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Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Just a few days after I made only a small dent in my coconut stash, I started another baking project. This one was a bit of a potschke, a bit of a fuss, that required several steps over the course of two days. I was reviewing Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love for the Forward and found myself deep in the rugelach chapter. That’s right, people, an entire chapter on rugelach and their similarly-made, differently-shaped Polish cousins, kolatchkes. (Don’t the Kolatchkes sound like a nice family you’d like to have over for dinner? I would definitely invite them.)

In the introduction to her book, Mindy writes “Spring is here only after I’ve made strawberry rhubarb rugelach.” With the weather we were having, I was ready to do anything to will spring on. Anything. Even spend two days making cookies.

So, I picked up a few pounds of strawberries. No, not the ones below – these I snagged this morning at the farmers market (!!!) – but a plastic box of uniformly red, decent enough berries.

strawberries

I grabbed a couple stalks of rhubarb, also from the grocery store, and heated them up with the berries. Everything mushed together, eventually slumping into a soft pot of preserves, sweet with berries, tart with rhubarb, and just enough sugar to help the grocery store produce along.

strawberry rhubarb preserves

Want a closer look?

strawberry rhubarb preserves

Whoa, that’s close.

I pulsed together an oatmeal streusel crumble.

Mindy Segal's oatmeal streusel

And made a cream cheese dough that I covered with fruit and sprinkled with streusel.

 Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

I sliced the dough into triangles. OK, officially, those are trapezoids.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Then rolled them up.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

And covered them with more streusel.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

And popped them in the oven.

Through the glass, I could see the dough puffing and browning and falling. The pink fruit bubbling and leaking from its spiraled home.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Out of the oven, the rugelach cooled, and dribs and drabs of caramelized preserves hardened into edges of brittle.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

The dough was soft and flakey, ribboned with pucker-y berries, and punctuated by nubbins of crispy streusel.

I thought about eating them all. Myself. But I didn’t. I shared.

Mindy Segal's strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

Strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. I’ve modified the order of the steps and some of the language to best reflect how I made the rugelach. The recipe is long, so make sure to read through the whole thing through before starting.

There are a lot of components to make here and many ingredients require chilling, so I made these over the course of two days. On the morning of day 1, I macerated the fruit and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Later that evening, I cooked down the fruit preserves and then prepared the cream cheese dough, chilling it overnight. On day 2, I made the oatmeal crumble and then assembled and baked off the rugelach. 

Makes 48 rugelach

For the cookies:

– 1 recipe Classic Cream Cheese Dough (see below), divided in half and chilled
– 1 recipe Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves (see below)
– 2 cups Oatmeal Streusel (see below)
– cooking spray
– 1 egg white, lightly beaten
– ¼ cup granulated sugar

Roll out. Put a sheet of parchment paper the same dimensions as a half sheet (13 by 18-inch) pan on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Remove one dough half from the refrigerator (it should have been chilling for at least 2 hours and should be pretty solid) and place on top. Using a rolling pin and a pastry roller, roll the dough half into a rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border from the edge of the parchment paper. The dough should be just shy of ¼-inch thick. If the edges become uneven, push a bench scraper against the sides to straighten them out. To keep the dough from sticking to the parchment paper, periodically dust the top lightly with flour, cover with another piece of parchment paper, and, sandwiching the dough between both sheets of parchment paper, flip the dough and paper over. Peel off the top layer of parchment paper and continue to roll. Repeat with the second dough half.

Chill. Stack both sheets of dough on top of each other and refrigerate until chilled, approximately 30 minutes.

Heat. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a few half sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Fill. Invert the sheets of dough onto the work surface and peel off the top sheet
of parchment paper. For each sheet of dough, spread ¾ cup of strawberry rhubarb preserves in a thin, even layer across the surface. Sprinkle approximately ½ cup of streusel per sheet over the preserves. Trim the edges.

Slice. Using a dough cutter or a pizza cutter, divide the sheet in half lengthwise into two long strips. Working with one strip at a time and moving crosswise, cut out triangles with flat tips, with each base approximately 1½ inches wide and each tip approximately ¼-inch wide. Shoot for 12 triangles per strip.

Roll up. Using an offset spatula or dough cutter, separate a triangle away from the rest of the dough. Starting from the base, roll the dough 
up like a crescent roll. Place tip-side down on the prepared sheet pan and repeat with the remaining triangles, spacing them on the pans 1 inch apart. Brush the tops with the egg white and sprinkle with the sugar. Sprinkle the tops generously with the remaining
 1 cup streusel.

