The Sweetest Gifts
Featuring recipes for Cherry Cardamom Rugelach and Chocolate Babka
My grandmother and my mother used to make rugelach for family and special friends during the holidays. The rich dough is made with flour, sugar, salt, cream cheese and butter which is chilled, rolled out, quickly slathered with jam, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and crushed, toasted nuts. Then the dough is sliced into wedges, rolled up and chilled again. Just before they are placed in a hot oven, the cookies are painted with egg wash and dusted with more cinnamon sugar. When we were young, my brother, Bob, had a lisp and as he wiped the crumbs of the tender pastries from his little lips, he would tell my mother, “Thith ith tho good!”
I haven’t seen Bob in awhile. Covid, politics, family disagreements and geographical distance have all contributed to our ever deepening chasm. We seem to have very little in common at the moment and if he was just anyone, I probably wouldn’t care or at the very least, I’d let him go, but…he’s my brother. Which is why I sent him rugelach.
Apparently, my sweet arrow hit its mark because, yesterday, Bob called me. He sounded like his old charming self. I was so glad to hear his voice, but he scared me when he said that my cookies almost ended his marriage.
“Oh, no!” I said, hoping this wasn’t true, since my sister-in-law, Joanne, is one of my best friends.
“I had a cold,” my brother confessed, “and not much of an appetite so I went into the kitchen for some tea and while I was waiting for the water to boil, I noticed a card from you and a tin of cookies. I opened the tin and saw it was rugelach and I took one and was amazed how nicely it paired with my tea…so I took the tin with me to my office.”
“You mean your home office above the garage is all set? Is that gigantic TV screen you ordered installed and the speakers all hooked up?”
“Yes, of course! The room is so nice, we call it the lodge. I hardly leave that part of the house. Anyway, when Joanne got home from taking the boys to school, she noticed the tin was missing and although she never bothers me in my office, I could hear her footsteps coming up the stairs. She opens the door, looks at the box on my desk and says, in a menacing voice, ‘Did you eat them all?’ And for a moment, I realize what a serious mistake I’ve made. “No! There are a few left,” I say, shoving the tin in front of her. “ See?”
Then my brother chuckled and I was so relieved that I chuckled and before I knew it we were cracking up the way we did when I was five-year-old Jill (the Pill) and he was three year-old Bob (the Thlob) and, in that moment of shared pleasure, all was good again.
I don’t know if the rugelach recipe I used on my brother will mend fences in your life, but at the very least, it should please your loved ones. The dough recipe is similar to the one my mother and grandmother used, but the filling is completely different from the traditional apricot jam filling Bob and I used to snack on. Melissa Clark from the New York Times came up with a filling combo of dried cherries and cardamom sugar—a flavor match made in heaven. If, instead of ground cardamom, you buy cardamom pods and pound them with a mortar and pestle as I did, the spice will be even more aromatic and intense. Also, I used D’Arbo Sour Cherry Fruit Spread as the base for the cardamom sugar and that contributes to a delightfully tangy and memorable cookie.
This year, Melissa created rugelach for chocolate lovers, but I would not make those since all my chocolate is reserved for her glorious chocolate babka recipe. When I make this brioche-like cake for my brother, I refer to it as “Bobka.” Last year, when we were all supposed to be quarantining, I made a gorgeous loaf for Dan, a retired firefighter neighbor, as a token of my esteem for coming over to my house to shut off a blaring alarm that almost drove everyone, including my dog, bananas. Although we were supposed to keep our distance from each other, after I rang his doorbell to deliver his food gift, Dan couldn’t stop bear hugging me.
Food gifts are always appreciated, but never more than now. If you are invited over to someone’s house for Christmas or New Year’s Day brunch, you will want to bring a special food gift with you. This Babka recipe is rewarding, but the best chocolate ingredients are expensive and the technique is a little tricky.
If chocolate is not your thing, I also have a Sticky Bun recipe that also features a brioche-like dough. I especially would like to share this sweet maple walnut treat with you because it is perfect for holiday brunches. If you’d like some support and would like to learn via Zoom, call me at 207-967-4960. I am offering a Babka and Sticky Bun Zoom Class twice this month, once on Wednesday, December 22nd from 12:30-2:30pm and once again on Tuesday, December 28th from 6:30-8:30pm. The cost for this Zoom class is $75 per household. If neither of these days or times work for you, give us a call and we will try to arrange a private class for you.
More Zoom classes will be offered in February when I get back from my travels. And we will be open for small group pizza, pasta and pie classes as well as private parties in the spring. More details will be announced in our January/February newsletter. By the way, Zoom classes and 2022 cooking classes at Jillyanna’s make the best gifts. Call us and we will send out a handsome gift certificate to your favorite foodie.
Val and I (and Oliver) wish you a very happy holiday season. Don’t forget to cook up something delicious and revel in the bear hugs you receive.