Grandma’s Roly Poly
I think of roly poly as a quintessential bubbe-style treat (circa 1950-1980s) that went out of fashion when boomer cooks took over the kitchen. Alas, roly poly disappeared along with old faithfuls, such as mun cookies and various haimish squares that were once the mainstays of canasta and bridge night. As part of traditional Jewish baking, roly poly, cookie-cum-pastry confection seems to have its roots (albeit this version is a steamed roly poly pudding) in vintage British cuisine. That, and the fact that traditional roly poly calls for Turkish Delight, seems to indicate that perhaps British Jewish immigrants brought that recipe with them when they hit the American shores. As a kid, I recall it was rare that a Jewish event (b'rit milah, b'nai mitzvah, wedding or Shabbat dinner) didn’t feature a platter of this absolutely amazing delicacy. Indeed, women who made it well became community legends, as in “No one makes roly poly like Ethel”.
I recently revisited roly poly and made several test batches to update tradition and give it some gentle tweaks for today’s palate. I swapped the usual bergamot or rose water-flavored Turkish Delight with kosher Gummy Bears to get that chewy sweetness. That was perfect until I lucked out and found natural berry Turkish Delight in my local spice store – a miracle! I also ditched the glacé cherries (they remind me of fruit cake) with dried apricots and tossed in some dried cranberries with the raisins, which was a huge success. I played around with the dough, but in the end, found that the traditional lean and easy roly poly dough was as contemporary and delicious today as it was years ago. Truth is, overall, there was not a whole lot to ‘fix’ in this sumptuous memory-lane recipe. The only real fix is to remedy the lack of roly poly in the landscape by making some for your next gathering, be it a holiday or Shabbat.
There is one caveat to roly poly, and that is to let them ‘cure’ overnight to give the filling time to soften the baked dough. The taste and texture is totally altered, resulting in pastry that is delicate of crust with an ambrosial filling of all the good things you can stuff into it. Incidentally, since roly poly is so hard to describe, if you like rugelach, you will love roly poly. 'Nuff said. You can play fast and loose with the filling, (i.e. a bit more of this or that doesn’t make a huge difference).
Yield: Two 12-inch rolls, about 10-15 slices each
- Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper.
For the dough
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, orange juice and oil. Fold in the flour, salt and baking powder to make a soft but rollable dough (you might need to add a few tablespoons more flour). Knead dough very briefly and gently on a lightly floured board only to make smooth and cohesive. Don’t overwork it. Cover dough with a towel and let rest 15 minutes or refrigerate until you need it (up to three days).
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Stack two baking sheets together and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured board, roll out half the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch thick, to form a rectangle 12 by 8 inches.
To fill the dough
- Spread half of jam on each rectangle. Sprinkle on half of listed ingredients (coconut, raisins, nuts, cinnamon, cherries, and Turkish delight). Turn in ends, and roll up into jellyroll shape. Cut into 3/4-inch slices and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown all over, 35-40 minutes. Let cool a bit and then sift confectioners’ sugar on top.