I fell in love with rugelach when I was in college at Vassar in the middle of the gorgeous Hudson Valley. Normally, our cafeteria fare was pretty good for a cafeteria, honestly, but not terribly thrilling on a day to day basis. But a few times during the school year--mostly parents' weekends--the school put on a really delicious spread, and it almost always included rugelach. Vassar had an actual pastry kitchen at that time, and wonderful real pastry chefs, who clearly enjoyed being given a little freedom to strut their stuff. The rugelach were wonderful, and I remember them fondly, even now, 15 years later.
There's not a whole lot of rugelach in Phoenix, where I live now. Every couple years, I'm tempted by the lovely looking platters or rugelach at Sam's Club, but always regret the purchase with the first bite. It might look right, but the taste, the texture, the mouth-feel--nothing about it is good. And so I decided that I needed to learn to make this traditional eastern European pastry.
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Combine butter, cream cheese, and sugar in mixer. Beat until well combined. Add flour and salt, and stir until combined and the flour is just incorporated.
3) Divide dough in half. On a well floured surface, roll out one half of the dough in a large rectangle. (Note: most traditionally, rugelach is made in crescent shapes made from lots of tiny triangles. I do it the easy/shortcut way instead, the way I fondly remember the rugelach from my college days.)
4) Spread half the can of filling in a thin, even layer over the rectangle of dough. I usually don't like the flavor of straight SOLO brand poppy seed filling. I always make my own filling and custard when making poppy seed kolaches, for example. But spread thinly, the SOLO stuff straight from the can actually works really well.
5) Roll the dough up into a tight log. Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar crystals, if desired. Cut into pieces about 1" wide, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the bottoms of the cookie are golden.
Rugelach is also wonderful with all sorts of different fillings. Apricot, cranberry-walnut, cinnamon streusel, chocolate, and more. But poppy seed is my favorite. It's completely worth embarrassing, poppy-seed-in-the-teeth smiles later. Because the flavor of these, the tender bite, the melt-in-your-mouth texture--these rugelach are right. This is what I remember.