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Cookies With a Twist

Chocolate and hazelnuts make for a sweet and salty filling for rugelach, a cookie traditionally enjoyed during Jewish holidays.



 

One of the things that used to drive my father crazy was that Mom was never satisfied to make the same thing twice in exactly the same way. Like a good jazz musician, she would improvise based on the time of year, availability of ingredients or sheer whimsy.

For restaurant chefs, the curse of success is that they must duplicate their signature dishes to look and taste exactly the same time after time. And so the creative spirit that guided them in the first place must take a back seat to the desires of their diners for repetitive perfection.

Of course, there is room for both in most kitchens. It's comforting to turn out family favorites time after time so that food traditions build up over the years. But as a cook, it's fun to experiment and nudge recipes in different directions to see just where they might go.

One of the cookies I like to experiment with during this season is the rugelach, a traditional Jewish dessert that originated in Eastern Europe and translates to "little twist" in Yiddish. The treat comprises flaky dough wrapped around a filling that can be made of fruit or nuts. Those who follow a kosher diet make rugelach without dairy so that the cookies can be served after a meal that includes meat. But I have to admit that my favorite recipe uses cookie dough enriched with butter and cream cheese. The simple combination of butter, cream cheese and flour is transformed in the oven to a light and flaky cookie that melts in the mouth.

Now, here's where the creativity comes in. You can fill this simple dough with just about anything you'd like. Jams, jellies, preserves, nuts of all kinds, cinnamon and sugar or even the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly. Try my recipe for rugelach filled with hazelnuts and chocolate.

See below for my recipe for zucchini latkes, a delicious variation on another holiday favorite.

Rugelach
Makes 4-dozen cookies
 

Ingredients:

Dough:
2 sticks butter or margarine (softened)
One 8-ounce package of cream cheese (softened)
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated dark chocolate
1/2 cup toasted, chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup melted butter

Topping:
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup sugar

Instructions:
Cream butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and mix. Add flour and form into two balls. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.

For the filling, mix together the sugar, grated chocolate and hazelnuts. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide each ball into 4 smaller balls. Roll each ball out onto a floured surface to about a 10-inch-diameter circle. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup of the chocolate/nut mixture.

Cut the circle into 6 pie-shaped pieces. Starting at the wide end, roll each up, tucking in the sides slightly as you go. Do the same with the other pieces and repeat with the three other balls.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rolled tarts onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 15 minutes until golden-brown.

Zucchini Latkes
Makes 10 2-inch pancakes
 

Ingredients:

1 pound zucchini
1 medium yellow onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable oil, for frying
4 ounces sour cream to serve

Instructions:
Wash the zucchini and shred in the food processor or on a box grater. Shred the onion into the same bowl. Sprinkle with the teaspoon of kosher salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Use a strainer or ricer to extract as much liquid as possible. Return to the bowl and add the egg, flour, dill and black pepper. Mix well.

In a large frying pan, heat 1/8 inch of oil over medium-high heat. Line a clean plate with paper towels. Using about 1/4 cup of the mixture, form a small patty and place into the hot oil. Use a spatula to gently press down the pancake to compact and flatten it.

Fill the pan with pancakes, leaving enough room among them so they will fry without touching. Cook until the underside is very nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Do not cook too quickly or the insides will be raw. Lower the heat if the edges begin to burn.

Carefully flip the pancakes with a spatula without breaking them. Press them down gently again and fry for another 4 minutes or so until brown. Remove to the paper towels to drain. Serve immediately, topped with sour cream.



 

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