Bake. Bake one pan at a time for 15 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 
8 to 10 minutes, or until the streusel is golden brown.

Cool. Let the cookies cool on the sheet pan for 1 to 2 minutes (do not wait too long or the preserves will stick to the parchment paper). Using an offset spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store. Rugelach can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Rolled, unbaked rugelach can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

***

Classic cream cheese dough

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. This is the basic cream cheese dough that Mindy uses for rugelach, kolachkes, and even her own version of fig newtons. The dough really needs to stay cold, so I popped it back in the fridge a few times while I was rolling it out if it started to feel too delicate. I saved half of the cream cheese dough and brought it to a friend’s house – her daughters and I rolled out the dough and stuffed it with a combination of peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. 

Makes 2 (13 by 18-inch) sheets of dough

– 1 C (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
– 1 C (8 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
– 1/3 C plus 1 T granulated sugar
– 1 t pure vanilla extract
– 2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1 t kosher salt
– 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

Mix. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and mix on medium speed to combine, 10 to 15 seconds. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until aerated, approximately 3 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together.

Mix some more. On medium speed, add the vanilla, mixing briefly until incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together. In a bowl, whisk together the flour and salts. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together but still looks shaggy, approximately 30 seconds. Do not overmix. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. With a plastic bench scraper, bring the dough completely together by hand.

Chill. Stretch two sheets of plastic wrap on a work surface. Divide the dough in half (each half will weigh around 14½ ounces) and place a half on each piece of plastic. Pat the dough into rectangles, wrap tightly, and refrigerate until chilled throughout, at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

***

Strawberry rhubarb preserves

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love. To get one pound of hulled strawberries, you’ll need to start with about 1.5 pounds of unhulled berries. These preserves are definitely puckery – which works nicely for the regulach since the streusel adds another sweet element and baking seems to intensify the fruit’s sweetness – but you might want to add more sugar to taste. Any leftover preserves are great mixed with yogurt or poured over ice cream. 

Makes about 2 cups

– 2 C finely diced rhubarb (approximately 2 large stalks)
– 1 lb washed, hulled, and dried strawberries, finely diced
– ¾ C granulated sugar
– 1 T freshly squeezed orange juice

Macerate. Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, and orange juice in a bowl and let macerate for at least
 4 hours at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat. In a high-sided, heavy pot, heat the fruit mixture over medium-high heat until the juices start to boil and foam. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from scorching, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb has broken down completely, approximately 30 minutes. You will have close to
 2 cups. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.

***

Oatmeal streusel

From Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love

Makes 2 cups

– 6 T (3 oz) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
– 6 T firmly packed light brown sugar
– 1¼ C unbleached all-purpose flour
– 6 T old-fashioned oats
– 1/2 t kosher salt

Pulse. In a food processor, pulse together the butter, sugar, flour, oats, and salt until it forms a fine meal, and the butter is evenly incorporated. Do not over-process.

Chill. Transfer to a storage container and chill completely, approximately 1 hour. Or freeze and use within 1 month.

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Up until recently, I’d never been much of a coconut fan, but a brief glance in my cabinets might convince you otherwise. In a bit of overzealous, absent-minded Passover grocery shopping, I ended up with several pounds of shredded and flaked coconut. I do things like this more often that I’d care to admit. I bet you do too. (Please, tell me you do.) Baking up a half-dozen batches of macaroons over the holiday barely made a dent in my coconut stash. After Passover, I toasted up some for granola and sprinkled a bit more on lentils, and this cake is where I suspect the rest of that coconut will end up.

Coconut tea cake

It’s a simple loaf cake strewn with shredded coconut and laced with coconut milk. I found it in Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours and the time that passed between my reading the head note and pulling out my mixer couldn’t have been more than three minutes. Four, tops. Dorie describes it as a “dry cake” – the kind that her Austrian friend grew up with, the kind without frosting or fuss, without too much going on, the kind you can eat any time of day (or night). Now this is my kind of cake.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you might have noticed that I don’t really decorate cakes. This stems less from laziness per se (though that definitely factors into the equation) and more from a strongly-held belief that a cake should be good enough to stand on its own with no frosting, glaze, or sprinkle in sight. In fact, if I have to choose between a cupcake and a muffin, I’ll almost always go with a muffin. I think this stems from the fact that the special occasion cake we ate growing up was my mom’s chocolate chip pound cake – with a dense crumb and pockets of chocolate, this bundt cake just as good straight from the freezer as out of the oven. And my mom usually made a double batch, so more often than not, there was a chunk of frozen cake wrapped and re-wrapped in plastic, sometimes hidden in the ice cube maker.

