These cookies are known by different names in different countries: Kipfel (Germany), kifli (Yugolsavia) and cream cheese cookies (United States). Presumably, the first recipes for rugelach-type foods were introduced to America by immigrants from Hungary, Yugoslavia and neighboring countries. Some of these immigrants were Jewish.
Mildred Bellin's Jewish Cookbook [Tudor Publishing:New York, 1958] offers two recipes for rugelach. One is a traditional yeast based product, the other is discreetly tucked under "Hungarian cream cheese cookies,Variation II," containing unsalted butter, cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt. Ms. Bellin observes:
"The variety of cookies and confections which may be found in a Jewish home reflects the long history and international background of its inhabitants. There are for the holidays traditional sweets, some of which like Hamantaschen, are a historic part of the festival. Others originated in the many lands in which the Jewish people lived, but through the generations became part of their own tradition. The cookies popular in the United States today are eagerly tried by Jewish cooks, and are served as frequently as the older ones." (p. 262)
"There is no other Jewish sweet that has gone more mainstream than rugelach. Basically a crescent-shaped cookies that comes from the Yiddish "rugel" (royal), it is also called kipfel, cheese bagelach, and cream-cheese horns of plenty in this country. The yeast-based and often butter or sour cream-based dough in Europe was usually rolled out into circles, cut into pie shapes, covered with nuts, raisins, sugar, and cinnamon and then rolled up like pinwheels. It can also be rolled out into a rectangle, covered with filling, rolled up, and cut into circles...The American addition to rugelach was cream cheese and the myriad fillings used today. The cream-cheese dough may have been developed by the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company because the dough is often called Philadelphia cream-cheese dough. One of the the early cream-cheese doughs appeared in The Perfect Hostess, written in 1950 by Mildred Knopf. Mrs. Knopf, the sister-in-law of Alfred Knopf the publisher, mentioned that the recipe came from Nela Rubenstein, the wife of the famous pianist Arthur Rubenstein. It was Mrs. Knopf's friend Maida Heatter who put rugelah on the culinary map with Mrs. Heatter's grandmother's recipe. It is the most sought after of all Mrs. Heatter's recipes and is the rugelach most often found in upscale bakeries nationwide."
---Jewish Cooking in America, Joan Nathan [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1998 (p. 351-2)
The name rugelach means "little twists" in Yiddish. Experts argue over whether they are cookies or pastries. Actually, they're sort of both. They are made of buttery rich, flaky pastry encasing delicious moist fillings, and are served like cookies, with coffee, tea or milk.
Steve Schussel's Mom, Suellen, baked desserts for the legendary Lindy's before setting out to open her own bakery in Brooklyn. Her traditional Eastern European rugelach start from scratch with the finest, all-natural ingredients -- rich, real cream cheese, Grade AA, sweet creamy butter, cinnamon, plump, juicy raisins, California walnuts, pure dark chocolate, raspberry, and apricot jam -- rolled in a coiled cream cheese dough, then baked to a golden brown. (All are kosher and carry the Orthodox Union kosher certification).
The Jewish Home Beautiful
by Betty D. Greenberg and Althea O. Silverman
Women's League of the United Synagogue of America, NY
Second Printing, 1942
Third Printing, 1945
Fourth Printing, 1947
CRESCENTS OR RUGELACH
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 lb. butter
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
3/4 tsp. salt
2 yeast cakes dissolved in 1/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs (reserve a little of the white for brushing the tops)
Filling (mix together)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 tbsp. cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
rind of 1/2 lemon
Here is a raised dough recipe minus the bogey of countless hours of rising and endless kneading. The method is not traditional; in fact, it is quite modern, but as long as the finished product is just like mother's, does it matter?
Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl and cut in the butter as for a pie crust. When it is finely crumbled, add the grated rind, the beaten eggs, the sour cream and the dissolved yeast. Knead until the dough comes away from the bowl without sticking. Cover and set in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning divide the dough into eight parts, and return to the refirgerator, removing only one part at a time. Roll each piece to form a nine-inch round and spread with the filling. Now divide the round into six wedge-shaped pieces like a pie, by cutting it first in half, then dividing each half into thirds. Roll each wedge from the outer rim of the circle to the center and then curve it into a crescent. Brush the top with the beaten white of an egg and sprinkle with sugar. Place on a greased tin, allowing room to double in size. Allow about two hours for rising, then bake in a 350 degree oven.
Spirals. -- Using the same dough, roll out and fill as for cinnamon buns, but have the sheet only one-eighth inch thick. Roll and cut into one-half inch pieces. Place each piece, cut side down, in the palm of one hand and flatten with the other hand to form a spiral cookie. Brush with white of egg, sprinkle with sugar and chopped nuts. Let rise for two hours and bake in a 350 degree oven.