Rugelach is a Jewish pastry originating in Ashkenazy, or European Jewish, culture. It has many alternative spellings, including rugelakh, rugulach, rugalach, ruggalach, and rogelach in the plural, and rugalah and rugala in the singular. The pastry is also sometimes referred to as a butter horn, nut horn, or cream cheese cookie in the United States. Eastern European Jewish immigrants introduced the desert to the United States, where it is now popular even beyond Jewish-American culture.
Rugalach is available in virtually any Jewish bakery, and is eaten year-round, particularly on holidays. It can also be found in many bakeries and grocery stores that do not specialize in Jewish cuisine. It usually consists of a rolled triangle of dough around a filling. The dough is rolled out in a large circle, covered with the filling, and then sliced into triangles like a pizza so that each "slice" can be rolled up. Alternatively, it can be made by rolling a large sheet of dough around a filling and slicing it before baking.
Rugelach is a Yiddish word meaning "little corners," "little twists," or possibly "royal." The pastry dough may be made with or without dairy. According to Kosher dietary rules, meat and dairy cannot be eaten together, but dairy-free rugelach are an appropriate dessert after a meat meal. Cream cheese is sometimes used in the dough, but sour cream dough is thought to be more traditional. The cream cheese version of the cookies is generally believed to be an American innovation, as traditional Eastern European food does not make use of cream cheese.
Many different fillings can be found in rugelach, including fruit preserves such as apricot or raspberry, chocolate, cinnamon, nuts, poppy seeds, raisins, or marzipan. Nearly any sweet filling can be used, and even savory fillings for a twist on the original. The pastry is often brushed with an egg white glaze and sometimes covered with nuts or coarse sugar before baking. The dough can also be rolled out on a cinnamon, sugar, and nut mixture instead of flour for added flavor.
Rugelach has existed since at least the 18th century. According to tradition, the pastry originated to commemorate the expulsion of the Turks from Austria in 1783. The crescent shape of the pastry mirrored the emblem of the Ottoman Empire, so people could symbolically devour their enemy. In many Central and Eastern European languages, rugelach is referred to by the native word for "crescent," such as the German Kipferin.