my madness– I find cooking with the kids keeps the present mania in check. This year we’ve decided to give experiences, rather than the usual toys—which means a private skateboarding lesson for Mathias, who at 6 1/2 is unnervingly obsessed with being cool, and theater and ballet tickets for Natasha, age 5. We’re giving cooking lessons and kitchen playdate certificates to most of our friends and families too, and we’re tying the gift certs onto packages of my “Aunt Linda’s Ruggies” (see recipe below).
As for the parties, I’ve picked up some cool wrapping paper sheets and craft paper to use in place of table linens, and I’ll let the kids decorate their table, and strew some ornaments or Hanukah gelt around in between the buffet depending on the holiday. Lots of white plates with silver and gold napkins keep it festive and small cake stands filled with cheeses, sugared fruits, and nuts (try my No-Fry Candied Spice Nuts) keep it simple yet delish. Hmmm…. I’m thinking prime rib roast and candied quince…well, not too simple, it’s the holidays after all!
PS-check out the kids in action in the Time Out Kids NY Holiday edition.
Ruggies (Aunt Linda’s Rugelach)
These sandy, crescent roll – shaped, traditional Jewish cookies come from my Aunt Linda, who went well beyond the traditional jam and nut fillings and started using wacky candy chunks. She used to sell them years ago, and kept her recipe under lock and key. I finally got it out of her on a recent trip to Texas, but only on condition that I help her make hundreds of them for a friend’s birthday. It took five hours!
Now, while no sane person would make hundreds at a time, baking rugelach is a great activity for a birthday party. It makes a big mess, but it’s loads of fun and once the cookies are done, they get dropped into the take-home goody bags-hurray! You can also make a batch of the dough the night before and keep it in the refrigerator. Linda’s tip is to tape down waxed paper over the entire surface of your kitchen table; you’ll need a very large workspace.
For the dough
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
6 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
To fill and roll
1 pound each of about 4 favorite candies, such as Rolos, Heath bars, m&m’s, yogurt raisins, or chocolate covered raisins
One 15-ounce jar raspberry or apricot jam
2 cups walnuts, finely ground (see Note)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
• To prepare the dough, use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or a very large bowl and a hand-held mixer to cream together the cream cheese and the butter. (If your mixer is small you may find this easier to do in 2 batches.) In a separate bowl, whisk the salt into the flour. Mixing on the lowest speed, add the flour to the mixing bowl 1 cup at a time, until a creamy dough forms. Split the dough into 4 pieces and shape them into rounds. Wrap each one in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour, or freeze for 20 minutes.
• To prepare the filling, use a food processor to pulse each candy separately into coarse chunks, like those you find mixed into ice cream. Or place the candies in plastic bag and crack and roll with a rolling pin. If using apricot jam, blend in the food processor or strain so that no lumps of apricot remain.
• In a separate bowl, mix the walnuts, granulated sugar, and cinnamon and set aside.
• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
• Tape waxed paper or parchment over your work surface, or use a counter-sized silicone mat. Remove one dough round at a time from the refrigerator. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your rolling surface and sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the walnut and sugar mixture over the flour.
• Gently roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick circle about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, pressing the walnut mixture into the dough as you roll. Spread a very thin layer of jam over the rolled dough. Cover the entire surface with chopped candy and sprinkle with some of the walnut mixture. Gently press the fillings into the dough with your hands or a large spatula.
• With a pizza cutter or knife, divide the dough into 16 to 18 pie-shaped wedges about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. Pick up the outside edge and tightly roll a rugelah towards the center, pressing and tucking the tip under and the fillings back in if they are pushed out. Sprinkle with more walnut sugar. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Continue rolling the dough until you have used it up. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. (You will have to do this in batches.)
• Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the rugelach are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Makes about 65 to 70 cookies
Note: Pulse the walnuts in a food processor until they are finely ground; be careful not to turn them into a paste.
Kids in the Kitchen: Older kids can measure the ingredients, mix the dough, and, under supervision, cut the ruggies with either pizza wheels or plastic knives, depending on their age. Everyone else can roll out the dough (with help as needed), crumble candy, sprinkle and roll the ruggies, and top with walnut sugar.
Purchase Kitchen Playdates.