What does rugelach mean in Yiddish?

Rugelach is a traditional Jewish pastry that is a staple in many Jewish homes and bakeries. The name “rugelach” comes from the Yiddish language, which was widely spoken by Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. In Yiddish, “rugelach” means “little twists” or “little corners.” This refers to the distinctive shape of rugelach – crescent-shaped pastries rolled up into a spiral or coil shape. The name captures the look of these tasty treats perfectly!

The Origins and History of Rugelach

Like many Jewish foods, the origins of rugelach are unclear. Some food historians trace it back to medieval times in Eastern Europe, when Jewish cooks created pastries from dough leftovers. The crescent shape may have been inspired by non-Jewish European pastries of Austrian or Hungarian origin. Over the centuries, Jewish bakers added uniquely Jewish touches like raisins, cinnamon, and nuts to create the rugelach we know today.

The first known Jewish cookbook to include a rugelach recipe was the Praktishe Yudishe Kukh published in Warsaw in 1896. This Yiddish cookbook called them “little horns” and included a recipe similar to modern rugelach – rolled dough with a sweet cinnamon filling. As Jewish populations migrated throughout Europe and to America, rugelach became a beloved treat associated with holidays, special occasions, and everyday noshing.

Rugelach in America

In the early 20th century, Jewish bakers introduced rugelach to American consumers. The treats quickly caught on, appealing to Jews and non-Jews alike. As Jewish delis and bakeries popped up in New York and other cities, rugelach became a staple offering alongside bagels, bialys, and other baked goods. Iconic Jewish food brands like Manischewitz brought rugelach into supermarkets, making them readily available nationwide.

Today, rugelach can be found everywhere from artisan bakeries to Costco. American bakers have created innovative twists using fillings like chocolate, jam, fruits, and even savory ingredients. However, traditional cinnamon-raisin rugelach remains a perennial favorite!

The Meaning Behind the Name Rugelach

So what does “rugelach” actually mean in Yiddish? The word comes from the Yiddish root words:

  • Rugl – meaning “corner” or “edge”
  • Akh – a Germanic diminutive suffix, giving the meaning “little corner” or “little edge”

Together, “rugelach” quite literally translates to “little corner” or “little twist” – an apt description of their shape! The Yiddish name captures the unique curled shape that makes rugelach so recognizable.

Other Yiddish Names for Rugelach

In addition to “rugelach,” these pastries go by other Yiddish nicknames:

  • Ruglakh – An alternate Yiddish spelling
  • Roglekh – The masculine plural form in Yiddish grammar
  • Royglakh – A variation used by Eastern European Jews
  • Krantz – Yiddish for “wreath,” referring to their circular shape

The Rugelach Shape and its Symbolism

Beyond just being a descriptor, the rugelach shape has taken on deeper meaning and symbolism:

Circles and Cycles

The round, coiled shape represents circles, cycles and continuity – highly symbolic in the Jewish tradition. Braided breads like challah also hint at this meaning. The circular rugelach evokes the cyclical nature of time, years, and life’s ongoing journey.

Community and Connection

Forming a collective circle, rugelach also embody community, togetherness, and connection. As rugelach link and join together, so do members of the Jewish community and congregation.

Sweetness and Joy

The sweet taste and beloved status of rugelach also imbue the pastry with meanings of joy, celebration, and happiness. Rugelach are often served at holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and other special occasions.

Custom and Tradition

As an enduring Jewish food tradition, rugelach also represent custom, heritage, and ancient roots. Their perpetual presence on Jewish tables connects generations across time.

Rugelach Fillings and Variations

The basic rugelach dough is yeasted or sour cream-based, enriched with eggs and butter to give it a tender, cookie-like texture. Traditional fillings include:

Cinnamon and Raisin

The classic! Rugelach dough is rolled around a cinnamon sugar mixture plus plump raisins and nuts.


Chocolate rugelach feature a chocolate spread or ganache filling for chocolate lovers.

Raspberry or Apricot Jam

Sweet jam provides a tangy fruit filling. Seeds add nice texture.

Nutella or Apple Butter

Nutella or apple butter is swirled inside for a decadent twist.

Poppy Seed and Lemon

Poppy seeds and lemon zest add a lovely citrusy nuance.

Cream Cheese

A smear of tangy cream cheese adds richness.

Rugelach for Jewish Holidays

Rugelach are a traditional part of several Jewish holiday traditions:


Fried foods are a theme for the Hanukkah holiday. The oil-rich, tender dough and array of fillings make rugelach a perfect Hanukkah dessert.


The triangular shape of rugelach is said to resemble Haman’s hat, the antagonist in the Purim story. Eating rugelach on Purim is a fun way to celebrate the defeat of Haman.


Dairy foods are traditionally eaten on Shavuot to symbolize the sweetness of Torah, likened to milk and honey. Rugelach make a fitting Shavuot dessert with their luscious dairy-rich dough.

Rosh Hashanah

Sweet foods for a sweet New Year! Rugelach round out the apples and honey eaten on Rosh Hashanah.

Yom Kippur Break Fast

After fasting for Yom Kippur, rugelach are an easy-to-eat, satisfying treat to break the fast.

Where to Find Authentic Rugelach Today

Traditionally, rugelach are handmade with care by Jewish bakers. Here are some top places to enjoy authentic rugelach today:

B&H Dairy Restaurant, New York City

This kosher Jewish dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side is famous for its old-world rugelach.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Ann Arbor, MI

Artisan Jewish bakers crafting traditional baked goods including raved-about rugelach.

M Andersen & Sons, San Francisco, CA

Bay area Jewish bakery offering New York-style rugelach alongside challah and babka.

Lieber’s Homemade, Los Angeles, CA

Beloved local shop sellingJewish classics like cinnamon-raisin rugelach.

Fine & Shapiro, Philadelphia, PA

Philly Jewish bakery famous for its picture-perfect cinnamon rugelach.

Rugelach Recipes to Bake at Home

Try your hand at this classic Jewish pastry with these highly-rated rugelach recipes:

Traditional Cinnamon Raisin Rugelach

This recipe from Martha Stewart hits all the nostalgic notes. The cream cheese dough comes together easily.

Quick and Easy Cinnamon Rugelach

This recipe from Tori Avey simplifies the technique with a fast food processor dough. Perfect for beginners.

Classic Rugelach

Epicurious’ step-by-step recipe walks you through folding and filling the dough into perfect coils.

Chocolate Babka Rugelach

A fun babka-rugelach mashup from RecipeTinEats with chocolate cinnamon swirl filling.

Rugelach Wreath

Shape your rugelach into a round wreath form for a beautiful presentation from Jenny Steinn.

The Lasting Popularity of Rugelach Pastries

Rugelach hold a beloved place in Jewish cuisine and American baking traditions. These tender, coiled pastries encapsulate the richness of Jewish culture in every bite. The name “rugelach” captures their unique shape – and their equally unique place in Jewish heritage.

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