“When I’m feeling blue, I just stop at a bakery and get myself an espresso and a small, shiny, warm chocolate rugelach. And then nothing in the world can hurt me.”
When I was 24, this little piece of advice from my mother practically saved my life.
I spent that year walking around in a daze, feeling as though someone punched me very had in the guts. All it took to bring me down was one man with sad blue eyes and a move from a place I loved and hated simultaneously. And I just couldn’t get myself back up.
The lone moments of reprieve in a long, trying year came courtesy of those fleeting bites of chocolate rugelach, grabbed at gas stations, bakeries, central bus stops. Eaten on the sly, on the go, anywhere I could. A small balm to the soul in the shape of a chocolate crescent with flaky, buttery layers and the faint whiff of cinnamon.
I had many opportunities to indulge myself. There is no image more endemic to Israel than mounds of shiny, puffy rugelach, spilling on the counters of bakeries and coffee shops and even market stalls. They are the ultimate Israeli sweet treat, eaten for breakfast, dessert, or alongside that 4pm cup of coffee.
And while they may not have been good for my waist, these chocolate rugelach were good to every other part of my being. Biting into one of these, warm out of the oven, letting the chocolate smear all over my hands, licking my lips to catch every last crumb – those were the moments I lived for, the little joys I swore by.
Like mother, like daughter.
Of course, now I know that the gluten I was eating in each of these chocolate rugelach was actually hurting my body. That the pains I often felt were not just the dull residue of a broken heart. So last week, I made myself a giant batch of gluten-free chocolate rugelach, and I went to town.
And they were every bit just as glorious as I remembered. (It should be noted that the recipe I have below works just as well for regular rugelach as it does for gluten-free – I’ve had several taste testers attest to this.)
Everybody knows that the best cure to a broken heart is chocolate. Now, you know that given enough chocolate rugelach, event a broken soul can be mended.
P.S. – Montrealers, this one is for you! In exactly a week from now, I will be hosting an interactive workshop centered on the Middle Eastern mezze platter as part of the Jewish Food Project. It’ll be a showcase of my book, Middle Eastern Small Plates, and a chance to bring to life one of my favourite things: a cookbook shop! So if you’re looking for a fun, casual night that will enable you to get your hands a bit dirty and your bellies full, sign up – I’d love to see you there.
Cream cheese dough:
- 1 cups (130 grams) gluten-free flour mix (or regular all-purpose flour if gluten is not a concern)
- A pinch fine sea or table salt
- 1/4 pound (112 grams, or one stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1/4 pound (half of a 225-gram package) cream cheese
Chocolate cinnamon filling:
- 1 cup of high-quality cocoa powder
- 2 TBs cinnamon
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- 1/2 – 1 cup of canola oil (start with 1/2 a cup and add if your mixture is too thick)
- 1 ounce chopped chocolate (optional) – this just adds more chocolate, and isn’t necessary
- egg wash (1 egg, scrambled and 1 tsp milk or water, mixed together)
- Combine all dough ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until they all combine into a large ball. Dump out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a flattish disc. Chill for 2 hours in the fridge or 30 minutes in the freezer (this dough also freezes extremely well).
- Heat oven to 375F degrees and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
- Stir cinnamon, cocoa, sugar and oil together in a small dish.
- Divide dough into two parts. Roll first disc into a circle. Thinly smear chocolate-cinnamon spread onto dough, leaving a 1-inch gap along the sides. If using, sprinkle with chopped chocolate.
- Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, divide circle into 8 triangles (like a pizza). Careful not to spill or smear chocolate everywhere, roll each triangle from the outside edge inward, forming a rugelach shape. Repeat with second disc.
- Arrange rugelach on baking sheet. Coat with an egg wash.
- Bake at 375F for 18-20 minutes.
- Serve cinnamon chocolate rugelach warm or in room temperature, though they’re best when eaten straight off the pan.