I first learned about Abe when I was staying at a friend’s farm for New Year’s. We woke up on New Year’s Day to the smell of freshly baked rugelach in all sorts of jam and chocolate varieties. Over the BEST breakfast of hot coffee and rugelach, my friend enthused about his grandfather Abe, and how Abe taught his sister (who was baking at the time) to make rugelach. I jumped at the chance to meet Abe in person. Although we didn’t get to bake together, I took down notes for his famous rugelach recipe.
If you bring Abe Piasek a pumpkin muffin, he will examine the crumb, taste and sniff the muffin…and then tell you exactly how to recreate it. His grandchildren call him regularly to request shipments of pumpernickel bread or instructions to make hamataschen. If Abe’s ability to deconstruct a baked good doesn’t awe you, then his ability to rattle off complex recipes on the fly will humble you.
Abe honed his skills at a variety of Polish, Swedish, German and Jewish bakeries and owned several of his own bakeries in California before he retired several years ago. However, becoming a baker was pure happenstance for Abe, who never once considered the profession when he was growing up in Poland. Few jobs were available when he immigrated to the United States during his early twenties, so he took the first job he found as an apprentice baker in Connecticut. Abe often worked at the bakery for twelve hours a day, he recalled, but he learned something new every day too.
Abe has been fascinated by the way different cultures introduced new breads to America during his career. There was a time when only the Jewish ate bagels and no one knew what a “flatbread” was. Today, however, we take for granted that strudels, Kaiser rolls and rye bread are sold in bakeries and supermarkets across the United States.
What does your family bake?
Abe’s Famous Rugelach recipe
For the Dough:
1 lb butter, room temperature
1 lb cream cheese
Splash of vanilla
1.5 to 2 lbs of flour
3 TB sugar
For Jam Filling:
Any smooth jam (Abe discourages using blueberry jam, because the jam should be smooth)
Stale white cake crumbs (Leave a baked unfrosted cake out to dry for a day. See below for the easiest white cake recipe from scratch. You’ll never look at box mixes again.)
Cinnamon & granulated sugar, mixed (to taste)
For Chocolate Filling:
Small, unmelted chocolate chip pieces (preferably chopped up in a coffee grinder) (I used leftover bittersweet and dark chocolate from previous baking projects.)
Stale chocolate cake crumbs
Cinnamon & granulated sugar, mixed (to taste)
For the Egg Wash:
Yolks of one or two eggs
1. Mix together all ingredients for the dough except flour. Add flour and mix until the dough becomes stiffer than cookie dough. If you are concerned that the dough has become too stiff, mix in an egg.
Note: In contrast to other recipes that I’ve seen, Abe says not to worry about over-mixing or refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. I tend to mix in the flour a little at a time until it becomes stiff enough.
2. Divide the dough into separate hunks. Take a hunk of dough and roll out thin. Spread jam or sprinkle chocolate pieces onto the rolled out dough. Sprinkle stale cake crumbs on top, then cinnamon and sugar.
Note: Make like Goldilocks and experiment with the right amount of cake crumbs and jam filling. I sprinkled too little cake crumbs and added too much jam in my first batch, so the jam oozed everywhere when the rugelach was baking. In my second batch, I had the same amount of jam but sprinkled too many cake crumbs. The resulting rugelach became very dense, and the cake crumbs absorbed all of the jam. Spread just enough jam so it colors the dough, but not so much that the jam oozes out of the rugelach when you roll it up (in Step 4).
3. Use your hand to press the toppings into the dough.
Note: Abe recommends using a rolling pin, but I found that the rolling becomes too sticky with jam and cake crumb to be effective in the next batch of rugelach.
4. Roll the dough up. Pinch the ends of the dough in. Ideally, the rugelach should be cigar-sized. Cut into 1 inch strips.
5. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with more cinnamon and sugar. For chocolate rugelach, do not sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
6. Bake at 350 F on ungreased parchment paper until golden brown. I used an ungreased SilPat. This should take at least 15 minutes.
Note: if you used too much jam and it is oozing out of the rugelach, the jam that has leaked out will tend to burn when you bake it, so watch the rugelach carefully.
7. The rugelach keeps well in the freezer up to 2-3 months (baked or unbaked).
Better than Boxed White Cake
(adapted from All Recipes)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup buttermilk (Substitute: milk. I used leftover buttermilk and almond milk).
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and sugar a 9 inch cake pan. **
2. In a medium bowl, beat sugar and butter together with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla, flour and baking powder to the mixture and beat well. Finally add milk and beat just until mixed in and batter is smooth.
3. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
* Forgot to leave out your eggs before baking? No problem! Place eggs in a warm water bath for fifteen minutes – the eggs will come to room temperature in no time.
** Handy tip: You can use the butter wrapper to grease your cake pan! After greasing, sprinkle sugar (rather than flour) to give your cake a great crackly exterior and avoid clumps of white flour at the same time.