There is a moment in life when everything is perfect. It might be when you are lying in bed just after; you inhale the sounds and smells of pure contentment. It is in the rustle of crisp autumn leaves and the clean air that dances in through the window and tickles your skin. It is the warm arm that pulls you close; you are beloved.
Or were you sitting on a beach, watching your two golden-skinned children chatter away in earnest pursuit of their very important castle-with-a-moat? They are pure and beautiful and this feels religious.
I have been honored with many such moments in my life, but not one of them happened last week.
If I believed in karma, or divine destiny, or that there is a reason for everything, I would feel certain that my family is about to have a a dump truck full of good fortune pull up our cosmic driveway and unload a heap of good stuff. My sisters and I would leap into it the way we used to dive into the piles of leaves Dad raked. We’d throw it up in the air and let it shower down on each other and on Dad, and it would be one of those moments. One of those moments that we did not have last week.
It was overcast on Thursday, the day of my Uncle Sandy’s funeral. The grey sky settled in my Dad’s eyes and the dingy clouds hunkered down on his shoulders. I watched him, wishing my mother was there for him. For all of us.
My Uncle Sandy will never call me “doll” again. My Dad doesn’t call anyone that, so I know Uncle Sandy must have picked it up after he moved from Cleveland, where they grew up, to New York. When I was a girl, I thought “doll” sounded very New York Broadway-ish, like Guys and Dolls. I didn’t mind that Uncle Sandy called all the girls and women doll: I liked that I was on his list. At the top of his list, though, was my Aunt Alice. Alice is a beautiful, elegant woman, and Uncle Sandy looked at her like she was a treasure. But most of all, I loved Uncle Sandy’s funny, mischievous moments: his eyes would get a certain sparkle, and then his smile would break through, and it would stretch wide across his face, clear over from one ear all the way to the other. The only other person I have ever known with a grin nearly that big is my Dad.
Dad will have his mojo back soon. He’s the kind of guy who can get punched in the (figurative) gut, lie there for a moment or two, then pick himself up, brush off his pant legs, stand still for just a moment longer to process, and then take a step forward to explore something more interesting.
One thing he will always head towards is a platter of rugelach; he finds them nearly irresistible. There has been an abundance of rugelach in his life lately: for whatever reason, nearly everyone brings rugelach when they pay a condolence call. In fact, the 11th commandment may well be: When death visits thy family or neighbor, thou must bringest rugelach.
Note: for a visual step-by-step, see the photos that follow the recipe.
Make the dough one day in advance and allow it to chill overnight.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon dry yeast (about 1/2 a packet)
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut in bits
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup currant, apricot or peach jelly
1. Make the dough: combine the flour and yeast in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry fork or two butter knives until the mixture looks like sand.
2. Beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and combine with the sour cream. Stir into the flour mixture. Divide into 6 small balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Place in the back of the refrigerator (the coldest part) overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheet pans with parchment paper.
4. Combine the nuts, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Warm the jelly about 10-20 seconds in the microwave– just enough to become easy to whisk until smooth.
4. Sprinkle your work surface with 1 tablespoon of the nut mixture and spread it out into a 7-inch circle. Place 1 ball of dough in the center of the circle and press it lightly with your hand into a 3-inch disk. Turn the dish over and drape with a 1-foot long piece of plastic wrap. Working on top of the plastic wrap, roll the dough into a 6-inch circle. Remove the plastic wrap and flip the dough over. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the nut mixture and cut into 8 wedges.
5. Place a drop of jelly about the size of a green pea at the wide end of each wedge. Starting at the wide end, roll each wedge snugly to enclose the filling. Repeat this process, using all the dough. (Keep each ball in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll it out). After all the rugelach is formed, roll the cookies in the remaining sugar nut mixture to lightly coat the outside. Place in a single uncrowded layer on the lined sheet pans and bake 15 minutes, until golden. (The cookies will leak while they cook).
6. When the cookies come out of the oven, either place them a clean piece of parchment or move them slightly on the pans so they don’t stick to the leaked jelly as they cool.
Makes 48 cookies