I'm spending the week in New York City and one of the many interesting experiences I'm having is my first trip to Brooklyn. I take the subway (a big adventure for me) from Manhattan to visit the Prospect Park home of famed cookbook author Arthur Schwartz.
Schwartz is noted for his expertise in food history, among other topics. His pre-war apartment is filled with books, art and mementos from a lifetime of research and travel. He collects ceramics and Schwartz stops mid-sentence to excitedly explain several of his more unusual pieces as we walk past them. He has authored seven cookbooks on topics ranging from Yiddish cuisine to Southern Italian cooking. On my visit, I learn about his neighborhood, how to properly cut a bagel, and what rugelach is.
First, we have a bagel and coffee in the apartment as we plan our day together. I am joined by a handful of friends attending the annual conference of the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) and Schwartz has offered to open his home to us in pre-conference hospitality. He has bought a few dozen just-baked bagels from The Bagel Hole, a small shop nearby that vies for status of best bagels in Brooklyn. I quickly discover this is a hotly debated and highly opinionated topic. Schwartz assures me that these are, in fact, the best bagels in Brooklyn and they should only be toasted if they are stale. He shows me how to properly slice a bagel in half without wounding myself: cradle a bagel in your hand for stability, cut halfway through, then turn the bagel over and cut through the other half. I spread herby cream cheese over an "everything bagel" and take a big bite. I can't really tell if this is the best bagel I've ever had but it is dense and chewy and I make a note to myself to pay more attention to bagel texture in the future.
Next, we snack our way through a platter of rugelach, small crescent-shaped cream cheese and jam-filled cookies that are traditional in Jewish cooking. I ask so many questions my head begins to swirl with facts and confusion about Jewish cookery customs.
We head out. It's a brisk, beautiful day and I am taking in the sights around me. We navigate a blur of subway transfers to Avenue L, the focus of our walking tour. Our first stop is at Isaacs Bake Shop, an old-school kosher bakery that Schwartz obviously frequents regularly. We're greeted like old friends and we stare at the bakery shelves lined with challah, small potato cakes, and rows of rugelach, both rolled like strudel and shaped like crescents. We sample bakery goods until we are encouraged to vacate to make room for school kids coming through.
We visit a pickle shop (every kind of pickled fish, vegetable, and fruit you can imagine), a kosher grocery store humming with pre-Passover shopping, and we finally land at an Israeli restaurant where we dine on a dozen small dishes as we chatter away and sip lemonade.
I decide to make rugelach for the Easter weekend. In my family, it won't be much of a gathering. We are all scattered at the moment -- Carl and Neil are at Winterlake Lodge getting ready for late-season skiers and Mandy is in Homer organizing our little store on the Homer Spit. Carly and Ty are saying goodbye to family from South Africa heading home. On the subway ride back to Manhattan, I flip open my iPad to view a cooking app entitled Baking with Dorie. There I find a recipe for rugelach I'll cook for my family, whenever we are together again.
The following recipe is by cookbook author Dorie Greenspan. With apologies to the author, I have modified her recipe by substituting rhubarb compote for the jam since it is abundant in the market here in Alaska. And, I used dried cherries instead of currants to compliment the rhubarb. Go to www.doriegreenspan.com to find Dorie's original recipe.
Rhubarb Chocolate Rugelach
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup fine-chopped dried cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water
2/3 cup rhubarb compote (recipe follows)
The cream cheese and butter should be chilled but softened enough to blend together.
Put the flour and salt into a food processor. Add in the cream cheese and butter pieces and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Process just until the dough forms large curds.
Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Remove one package of dough from the refrigerator. If it is too firm to roll easily, leave it on the counter for about 10 minutes.
Onto a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Spoon (or brush) a thin gloss of the rhubarb compote over the dough, and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half of the nuts, half of the cherries and half of the chopped chocolate. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch.
Using a sharp knife cut the dough into 16 wedges, or triangles. Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll-ups onto one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat with the second packet of dough, and refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Stir the egg and water together, and brush a bit of this glaze over each rugelach. Sprinkle the cookies with the sugar.
Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until they are puffed and golden. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to just warm or to room temperature.
Makes 32 cookies
4 cups rhubarb, diced
1/4 cup strawberries, dice
1 1/2 cups sugar or honey
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine all the ingredients and heat over medium-low heat until the rhubarb is broken down and the mixture is thickened, about 15 minutes. Cool completely before using in the rugelach recipe.
Makes 3 cups