But back to the coconut. I made just a few tweaks to Dorie’s original recipe, adding lime zest as Dorie suggests and substituting vegetable oil for melted butter to make a non-dairy version. Since a can of coconut milk is typically just under two cups, each time I’ve make this cake, I’ve doubled the recipe, making up the remainder of the second cup with water.

As Dorie says, the cake is a little dry and has a thin sugary top crust that shatters under the gentle pressure of a knife. Like biscotti, a slice pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea. Like all good pound cakes, it lasts several days on the counter, tastes even better a few days in, and freezes easily. It’s coconut-y without being too coconut-y, if you know what I mean. And what I mean is that a few self-proclaimed coconut-haters liked the cake. By which I mean that I didn’t tell them there was coconut it in and they happily ate several slices each. If you want, you can bake the cake in two rounds, frost it, and cover it with toasted coconut for the birthday of a special coconut loving friend. But Meira, the birthday girl, and I agreed that the cake is best on its own.

Coconut Tea Cake 

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Make sure to use regular unsweetened coconut milk rather than the light stuff which leaves the cake a little rubbery. 

Makes 2 8- or 9-inch loaf pans (the original recipe calls for a 9- to 10-inch bundt pan)

– 2 C flour

– 1 t baking powder

– pinch salt

– 2 limes for zest and juice

– 2 C sugar

– 4 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

– 1 t vanilla extract

– 3/4 C shredded unsweetened dried coconut

– 1 C canned unsweetened coconut milk (stir before measuring)

– 1/4 C vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pans

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 8- or 9-inch loaf pans.

Sift. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Zest. In the bowl of a stand mixer, zest the limes over the sugar. With your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar until it’s aromatic.

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, oil, and lime juice (2-3 tablespoons).

Beat. With the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar/lime zest at medium-high speed until pale, thick, and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and stopping just when the flour disappears.

Mix. Keeping the mixer on low, add the dried coconut, mixing only until it’s blended, then steadily pour in the milk mixture. When the mixture is smooth, stop mixing and give the batter a couple of turns with a rubber spatula, just to make certain that any ingredients that might have fallen to the bottom of the bowl are incorporated.

Bake. Pour the batter into the pans and give them a few back-and-forth shakes to even the batter. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a thin knife or cake tester inserted deep in the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cook for 10 minutes before upending onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

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Well. Now that I’ve gone all “screw seasonal cooking” on you, I finally found spring nirvana in the farmers market this week. On Wednesday, I picked up a fistful of wild leek-y ramps whose scent lingered in my office well after I left for home and whose floppy leaves and hairy bulbs taunted me from the fridge this morning. So too did the bundle of asparagus – so fresh that there were no tough ends to snap off and whose raw taste can be only be described as green.

Inspired by Rivka‘s asparagus toast and a warm asparagus salad with ramps, I whipped up my own quick salad, just barely wilting the ramps and asparagus and tossing with mint and a mild feta. Best warm, great on toast, and sure to pop up in my own kitchen at last once more this Spring.

I’ll keep this post and recipe short – approximately the length of ramp season.

Asparagus and ramps with mint and feta

Because of the salted butter and feta, I didn’t add any salt. The dish tastes best warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 – 4 servings

– 1 lb young asparagus

– 1/3 lb ramps (approximately 20)

– about 20 leaves mint

– 3 T salted butter

– 1/4 C feta, preferably sheep’s milk (I like Pastures of Eden brand – you can find it at Trader Joe’s)

Cut. Trim the asparagus and and slice into approximately 2-inch . Clean the ramps well and remove the hairy root ends. Roughly chop the bulbs and white/purple stems. Chop the leaves into 2-inch strips and set aside. Chifonnade (or tear) the mint leaves.

Heat. Melt over medium heat the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the vegetables. Add the ramp bulbs and stems, sautéing for 3 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the asparagus and stir everything around to coat the asparagus with the butter. Cover for 3-5 minutes to allow the asparagus to steam a bit – it’s ready when the stalks are bright green but still firm. Add the ramp leaves and stir gently to wilt.

Serve. Toss with mint and crumbled feta.

