Rugelach (Yiddish: רוגעלך, pronounced /ˈruːɡələx/) (other spellings: rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, rogelach (all plural), rugalah, rugala (singular)) is a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin.
Traditional rugelach are made in the form of a crescent by rolling a triangle of dough around a filling. Some sources state that the rugelach and the French croissant share a common Viennese ancestor, crescent-shaped pastries commemorating the lifting of the Turkish siege in 1793 (this could be a reference to the Battle of Vienna in 1683). This appears to be an urban legend however, as both the rugelach and its supposed ancestor (the Kipfel or Kipferl) pre-date the Early Modern era, and the croissant in its modern form did not originate earlier than the 19th century.
An alternative form is constructed much like a strudel or nut roll, but unlike those, the rolled dough and filling is cut into slices before baking.
The name is Yiddish, the Jewish language of eastern Europe. The ach ending (ך) indicates plural, while the el (ל) can be a diminutive, as, for example, shtetlekh (שטעטלעך, villages) is the plural of shtetl (שטעטל, village), the diminutive of shtot (שטאָט, town). In this case, the root means something like "twist" so the translation would be "little twists," a reference to the shape of this cookie. In this context, note that rog (ראָג) means corner in Yiddish, so it is possible that a more accurate translation would be "little corners."
Alternatively, some assert that the root is rugel, meaning royal, possibly a reference to the taste. This explanation is in conflict with Yiddish usage, where the word keniglich (קעניגליךּ) is the dominant word meaning royal.
Finally, in modern Hebrew, they are known as roglìt (רוֹגְלִית), a postbiblical Hebrew word meaning "trailing vines". The Yiddish word ruglach probably came first. The modern Hebrew is probably a neologism, chosen for its similarity to the Yiddish and its descriptive meaning.
Rugelach can be made with sour cream or cream cheese doughs, but there are also pareve variants with no dairy ingredients, so that it can be eaten with or after a meat meal and still be kosher. Cream cheese doughs are the most recent, probably American innovations, while yeast leavened and sour cream doughs are much older.
The different fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, poppy seed, or fruit preserves which are rolled up inside.
Rugelach is a traditional Jewish food that is eaten any time of year, including, but not limited to Shabbat. Despite the fact that it is not fried in oil, some sources indicate that they are traditional on Hanukkah.
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Snapshots from Israel: Rugelach from Marzipan Bakery in Jerusalem, www.seriouseats.com