Give Your Hanukkah Rugelach a Chinese Spin

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

As a reform Jewish boy, there was no excitement like when Hanukkah began. Today I can appreciate the significance of fasting of Yom Kippur and abstaining from bread on Passover, but back then there was just no greater feeling than eight days of presents.

Eight days of presents also meant eight days of desserts. My mother, a veterinarian with a cult following in New York, has a client that brings a tray of rugelach for us to enjoy during Hanukkah every year. These small crescent cookies, an Ashkenazi specialty made with a cream cheese dough for tenderness and tang, are typically filled with chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, or raisins. Flaky and chewy, they’re the perfect dessert to enjoy for eight days straight.

Photo: Matt Taylor-Gross

But eight days of cinnamon or chocolate rugelach can get repetitive, and I prefer to think of rugelach as a template for all sorts of flavors, an opportunity to get creative while honoring a family tradition. So these rugelach are an homage to the magnetic power of Chinese food that so many Jews develop around the holidays.

Chestnuts and dried goji berries replace the traditional dried fruit and nuts, while Chinese five spice powder, with its musky star anise and cassia, stands in for cinnamon. Rich and fragrant, these bite-sized pastries are the perfect sweet to follow latkes at your Hanukkah party. They’re not too far from the rugelach you know, but they’re different enough to make the holiday exciting all over again.


Classic sweet rugelach get a Chinese twist with a filling of chestnuts, goji berries, and Chinese five-spice powder.


2 cups (9 oz.) all-purpose flour
8 oz. chilled cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 sticks plus 4 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 cup goji berries
1/4 cup ginger liqueur, such as Domaine de Canton
1 cup vacuum-packed, cooked chestnuts
1 cup whole walnuts
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

In a food processor, combine the flour with the cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and pulse until pea-sized crumbs form. Add the vanilla and the egg yolk and pulse until a dough begins to form. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and knead into a ball. Divide the dough into quarters, flatten each piece into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the dough disks for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter then remove from the heat and let cool. In a small bowl, combine the goji berries with the ginger liqueur and 1/4 cup boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes to soften, then drain the goji berries. In a food processor, pulse the chestnuts and walnuts into coarse crumbs. Scrape the nuts into a medium bowl and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, the melted butter, and the honey and five-spice powder until the filling is evenly combined.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. On a work surface lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar, roll 1 dough disk into a 10-inch circle, about 1/8-inch thick. Spread 1/4 of the filling in a thin layer evenly over the entire surface of the dough and sprinkle with 1/4 of the goji berries. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough like a pizza into 16 wedges. Starting from the wide end, roll up each wedge into a crescent shaped cylinder. Repeat with the remaining dough disks, filling, and goji berries.

Arrange the rugelach among 4 parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing each 1 1/2-inches apart and making sure the tip is tucked underneath the cookie, and refrigerate for 20 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg. Brush each rugelach with some of the beaten egg, then bake, 2 baking sheets at a time and rotating from top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking, until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the rugelach to a rack and let cool completely.


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