PB&J rugelach bring the sweet, salty taste of Jewish-American nostalgia

Illustration for article titled PBJ rugelach bring the sweet, salty taste of Jewish-American nostalgia
Photo: Sara Tane

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have a lot of opinions about Hanukkah desserts. First, gelt is disgusting. It’s the worst kind of chocolate: waxy, soft, and unbearably sweet. Thanks but no thanks. If gelt is the prize that’s on the line in a game of dreidel, then I am entirely uninterested in playing.

Sufganiyot (aka jelly doughnuts) are certainly delicious, but on a holiday where everything is deep fried in oil to symbolize the lamp that miraculously burned for eight days (we Jews seriously love us some symbolism), it’s just too much for me. After standing over a hot stove frying latkes for hours, the last thing I want to do is keep it going with some jelly doughnuts. The person who shows up to a Hanukkah potluck with homemade sufganiyot is the true hero of Hanukkah. Keep that friend near and dear, and never let them go.

So what does that leave us with? Well, let me state on the record that a sugar cookie in the shape of a Jewish star or a dreidel does not count as a Hanukkah dessert. It’s just a festive cookie. In grade school when we’d celebrate the holidays, teachers would try to make the celebrations as inclusive as possible (public school, baby!) by offering menorah-shaped cookie cutters. Even then, I wasn’t fooled by this lazy attempt at inclusivity. Hanukkah sugar cookies are a creation of gentiles. There is nothing traditional or authentically Jewish about them. Sure, they’re cute to look at and fun to decorate, but I would not categorize them as a Hanukkah dessert.

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Therefore, I have no other option but to crown rugelach the superior dessert of Hanukkah. These tasty little cookies are made with a cream cheese dough that is filled with a fruit, nut, or chocolate filling, then rolled up into a sweet treat. The great thing about rugelach is that they’re just as fun to eat as they are to make. Rolling and slicing the dough is cheaper than therapy but nearly as effective.

And the filling options are endless. Salty-sweet desserts are my love language. What better union of these two magical flavor profiles than peanut butter and jelly? And I’m not talking about all-natural nut butter and fancy fruit preserves. I’m talking about the good stuff: Jif creamy peanut butter and Welch’s concord grape jelly. If a PB&J sandwich doesn’t bring me back to the elementary school cafeteria table and the stress of trying to successfully make a lunch trade, then I simply don’t want it.

It is this undying love for PB&J that inspired me to take this unrivaled pairing of condiments and spread it all over some rugelach dough. I mean, it makes sense, really. Most rugelach fillings are some combination of a fruit jelly and a nut, so I’m just taking a more nostalgic route. If you want to get extra nutty, go ahead and toss in some chopped peanuts for an extra bite. The filling might ooze out a little during baking, but that’s okay. Make sure to press the filling lightly into the rugelach dough before you roll it up to prevent as much drippage as possible. As long as you’re staying far away from gelt, you’re going to be just fine.


Peanut Butter and Jelly Rugelach

Makes: 48 cookies
Prep: 45 min
Cook: 25 min

For the dough:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, chilled
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup grape jelly
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • Granulated or turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Make the dough: Combine the butter, flour, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the chunks of butter are broken up and the mixture has taken on the consistency of wet sand, about 30 seconds. Add cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla extract and pulse until dough slightly comes together, about 25 pulses.

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Turn out the dough onto a clean surface, divide into four equal pieces, and press each down slightly into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Warm peanut butter in a microwave until it liquefies but isn’t boiling. Let cool and set aside.

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On a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 9" circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons peanut butter and 2 tablespoons jelly. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges by cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, tightly roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, point side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining discs of dough. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush each cookie with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let cool on a wire rack and serve immediately.

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DISCUSSION

You have started me thinking about putting Nutella in my rugelach. The last time I made it, the chocolate chip, cinnamon & nut ones came out dry, while the ones with peach jam and dried cherries were fantastic. I have a sister who hates cooked fruit so I couldn’t use preserves in both. Maybe if I swapped the chocolate chips with Nutella it would solve that problem. I will experiment and report back.