Monday, December 22, 2014

Cranberry Pecan Rugalach

Rugalach (pronounced ROO-guh-la) is a magical, delicious Jewish pastry. These are one of a couple kinds of cookies I make at the holidays these days. The buttery, flakey cookie part of these crescent-shaped pastries are balanced out by the tart, crunchy filling. You can replace the cranberries in this recipe with cherries or apricots if you prefer and they still turn out delicious.

I made a double batch of these bad boys, so if you're doing a single batch you'll have half of the stuff you see in the pictures.

Cranberry Pecan Filling

3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2/3 cup finely chopped sweetened, dried cranberries
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground allspice

Stir all ingredients together until well mixed.

I'll just pretend that when I bake my workspace always looks so neat and organized. Because, you know, I secretly live on a cooking show.

The filling is pretty straightforward, but to work with it easier later, I find heating it up over low heat makes it a little more spreadable.

I suggest having a good amount of counter space instead of using the kitchen table like I do. I made the filling and dough the night before and let the dough chill overnight before starting on assembly and actual baking. Spending 5 hours bent over the kitchen table assembling these does a number on your back so try and use a counter if you have enough room. Also, one of those sweet anti-fatigue mats that Lee Valley sells is a good idea for all baking. Well really just about everything at Lee Valley is awesome (no, I'm not getting money for saying that... and now I'm rambling).


Cranberry Pecan Rugalach

1 cup butter, softened
1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
Cranberry Pecan Filling
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sparkling sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Yes I realize that's a terrifying amount of butter and cream cheese. Believe me, the second you inhale your 7th or 8th cookie you'll not only appreciate all this fatty goodness, you will start to hallucinate an angelic choir lulling you into pastry euphoria. Or you'll end up with a stomach ache. Either way - worth it.

Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until fluffy.  Stir in flour and salt. 

I like using a pastry cutter to get the initial mixing done. But nothing beats just getting in there with your hands to make sure it's mixed well. You'll want to make sure the dough is very smooth. You'll know it's ready when it's the consistency of soft playdough.

Divide dough into 8 equal portions.

Flatten each portion into a disc, wrap separately in plastic wrap, and chill for 8 hours.

Having done a double batch, I ended up with quite a few of these (16).

Remove dough from the fridge (or the porch if you're making these in Canada in the winter).
Roll one portion of dough at a time into an 8" circle on a lightly floured surface. 

Spread with about 3 tablespoons of the Cranberry Pecan Filling, leaving about a 1/2" border around the edge. Cut circle into 8 wedges. Roll up the wedges, starting at the wide end, to form a crescent shape. Place, point side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet (or on parchment paper).

This is what takes the most time with these cookies. Getting the filling to spread out evenly is tricky, and getting the crescents rolled up without all the filling falling out is tricky. Then picking them up and placing them on the tray so that they don't unroll is also tricky. My best advice here is to take your time and cut yourself some slack if they don't turn out perfectly - they'll still be delicious.

Brush gently with egg. Sprinkle evenly with sparkling sugar. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Bake at 350 degrees on a lightly greased baking sheet (or on parchment paper lined baking sheet) for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I ended up making a double batch for Christmas since they're always such a hit. They are admittedly tedious to make but worth it!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

My change isn't your change

At various moments during my adult life, I have retrospected on my identitymy past, who I would like to be, the major epiphanies of my personality, and the lessons I've learned. As an effort to grow as a person, I have come to believe strongly in the very real changes that can occur when you swallow your ego and face your shortcomings head-on.

Since my early 20s when I really began quieting down and looking inward, a lot has happened. The first few years were a fast progression of positive change, and then things slowed down and fell into a pattern of cycles.

Epiphany, introspection, personal challenge, work work work, rinse, repeat.

This cycle has become a part of my life. I'll admit that the hardest part is that initial realization of unhappiness on some fundamental level. Often it comes on the heels of some upsetting event and I decide I need to reevaluate my life and my state of mind. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that most of my biggest problems exist as a result of how my mind is working (how I process information; how I react to life events; how I interpret social situations, etc.).

It's taken a lot of years of humble honesty (accentuated with some counseling and behavioral cognitive lessons on changing how I think) to fully accept that the only way to fix what's broken is to acknowledge that something is broken at all.

One of the unfortunate by-products of this cycle hits during the 'work' phase. This phase is difficult for a number of reasons, but without getting into the dirty details of why it's hard for me, I want to talk about why this is hard for those in my life and those who care about me.

Just like it's hard to concentrate on inner dialog in a room full of loud people, it's nearly impossible to be really introspective if you're surrounded by people asking you how you're doing; why you're behaving a certain way, etc.. How I've learned to face this is by going into what I call my autopilot mode. My routines are maintained (work, chores, eat, distractions, etc.) but all else takes a backseat while I reroute all my internal energies into sorting through whatever is causing me distress.

Over the years I've made tweaks to this process here and there. I've begun to allow certain types of social interactions with some people who I know won't sabotage my work, and I've gotten better about communicating what's going on and why I'm withdrawn. If nothing else, I'm able to tell people that I'm trying to work through some things and that I need some time alone. It's often hard while it's happening to really articulate what it is that's upsetting me, why I think it's happening and how I think I can fix it.

Change is hard, though. It's a lot of work, it's humbling, it can be painful and it can effect relationships in big ways. But it's possible. From the vantage point of my admittedly biased armchair, I am able to confidently say that real change is possible. Despite popular denials and despite all of your experience with people who simply dig in their heels and choose stagnancy; changing how you think, how you behave, and how you react is possible.

I've had a lot of difficult conversations when people offer advice. I understand the inclination to offer advice, help, support, empathy and understanding. While I appreciate every time someone takes the time to try and help me, often that advice simply can't work for me. A major benefit of those quiet times alone with my thoughts is how well I have gotten to know myself and how I tick. I know my limits and I know how to break them. I know what works and what doesn't for me. I know why I think the things I do and what causes those thoughts.

I think the key message to remember about change is that how you make changes in your life isn't necessarily how someone else might. There is no one catch-all solution to change and growth and progress.  It is only you who can work to identify what is effective for you. I encourage you to explore the possibility of real fundamental change within yourself on a regular basis. If for no other reason than simply growing as a human being.

We might all be on this rock together, but we are very much leading our own battles in our lives. Accept each others' differences and move forward alongside those in your life you care about with positivity and an encouraging word.