When I was in Montreal at Hof Kelsten, a stellar Jewish bakery-deli, I tasted the best rugelach ever. The cream-cheese dough was shaped into small rectangular pockets, overflowing with strawberry jam and nuts. Although the chef would not share the recipe, he did tell me the ingredients, and I realized his pastry is very similar to my own, a simple American cream-cheese butter dough so good that one reviewer in Montreal mistook Hof Kelsten’s version for a French mille-feuille pastry!

Many years before that, when watching a knish maker on the Lower East Side, I was struck by the way she cut her dough, using the side of her hand. I’ve done the same with my rugelach since then, to have a connection to the past.

Besides the dough, it is the high-quality jam and not too finely chopped toasted nuts— plus the old-fashioned cutting technique, which creates pockets in warm, jam-filled cookies— that make the recipe. I also heat the oven to 400 degrees and then, as soon as I put the rugelach in, turn it down to 350 degrees, to help set the crust. Recently, I made these rugelach for a group of women at a break-the-fast on Martha’s Vineyard, and every single one was devoured or taken home. Here it is, with all the recipe’s deliciousness. 

Makes 32 rugelach 


  • 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature

    TST-My Life in Recipes book cover My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories Joan Nathan
  • 1 cup (2 sticks/227 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1 cup (315 grams) thick, good-quality raspberry or strawberry preserves

  • ¾ cup (75 grams) walnuts, toasted and finely chopped (but leave some slightly larger chunks)

  • 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar, for sprinkling (see note)


  1. Put the cream cheese, butter, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl, then add the flour and salt and mix until a very soft dough is formed, about 1 more minute. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic or food- grade silicone, wrap it tightly, and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into four balls, then pat each into a rough square. Roll one piece into a rectangle about ⅛-inch thick (roughly 9 by 12 inches). Spoon a fourth of the jam onto the rectangle, then spread it almost to the edge, leaving about a ½-inch border all around. Sprinkle on a fourth of the nuts.

  1. Roll the dough up along the long side, like a jelly roll, tucking in the ends and positioning it seam side down. Using the side of your hand like a knife, cut the roll into eight pieces (this causes the dough to crimp partially shut, whereas an actual knife would create a more spiraled appearance). Place the slices on the prepared baking sheets, repeating with the remaining dough and filling. You should have sixteen cookies per baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with two oven racks in the middle. Remove the rugelach from the refrigerator, and use your fingers to crimp the edges shut. (Any jam that oozes out will caramelize beautifully, so don’t worry too much about that.) Sprinkle the cookies generously with the vanilla sugar. Put the sheets into the oven, and immediately decrease the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, then swap the baking sheets, rotate them back to front, and bake for about 15 minutes more, or until the rugelach are golden on top. Transfer them to racks to cool.

Note: To make vanilla sugar: Put about 4 cups of sugar in a bowl or a glass jar with a lid. Take a vanilla-bean pod and carefully cut down the length, flicking out the beans from the center of the vanilla. Submerge the pods in the sugar, close the jar, and let it infuse for at least a day. Use it whenever you want to make a pastry with vanilla, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it, or if you wish to sprinkle it on your rugelach.

From My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories © 2024 by Joan Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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