Unorthodox

Jews on Christmas

Ep. 299: Melissa Clark’s yiddishe Christmas cookies, Jews and Christmas music, and the Jewish ballet dancer soloing in ‘The Nutcracker’ with the American Ballet Theater

December 23, 2021

This week on Unorthodox, we’re drinking the eggnog and going all in on Christmas.

Did you know your favorite Christmas song was probably written by a Jew? Marc Tracy returns to the show to shed light on the surprising history of Jewish songwriters and Christmas music, and shares a list of the 10 best Christmas songs written by Jews.

It wouldn’t be a bunch of Jews talking about a holiday—even one that isn’t our own—without a serious discussion of food. Jewish cookbook author and New York Times cooking columnist Melissa Clark tells us about the chocolate babka rugelach recipe she contributed to the Times’ Christmas cookie collection. (Scroll down for the full recipe!)

Our super-intern Quinn Waller—our Quinntern—brings us an amazing personal story about the Christmas spirit she grew up with, and how she continued to believe in Santa long after all her friends stopped.

What’s it like being a Jewish ballerina and dancing in The Nutcracker, the most Christmassy ballet of all time? American Ballet Theater principal dancer Skylar Brandt, who this year is performing the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” tells us all about it.

New York-area listeners, travel back in time to 1970s NYC’s haute kosher Chinese restaurant, Moshe Peking, for a prix fixe dinner to remember on Dec. 25, 2021. Chef Eric Huang of Pecking House and Wall Street Grill’s Joey Paulino reimagine the iconic Moshe Peking menu with a five-course feast of short ribs, duck dumplings, sesame noodles, and more, all under OU supervision at Wall Street Grill. Get your ticket at bit.ly/moshepeking.

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Sponsors

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Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recognize 15 extraordinary Jewish teenagers with $36,000 toward their initiatives. Learn more and apply or nominate a teen at dillerteenawards.org/unorthodox.

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Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Babka Rugelach Recipe

YIELD 4 dozen rugelach

TIME 1 ½ hours, plus chilling

These festive, fudgy confections are a mashup of two traditional Jewish favorites: rugelach and chocolate babka. They have a tender, flaky pastry wrapped around a bittersweet trufflelike filling that’s sprinkled with chopped nuts or cocoa nibs for a contrasting crunch. A topping of Demerara sugar adds texture, and a little flaky sea salt cuts the sweetness perfectly. These are best served within five days of baking (store them in an airtight container at room temperature). They also freeze well for up to one month, with parchment or waxed paper between layers.

Featured in: 24 Days of Cookies

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE DOUGH:

  • 1 (8-ounce/225-gram) block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans, if you like
  • ¼ cup/50 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea or table salt

FOR THE FUDGE:

  • ¼ cup/50 grams granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons/88 milliliters heavy cream
  • Pinch of fine sea or table salt
  • 3 ounces/85 grams extra bittersweet chocolate, preferably 66% to 74% cocoa, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup/61 grams unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FOR THE CRUMB FILLING:

  • ½ cup/63 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons/45 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons/11 grams cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 4 ½ tablespoons/64 grams unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup/75 grams finely chopped toasted nuts, such as pistachios, walnuts, or pecans, or use cocoa nibs

FOR FINISHING:

  • 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar, for sprinkling
  • Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling 
  • Milk, for brushing

PREPARATION

Make the dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand-held electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and well blended. Beat in sugar and vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour and salt until just incorporated.

Scrape dough onto plastic wrap. Divide dough into 4 portions, form each into a disk and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 5 days.

Prepare the fudge: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cream, and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Add chocolate, butter and vanilla, and let sit for 5 minutes to soften the chocolate, then mix until melted and smooth. (Fudge can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Let come to room temperature before using; it’s too firm to spread when cold.)

Make the crumb filling: In a small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Stir in melted butter until it is evenly distributed and the mixture forms large, moist crumbs. Set aside.

Line 4 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick liners, or lightly butter the pans, if you like. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, remove it from refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, or until malleable enough to roll out.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out dough into a 9-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Rotate dough while rolling to ensure it does not stick to the work surface.

Using the back of a spoon, evenly spread 2 tablespoons of fudge onto the rolled-out dough. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of sugar cocoa crumbs over fudge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chopped nuts over the crumbs, and, using your hands, press the filling firmly and evenly into the dough.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough circle into 12 triangles, like pieces of a pie. With an offset spatula or thin knife, loosen the triangles from the work surface. Starting at the wide end of the triangle and working to the narrow tip, roll up each piece and bend the ends around to form a slight crescent shape.

Place rugelach, narrow tip tucked beneath, on a prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each. Refrigerate, lightly covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes (and up to 24 hours) to help them keep their shape in the oven. Repeat with the remaining dough, fudge and filling. (Clean your work surface before rolling out the next batch of dough.)

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together Demerara sugar and a large pinch of flaky salt. Brush rugelach with milk and sprinkle sugar-salt mix on top.

Bake, 2 sheets at a time, until lightly browned, 17 to 25 minutes. Rotate cookie sheets halfway through for even baking. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool completely.

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