Hanukkah is over, but there is a Jewish tradition of eating cheese on Hanukkah, which has brought us some great things to eat all year long. Since the eighth grade Confirmation class is doing a unit on Jews and Food, I taught them about the tradition of eating cheese on Hanukkah, and we made Rugelach, a half-moon cream-cheese cookie.
The eating of dairy foods, especially cheese, on Hanukkah is a minor custom that has its roots in the story of Judith. In the book of Judith we are told that Holofernes, an Assyrian general, had surrounded a small Jewish village as part of his campaign to conquer Judea. When the water supply of the village was cut off, Judith went to the Assyrian camp and pretended to surrender. She met Holofernes, who fell in love with her. She went back to his tent with him, where she fed him cheese and wine. When he fell into a drunken sleep, Judith beheaded him and escaped from the camp, taking the severed head with her. When Judith got back to the village and told the Jews what she had done, they launched a successful attack on the Assyrians, saving the village.
In the Middle Ages it was traditional to eat cheesecakes at Hanukkah in commemoration of the cheese Judith gave to General Holofernes. Today, many people serve rugelach at Hanukkah in memory of Judith.
Crescent pastries were first eaten in Austria-Hungary in the 1600s and 1700s. Jews in Austria-Hungary made crescent pastries called Rugelach, which is a Yiddish word meaning "little twists."
Here is a recipe for Rugelach which you will enjoy at Hanukkah and all year.
6 ounces block cream cheese
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cold
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
Cut cream cheese into tablespoon-size pieces and let it soften at room temperature.
Cut butter into small pieces of about ½ tablespoon and refrigerate until ready to use.
Combine flour, salt and butter in food processor and process with brief pulses until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add cream cheese and sour cream, distributing evenly over mixture.
Process with brief pulses until dough just holds together. If dough is too dry add 1-2 tsps water. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, press it together into a ball, and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.
1. ½ cup raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ cup sugar, 1 cup jam (leave out the raisins if you don’t like them, or substitute chopped nuts)
2. ½ cup mini chocolate chips, ½ cup cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa), ¼ cup melted butter.
Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare an egg wash by mixing one egg and a tablespoon of water, set aside.
Spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.
Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll one piece of dough into a circle, about 9 inches.
For the first filling, brush with jam, leaving a 2 inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture.
For the second filling, brush with melted butter, leaving a 2 inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Push chocolate chips gently into the dough.
The next step is to cut the circle into 8 wedges. Then roll each wedge up from the wide end to the point, pinching the point to seal.
Place on baking sheets with points of the triangles facing down, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Curve each into a crescent.
Repeat with the remaining dough.
Refrigerate 20 minutes before baking.
Remove from the refrigerator and spread egg wash on each cookie and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake about 25 minutes or until light golden. Let stand 1 minute, then put on racks to cool.