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Savory "Rugelach" With Port-Soaked Figs, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese

My family's Christmas celebration is always over the top. Not in a Martha Stewart, homemade-calligraphed-placecards sort of way (although that sure sounds nice!), but in a crowded, smorgasbord kind of way. I tell people that I don't have a family; I have a clan. There is a distinction to be made.

It sounds inauthentic to say that you feel an acute sense of place somewhere, almost like you're pretending to feel nostalgic about something you have no relation to. I don't know why this is. I suppose this is because Americans are such an interesting and diverse bunch. You hear so often about people who come from fascinating backgrounds--a mingling of cultures and races from all over the world. And then there's the fact that Americans can't seem to sit still. We move from the country to the city or vice-versa, from the North to the South, east to west. Any "roots" we have are far afield.

But from what I know of my family, we moved from various parts of the British Isles--England and Scotland and Ireland--, settled in the North Carolina highlands, and stayed there for a few hundred years. Most of my family still lives in North Carolina. In spite of myself I do feel incredibly close to something--call it roots or history or heritage--that I cannot exactly name. It's a sense of closeness and intimate belonging, as if you had been stitched together from the Earth itself--its tall grasses and pine needles and wildflowers. It's a feeling that is very visceral for me, and I have no idea if this is what people mean when they say they feel they "belong" somewhere. But that's my take on it.

I don't really advertise my southernness. I've never felt the need to. It's just a part of me. And more than even identifying as southern, I identify with certain places and people and a slow, soothing drawl unique to the place I'm from (and it's not like the movies--there are probably hundreds of different southern accents). This is perhaps why I don't post a lot of overtly "southern" food here. I love southern food--the food my grandmothers and great-grandmothers make. But in recent years southern food has been greatly exaggerated and fussed over, poked and prodded and dissected. I'm just not into that. It seems a disservice somehow.

And so I mostly focus on the food I make in my own kitchen, which sometimes has a southern accent but more often is the sort of pidgin cooking we all do these days--derived from timely hungers, what's in season, and perhaps the zeitgeist now and again. And so I can't offer you any heartwarming "personality" to cling to, but I will offer you what I can give, which is an open mind, the desire to keep learning, and the will to teach you what I know.

These savory cookies were born from a recent obsession with cream cheese pastry dough, which, if you don't have the patience or time for puff pastry, is pretty much the next best thing. It's very tender and rich and gets flaky and brown when baked. Of course, you're not going to get quite the same dramatic "puff" as you do with real puff pastry, and you can't use the two interchangeably, but cream cheese pastry dough has plenty of delicious applications. I love it for little tartlets or turnovers, but it can be equally lovely used as the dough for these savory treats. 

Other articles you might enjoy: Chicken Satay, Chile Fish Sauce Wings, Leek Dip

Savory "Rugelach" With Port-Soaked Figs, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese
Makes about 3 dozen

First make the dough. This can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance or frozen up to a month in advance. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine:
           1 cup all-purpose flour
            1/4 teaspoon salt
Add and pulse until the butter is in very small pieces and distributed throughout the flour:
           1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
Add and pulse until the dough pulls together into a ball and is very soft:
           4 ounces cream cheese
Divide the dough in half. Flatten the dough into discs, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Combine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil:
           1 cup finely chopped dried figs
            1/2 cup port
Cover and remove from the heat until the figs have absorbed most of the port, about 10 minutes. Drain the figs and combine them in a bowl with:
           1 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
            1 cup blue cheese crumbles (use whatever blue cheese you like)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape into rectangles by tapping the dough against the counter on all 4 sides. Roll out the dough into a rectangle between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Trim the dough to straighten the edges.
Sprinkle half the fig mixture over the dough and, using the long edge, roll the dough tightly to form a long log. Place in the freezer. Repeat with the other half of the dough and filling and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Cut the semi-frozen logs into 1/2-inch rounds and place 1 1/2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet or baking stone. Bake until well-browned, about 20 minutes.


Lauren's picture

Since I found it last year, my go-to pastry dough as been a yogurt cheese-based pastry dough (with the same ratios as this recipe and the yogurt cheese in for the cream cheese). It's so lovely and gorgeous! I've also made it using a farmer's goat cheese, which is my favorite, though I don't always have it on hand like I do yogurt. I was looking for a savory pastry-based cookie and found this post, which I then used as inspiration for a cranberry mustard, goat cheese, and pecan and lemon, blueberry, goat cheese, and thyme versions. I had problems with some of them coming partially unrolled while they were baking (perhaps I didn't roll them thin or tight enough?) but i was able to press some of them back together again when I transferred them to a rack to cool. I'm looking forward to trying the figs, port, walnut, and blue cheese version - would be great for a cocktail party. Thanks for the post!
meg's picture

Oh, I love goat cheese pastry! When I used to work on a goat dairy, I had access to all the goat cheese I could stand, so I often made a pastry from it. Yum! As for the problem with the pastries unrolling during baking, I've had the same problem with puff pastry when I make palmiers. I think it must be due to overworking the dough. Don't worry--it happens. At least the results are edible ;)

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