What happens when you combine tangy cream-cheese-flecked pastry dough with a dollop of cherry-almond filling? Magic — pure magic. Rolled together into a charming shape reminiscent of a crescent roll, these addictive pastries are almost like a doughier handheld cherry pie, though really they're in a class all by themselves.
Two warnings: first off, these are not the sort of treat you whip up at a moment's notice. Make certain to devote a lazy afternoon to the process, though they're hardly as involved as homemade petit fours or a laminated-dough pastry like a danish. Secondly, make more than you think you'll need, even if that means doubling the recipe, as it's near-impossible to devour just one. (If doubling, make two separate batches of the dough, though the filling can be doubled to no ill effect.) Otherwise, enjoy!
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
4 cups (20 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 pound cream cheese, chilled
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cups (12 ounces) dried tart cherries
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (4 1/4 ounces) slivered almonds, toasted
1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
Combine the butter, flour, and 1 tablespoon salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the chunks of butter are broken up and the mixture has taken on the consistency of wet sand, about 30 seconds.
Transfer the butter-flour mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the cream cheese and sour cream. Mix the ingredients together vigorously with your hands, breaking up the cream cheese and working it into the flour with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly and only pea-size chunks of the cream cheese remain.
Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Form each half into a rough disk and wrap it up tightly. Refrigerate the dough for at least 20 minutes or overnight. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Combine the cherries, sugar, water, and a generous pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce the heat and simmer until syrupy, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and add the almond extract. Let the mixture rest until it's cool enough to handle.
Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and process until crushed, about 10 seconds. Transfer the almonds to a bowl and add the reserved cherry mixture to the food processor; process until the mixture has a jam-like consistency, scraping down the sides of the machine as necessary. Add the almonds back in and process for a few seconds, until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined; allow the filling to cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat.
Unwrap one of the discs of dough, and work it into a cohesive ball on a well-floured surface. The dough will be very firm at first and may crack around the edges, so keep working it and bringing the cracks together until it's smooth, adding more flour as needed to keep your hands from sticking to the dough.
Roll out the dough into a 12- to 14-inch circle of even thickness. Fold the circle into a half moon and use a knife to trim away any uneven or protruding edges, then unfold the dough so it's a circle again.
Use an offset spatula to spread half of the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border free of filling. Then use a dough cutter or pizza cutter to cut the circle into 16 equal-size wedges, just as you would a pizza.
Then, working with one wedge at a time, roll a wedge up to make the rugelach, starting with the wide end and rolling toward the pointy end. Transfer the rugelach to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Brush the tops of the rugelach with egg wash, sprinkle with decorative sugar, and bake, rotating the tray halfway through cooking, until the pastries are light golden brown, 18 to 23 minutes.