Next week at work, we’re having a party for our departing Bureau Director. I offered a baked goods donation, at which point I was informed that the party theme was “Jewish New York.” Hmmm, this puts me firmly outside of my baked goods experience and comfort zone. As an Asian girl who was born and raised in Nebraska, I only knew two Jewish families the entire 17 years I lived there. I remember the first time when I saw a bagel – a high school classmate brought one to speech practice – because I didn’t know what it was (when my parents moved to Los Angeles in 1990, I still remember our euphoria at discovering the Western Bagel store nearby... the idea of an entire store that sold nothing but bagels was so exciting and novel!). I figured that I had better make a dry run of a couple of baked goods options before agreeing to supply anything to the party.
First, I decided to try making rugelach. I debated between a recipe on epicurious.com and one from the Los Angeles Times before going with the epicurious one since it was supported by a lot of positive reader reviews. The dough contains only butter, cream cheese, flour, and salt, and it is refrigerated overnight before it is rolled out and then topped with jam (I tried both apricot and raspberry), walnuts, golden raisins, and cinnamon sugar.
Having no frame of reference for what rugelach is supposed to actually taste like (I have only tasted the kind that comes in the clear plastic tub at Costco), I took cookies over to several Jewish friends for an opinion. While there was universal agreement that the filling was tasty, I received multiple comments that there was too much filling (or not enough pastry) and that the pastry was not firm enough. Another friend was adamant that rugelach should not have jam in the filling at all and that they must be made in the traditional shape of crescents or horns. I decided that my rugelach definitely need improvement, and while I will go back to try making them again someday (one friend gave me a couple of recipes from her Jewish cookbooks to try), I don’t want to try to perfect them in time for the party next week.
I also decided to try making Black and White Cookies, a New York tradition. I have tried making these once before (using a recipe from Nancy Baggett's All-American Cookie Book), with unsatisfactory results (the cookies were crumbly and the icing was not opaque). I decided to go with another epicurious.com recipe that had received very good reviews. The recipe as written makes eight gigantic cookies. I tripled the recipe and ended up with 40 smaller cookies made with a #30 scoop (they baked more quickly, in 14 minutes). The cookies baked up cakey-soft and lightly golden, moderately domed and perfectly round.
The icing was interesting. The base vanilla-lemon frosting worked out great and it set hard and glossy. The chocolate frosting was another story. I had to add quite a bit of water to thin it out to spreading consistency, and while it looked like it was hard set the next morning, I discovered upon arriving at work that the chocolate half of the frosting was sticking to the sheets of waxed paper between the layers of cookies in my tupperware container. It was ugly. However, I thought the cookies tasted good – the lemon juice in the frosting created the illusion of a lemon-flavored cookie with vanilla and chocolate frosting.
However, also having no frame of reference for what an authentic Black and White cookie should taste like, I sent a box of cookies over to an attorney who is a self-proclaimed Jewish boy from New York and “the right man for the job” to evaluate the Black and Whites. Thankfully, he proclaimed them delicious and party-worthy. I will work on fixing the sticky chocolate frosting problem in the next few days and I’m looking forward to the party next week!