5 tasty twists on rugelach — Hanukkah's answer to the traditional Christmas cookie

Great Canadian Baking Show baker, Corey Shefman, on this unique, versatile treat that's incredibly easy to make.

Great Canadian Baking Show baker, Corey Shefman, on a unique, versatile treat that's incredibly easy to make

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Rugelach might be hard to classify, but once you eat them, you'll never go back. And once you realize how easy they are to make, you'll be eating them all the time.

Spoiler ahead if you're not already caught up with the Great Canadian Baking Show…. I was a participant! I didn't make it to Holiday Baking Week on the show, and maybe that's a good thing. If I had, I probably wouldn't have left any rugelach on the plate for the judges, Bruno and Rochelle, to judge!

Truth be told, rugelach (it ends with the same "ch" sound that "Chanukah" starts with) are less of a cookie, and more of a pastry. The dough is in the pie dough family, which is apparent once they're baked — think flaky pie crust, rolled with layers like a croissant, but with a satisfying chew, and filled with all sorts of delicious fillings. Truthfully, the taste is difficult to describe, but trust me when I profess: they're as good as any holiday cookie you've had, and so easy to make.

The fact that they're so easy to make might be the reason why there aren't a thousand different recipes online for rugelach. If you go searching, you'll inevitably start seeing the same few names popping up; names like Dorie Greenspan (five-time James Beard Award Winner cookbook author) and Norene Gilletz (the matriarch of modern kosher cooking).

Unlike almost every other baked good you might make, rugelach are most often made in the food processor. No, not the stand mixer – the food processor. Using the food processor is what gives rugelach their unique texture. Using cold butter creates flaky layers, but getting that butter much finer than you would in pie dough gives you the distinctive chew. Of course, the other amazing thing about making rugelach in the food processor is that it literally takes 45 seconds to make the dough.

All of this is beside the point. The point of rugelach is the fillings. Rugelach are a delicious vehicle for what's inside.

And what's inside can be whatever your sweet-tooth desires.

You could go the traditional route and pulse 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ¼ cup of pecans and 125 grams (or so) of dark chocolate in the food processor, spread melted butter on the rolled out cookie dough with a pastry brush, and then sprinkle your ground up sugar/cinnamon/nut/chocolate mixture over top, pressing lightly to adhere. Everyone likes tradition.

Or you could get creative...

Here are 5 twists to make the classic uniquely yours.

  1. Combine your favourite jam with your favourite (finely chopped) nuts. Toast the nuts first if you really want to impress.
  2. Like all things matcha? Finely chop about 200 grams of white chocolate (or pulse coarsely  in the food processor – you want to have some chunks left). Spread melted butter over the rolled out dough, sprinkle the chocolate over top, and then sift (you definitely want to sift the matcha here, to distribute it evenly), anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon or more of matcha powder to taste over top.
  3. Lately, I've been using tahini (sesame paste) a lot in my baking. The best rugelach I've ever made (or had) were spread with a thin layer of tahini (about 2 tablespoons per disc of dough, or 16 pieces) and sprinkled with 70% dark chocolate (I used Valrhona Guanaja, but you can use whatever quality dark chocolate you can find). To really take these to the next level, spread a very thin layer of pomegranate molasses (no more than 2 teaspoons) over the dough, before spreading the tahini.
  4. Fan of those peppermint mochas? Chop 150 grams of milk chocolate finely, and toss it in a bowl with ½ cup smashed candy cane bits and 1-2 teaspoons of espresso powder. Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle the filling evenly.
  5. Wishing it was warm enough to make s'mores around a campfire? Spread some chocolate hazelnut spread over the doug, or melt 150 grams of chopped milk chocolate in short bursts in the microwave, stirring frequently, and let cool slightly before spreading. Then spread a thin layer of marshmallow fluff over top (you can sprinkle mini marshmallows over the chocolate instead of using the fluff, but it will be hard to roll), and sprinkle crushed graham crackers on top. Voila. S'mores in a rugelach!

You get the idea, you can fill these little bundles with whatever you'd like. Just remember, you want something spreadable to hold everything together, something sweet, and ideally something to add texture like the nuts. Start with the recipe that the Great Canadian Baking Show quarter-finalists baked in the tent, and go wild. I can't wait to see all the creative fillings you come up with! Share them on Twitter with the hashtag #gcbsbakealong.

Corey Shefman is a lawyer by day and baker by night. He was a contestant on Season 1 of the Great Canadian Baking Show. You can see more of his baking at Litibaker.com and on Instagram.

Brought to you in part by: