Yes, it's been half a year since my last update... medical school has been eating up all my time and not having my own kitchen nor my cooking and baking supplies is seriously hindering my ability to make things. I am loving it here in medical school though, so it's good that it's keeping me busy. I've learned so much in just the first semester of my first year... and even though I don't feel even remotely close to being competent enough to take care of anyone yet, I can definitely see myself getting better and better as I learn more things each day. It's an amazing and exciting feeling.
Unfortunately, living in a dorm again and sharing a kitchen between 2 floors is not very convenient, so I've been more or less cooking my meals in the comfort of my own room by using my rice cooker, steamer tray, and microwave, as well as raw foods to get in all the necessary food groups. It's pretty healthy, but I sure miss the creativity of cooking on my own. Luckily I had a chance over the last semester to form a "cooking club" with some of my classmates in the dorm, and we cooked a bunch of meals for each other about once or twice a week depending on our schedules, so it was good to have some homecooked food and mess around with new recipes together from time to time. I put up a blog to showcase some of our meals at http://www.olincookingclub.blogspot.com if you want to see them :)
I finally got a break over Christmas vacation to go home and enjoy the pleasures of having a kitchen and all the baking supplies I could want. I certainly didn't waste a minute! So the next few entries will be catching up on a few things I made for the holidays.
One pastry that I was introduced to in college was rugelach, a Jewish pastry that is similar to a cross between shortbread and croissant, with a filling that's usually fruit preserves and crushed nuts. Its cream cheese dough is buttery and has a hint of cream cheese flavor that gives it just the right amount of tartness. The textures and flavors all come together in a pastry that is neither too sweet nor too rich, which is really nice. I have had the Costco variety that is often spiraled with raspberry jam, apricot jam, or chocolate paste. For my first try at rugelach, I made it with apricots, pistachios, and a cinnamon sugar mixture, and it was absolutely delicious. The texture of the pastry is like that of a soft (but not chewy) cookie, and it's conveniently bite-sized so it's great for impressing at parties. I made some over Christmas break to give to a friend recovering from open hip surgery, and he loved them! The dough can easily be frozen and stored for later (I baked some from a frozen batch to bring to my boyfriend in California the following week and he also loved them :) The hardest part is rolling out the dough and making the crescent shaped cookies ready to bake, but it is well worth the effort!
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 lb. butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
1 1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into halves
1 cup water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash
1. In a large bowl, cream together softened cream cheese and butter with electric beater until light and fluffy. Beat in the 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and vanilla.
2. Mix in flour on low speed until just combined. Take out dough onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Cut into quarters and shape each quarter into a disc before wrapping in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the apricot for the filling. In a small saucepan, combine dried apricots and water, on low heat. Stir ocassionally until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Cool briefly, then puree in a food processor until smooth.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the 6 tbsp of white sugar, the brown sugar, cinnamon, and chopped pistachios. Set aside 3 tsp of this mixture for later.
5. When the dough is chilled, remove one disc at a time and roll out into a circle on a well-floured surface or between 2 sheets of wax paper, until about 1/8" thick (approximately a 9-inch circle). Spread 1/4 of the apricot puree in a thin layer over the circle, leaving a 1/2" border on the edges. Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 of the sugar and nuts mixture. Gently press the nuts into the dough to help it stay. Your dough should look much like a pizza now :)
6. Using a pizza cutter or a knife, divide circle into 12 equal wedges. To help make them even, divide circle into quarters first, then divide each quarter into 3 wedges.
7. Gently remove one wedge at a time, using a spatula as necessary, and roll from the wide end towards the pointy end to make a pastry crescent. Set onto a baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment or wax paper, with the seam side down, 1 inch apart from one another. You can curve the points on either side to get a more cresent shape if you would like. Chill for 30 minutes on the baking sheet in a refrigerator.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush each rugelach piece with the prepared eggwash, and sprinkle some additional sugar and nut mixture on top from the reserved portion.
9. Bake rugelach for about 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet, then carefully transfer over to a cooling rack, using a spatula to help as needed (the filling tends to bubble out and stick to the baking sheet, so do this before it cools and hardens).
10. Dust with confectioner's sugar if desired, or serve as is. Yum!
Making rugelach takes a little bit of effort, and seems confusing the first time around. But once you get the hang of it on the first disc of dough, the rest will fly by easier, I promise. I had a little cycling system going where I would prep the second disc of dough while the first batch of cookies were chilling in the refrigerator before baking. It works out better if you can have 2 or more baking sheets ready to use at a time, but I didn't, so I had to rotate using just 1 sheet, making it a bit more time-consuming (took me the better half of an afternoon). Definitely plan ahead, you can't rush making rugelach! You'll be glad you spent that time when you take your first bite... they are simply heavenly :)