Rugelach is a small, cookie-sized pastry that originated in the Eastern European Jewish community. The word rugelach is Yiddish and means "little twists". There are a number of different varieties, but all feature some kind of dough rolled around a filling. Commonly used doughs include shortbreads that contain sour cream (and more recently in the US, cream cheese) and yeasted doughs that require proofing. The most common fillings I encountered were raspberry, chocolate, apricot, raisin, and cinnamon. Other, less common fillings included: poppy, vanilla, mixed seeds and nuts and Nutella.
Interestingly, in Israel, where every single deli, supermarket or food shop sells rugelach, "about eighty percent of the places sell chocolate rugelach [with no nuts]" says Uri Scheft, a master baker who grew up in Israel and Denmark and now oversees the baking operations at Breads Bakery. Scheft also noted that in New York, few bakeries use yeasted doughs (that require proofing) or roll individual pieces of rugelach because it's so labor intensive and time consuming.
Things to keep in mind: New York City's rugelach offerings are as diverse as the city itself. Read the descriptions and tasting notes in the slideshow to determine the best match for your palate. For example, Lee Lee's and Breads Bakery both offer fantastic chocolate rugelach but they couldn't be more different.
I developed the list of bakeries to review using recommendations from bakers, pastry chefs, and from social media and review sites like Yelp. Did I get to all of the places I wanted to? No, not even close. But Thanksgivukkah was fast approaching.
I only included rugelach that were made fresh every day and sold by the piece or 1/4 pound. I didn't include any pre-packed products. I based my recommendations on three factors: freshness, crust or dough texture, and the quality of the filling.
However, after visiting fourteen different bakeries and trying over forty different varieties of rugelach, I found some real gems. At least eight of the fourteen selected bakeries had an outstanding product worthy of a special trip. The remaining six can also be considered "recommended", and may even turn out to be favorites for some, depending on your tastes. I also noted a few reservations with some of the shops. Click through the slideshow above to learn more.