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As far as seasons go, spring is typically just a means to an end. It’s the March that comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. It’s the April showers that bring May flowers. It’s just a few quick subway stops until we reach our favorite destination: summer. But in the food world, we celebrate each stop along the way. We are just as excited by early spring ramps (they’re finally here, at least in restaurant kitchens and on foragers’ Instagram feeds) as we are by mid-summer tomatoes and late summer plums and early autumn apples. We look forward to each and every new item that hits the market, eat too much until it disappears, and then move on to the next new thing. Seasonal, local farm-to-table eating and restaurants are becoming the norm. And this is a really good thing.

But sometimes seasonality is over-rated. Or, more accurately, at least for this blog post, cooking out of seasonal is under-rated. With the winter we had and the spring we’re having in this neck of the woods, and despite ramps and asparagus and pea shoots popping up on restaurant menus, I haven’t seen anything in the market other than stray root vegetables, collard greens, and scallions. But ever since the Passover seder, I’ve been making what I can only describe as a spring salad. Regardless of the weather.

Spring salad

The salad was inspired by a dish at Santina, a restaurant that laughs in the face of strict adherence to seasonality. (Have you been? If not, you should. If you don’t believe me, ask Pete Wells.) What’s remarkable about Santina is that it creates a transformative experience: in a glass box along the Highline with indoor palm trees, servers in white pants and Easter egg-colored polos, and tropical drinks, it evokes a sunny afternoon in a Mediterranean seaside town.

My first visit to Santina was on a grey February evening when my father was in town. It was so cold that he made a pitstop en route to buy an extra hat and a pair of gloves. I could talk about the whole meal, but what I want to discuss now is the salmon and heirloom radish salad that, to me, screamed sunshine on a plate. It matched the vibe of the restaurant, which I’d characterize as: “it doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, it’s all good in here.”

Fast forward a few weeks to Passover in Miami where it was gorgeously sunny and 80 degrees outside. It was also 80 degrees inside our apartment due to a broken air conditioner and construction preventing us from opening all but two windows.

Now here’s where things get a bit wonky. I couldn’t stop thinking about that salad, but my mind swapped oranges in for the salmon. I mean, same color, right? Sort of. Also, we had a huge bowl of Florida citrus sitting on the counter. Anyway, I popped over to the grocery store for radishes, but the only ones I could find were shrink-wrapped in plastic and buried in the far corner of the produce section. Undeterred, I grabbed a bag of fluorescent pink orbs, a similarly wrapped tray of Persian cucumbers, and a big head of Boston lettuce in a clamshell container. Seasonal or not, local or not, I was fixated on my memory of that sunshine salad.

As for the salad itself, it’s a combination of winter citrus and early spring vegetables. I first layered a wide bowl with large floppy lettuce leaves. Then I used a mandoline to slice thin discs of sharp radish and crisp cucumber. I noticed that the cut surfaces of the cucumber beaded up with water. I removed the peel from an orange and then cut it into full or half moons. A little lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and we were ready to eat.

When I brought the salad out to our seder table, I thought I felt an ocean breeze in our overheating apartment. (Perhaps it was Elijah the prophet sneaking by for a sip of wine.) And back in New York, I’ve made the salad a half dozen more times.

Having eaten batch after batch, I’ve come up with the perfect way to apprecaite it. The salad itself is a delicate, dainty start to a meal – in sharp contrast with the shredded kale and hardy greens, laden with soaked-up dressing that we’ve just left behind. Don’t cut up the leaves when they hit your plate. Keep them whole and use your knife to pleat each one onto your fork, folding in a radish here, a cucumber there, topping it off with an orange segment.You’ll find that a few big juicy bites encourage you to appreciate the flavors and colors of the season you want it to be, wherever you are.

Spring salad

Spring salad

Serves 3-4

Rinse one large head of Boston or butter lettuce a few times until the water runs clear to remove any dirt. Gently pry each leaf off the core and lay on paper towels to dry. Line a wide, shallow bowl with the leaves. Use a mandoline to thinly slice two or three radishes and one small Persian cucumber – I prefer my radishes a tad thinner than my cucumber – and sprinkle over the lettuce. Use a small sharp knife to remove the peel from one orange, leaving behind no white pith. Slice the orange into circles or half-circles and scatter over the salad. In a cup, whisk together the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons), a quarter cup of olive oil, a generous pinch of kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Pour half the dressing over the salad and then add more to taste.

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