I’ve acquired the new skill of being able to walk into any pastry shop in Boston and call out a batch of
rugelach baking in the oven. I can recognize that unmistakable perfume of roasting berries and the cream cheese and butter melding into magic under the heat. The day I moved into my Boston apartment, my parents brought over a large container of these pie cookies to help me settle in. I had no idea what they were at the time. I fantasized about what their pie crust shells would be like stuffed with a bourbon pecan pie filling, the flavor of pie I used to inhale with no shame when I still lived in Texas.
EGG-FREE, WHOLE WHEAT, VEGAN OPTION
MAKES 24 COOKIES
2½ cups (300 g) whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for dusting
1½ tsp (8 g) salt
¾ cup (168 g) cold unsalted butter
4 oz (112 g) cold cream cheese, cut into ½” (1.3-cm) chunks
2 tbsp (30 ml) bourbon or apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) vanilla extract 6 tbsp (90 ml) ice cold water
PECAN PIE FILLING
1 cup (145 g) pecan pieces
1 cup (225 g) packed brown sugar or coconut sugar
4 tbsp (56 g) butter or coconut oil
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup 2 tbsp (30 ml) bourbon
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
To make the crust, combine the flour and salt together in a bowl. Cut the cold butter and cream cheese into the flour with the back of a fork or pastry blender until the flour is crumbly. In a separate small bowl, combine the bourbon, vanilla and water, and then add it to the flour mixture, a couple of tablespoons (30 ml) at a time, tossing and compressing the mixture gently with your hands until it forms a ball, being careful not to overwork the dough. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C or gas mark 5) and line a baking sheet with parchment.
To make the filling, spread the pecans on the lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the nuts begin to perfume. Remove the nuts from the oven and pulse the nuts in a blender or food processor until it’s mealy but not flour. Set aside.
In a saucepan, whisk the brown sugar, butter, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla and salt together and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens and starts to look like the foam on a beer head, and you can see the bottom of the pan for a split second when you mix it, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the ground pecans and cayenne, if using. Allow the mixture to cool completely.
When the dough has chilled and the nuts and sugar have cooled and hardened, preheat the oven to 375°F
(190°C or gas mark 5), and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Remove the chilled dough from the fridge, unwrap, and, using a dusted rolling pin, roll it out into a ⅛-inch (3-mm)-thick rectangle about 15 x 8 inches (38 x 20 cm) on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle half of the nut mixture evenly over the dough, taking the filling all the way to the edges. Starting on the longer end of the dough, roll the dough into a log and then cut into 12 equal pieces. Place the pieces on the baking sheet seam-side down and then place in the freezer while you do the same with the other half of the dough and filling mixture. Freeze the rugelach for 10 or so minutes before baking them in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden and flaky. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
VEGAN OPTION: Replace the butter in the crust with equal parts dairy-free butter or ½ cup (112 g) of cold coconut oil.
NOTE: You can also make the crust in a food processor. Just pulse the dry ingredients with the cream cheese and butter until the fat is the size of chickpeas. Then add the bourbon and vanilla and pulse just until a dough is formed and it starts to peel away from the edges of the bowl. Usually the crust has an egg yolk, but I make this one closer to the way I make regular pie dough, with butter and apple cider vinegar, so the proteins in the flour don’t form long strands of gluten.