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    Rugelach and the Church Calendar

    April 9, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    A few years ago, I began making rugelach for our Christmas and Easter breakfasts. We were finally able to eat gluten and casein again, and I was looking for something special with which to kick off a new tradition for this new season in our family life. I stumbled upon a recipe for rugelach that started not with flour and cream cheese, but with raw milk itself.

    And I was intrigued.

    Not knowing any better, I set out some milk.

    And I waited.

    And I waited.

    It took four days to turn into cheese curds, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be ready in time for the Christmas morning!

    Making rugelach using this process is not actually very labor intensive. If you have ever made homemade cheese or fermented bread products, you know that the key is in the waiting for it to do its thing. In other words, success in such a venture is tied up with patience.

    Rugelach, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a traditional Jewish pastry. Some call it a cookie. My recipe is heavy on cinnamon, and it tastes like a tart cinnamon roll. The tartness comes from the cream cheese, which ferments the dough for 12 to 24 hours before the sugar and cinnamon {and walnuts or pecans} are added.

    I enjoy making rugelach for Christmas, and I love making it for Easter because it matches up perfectly with the Calendar.

    The raw milk must be poured into a sterile glass jar and covered with a clean cloth on Palm Sunday.

    On Maunday Thursday, the milk has become curds and whey. This is poured through a wire mesh strainer lined with a tea towel. The curds stay in the strainer while the whey strains through into a glass bowl. I put the whey into the fridge for future use {it’s a wonderful source of protein and probiotics}. I store the cheese {homemade cream cheese is really just cheese curds} in a separate container.

    On Good Friday, the cheese is mixed with butter and flour. This dough sits out in a clean glass bowl to ferment. It is at this point that the children begin to torture me. Are you making rugelach? When do we get to eat it?

    On Holy Saturday, the dough is mixed with sugar and vanilla, rolled out, topped with melted butter mixed with cinnamon and nuts, and formed into what looks remarkably like miniature cinnamon rolls. I usually do this late at night. I “store” the rolls in a glass baking dish in the oven, and program the time-delay settings. The oven begins cooking the rugelach before we even wake up on Easter morning. In fact, we awaken to the smell of hot cinnamon.

    On Easter morning, my husband quickly scrambles eggs while I dish up rugelach. This is our tradition.

    I find it extremely comforting that the process of making this simple holiday fare helps me mark “Church time” in my soul. It fits perfectly into the rhythm.

    What are your special Easter traditions?

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  • Reply Kansas Mom April 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    What a wonderful tradition!

    We spent much of last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday participating in the Triduum activities at our church, culminating in the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night. Oh, how I love that Mass. We began outside in the chilly evening, facing the pitch black of the inside of the church. Father lit a fire and blessed the Easter candle (which is in the church throughout the coming year). Then we all lit candles from that candle as we processed into the church. It’s the light of the Word, the light of Christ, returning to us after the bleakness and darkness of Good Friday. Then there are eight readings interspersed with psalms and prayers starting with Creation (though at our parish we only read four of them). At our old parish in Brooklyn, the huge cavernous church was dark when we started. With each reading, more of the lights would be turned on. At the end of the readings, the church is blazing with light and we burst into the Alleluia (which is not sung or said at all during Lent) in glorious shared joy at the Resurrection and defeat of sin and death.

    Now we’re in the season of feasting for the 50 days until Pentecost. I haven’t yet figured out how to maintain feasting for so long (which is a spiritual feasting as much or more as a dietary one), but at the very least the children will have a piece of candy every single day.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 10, 2012 at 3:27 pm

      I don’t know how I’d maintain feasting for that long, either, except to maybe do a lot of baking and have lots of snacks on hand. 🙂

      What a beautiful tradition, KM. I have always loved the dark church traditions, which sounds weird, but it makes Easter and Christmas morning so much more dramatic, like flipping on a light in the middle of the night!

  • Reply Sally April 10, 2012 at 1:03 am

    I can not say “LOVE!” enough! While I have never eaten rugelach, you make me want to, and the connection with the flow of the Holy Week is really interesting. Lent and Easter can be so difficult for children (and shoot, what about us big folks?) to grasp; having these simple, unspoken, things happen in our home year after year helps to bring a deeper understanding as they (and we) grow. The patience required, the changes that take place, the attention — it all culminates into something that is so sweet! how like our faith this is! How like our Father it is!
    Thank you!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      It’s funny because when I first started doing this I had no idea it would match up like this. I just thought it was something unique and special that was elaborate but simple at the same time, which seems particularly appropriate for holidays. But then I started trying to figure out how to remember when I was supposed to do what and I realized that it was a perfect match for Holy Week! God is merciful to me in this. 🙂

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