wild turtle crossing

slow: writer at play

Vivian Henoch

Vivian Henoch
Northville, Michigan, USA
June 17
Writer and editor:myJewishDetroit.org
I write around. Follow me on Twitter @vivianhenoch or @myJDetroit


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 18, 2011 8:47PM

Russian Tea Biscuits. A Long-Lost Family Recipe.

Rate: 20 Flag
This could be my grandmother’s recipe
for Russian Tea Biscuits.  (But it’s not.)

Lost.  So what if I have long-lost relatives with histories I’ll never know?  Lost forever are the deepest roots of my father’s side of the family tree. How careless we were with stories never told, photographs never taken, holidays never shared, recipes for life never tasted. Hard as it is to imagine, I have first cousins in California I’ve never met.   (Hazel, Rozelyn, Sandra, where are you?
This is not a lament.  Growing up, I had all the privileges of a tight-knit family.  My sister and parents, my grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins all lived in close proximity in Cleveland.  That’s just it. Like so many assimilated Jewish families -- orphans of history -  we had no family history to speak of beyond our grandparents’ generation.   
This little I know: my ethnic origin is Russian.  There were pogroms. There was revolution.  There was a great aunt imprisoned in Siberia, and no doubt there was high drama in my grandparents coming to America at the turn of the 20th Century.  After all these years,   all I’ve gathered is that my maternal grandfather was around 14 years old when he emigrated to this country with his older brothers. He was a tailor, a Union organizer,  a leader in the Cleveland community.  But I never knew him.  The only grandparent I had was my grandmother who came to America at an undisclosed age, a baby in her mother’s arms.  (The family was from Riga.  Latvia? Or Russia? Who knows what their ethnic origin was.)  In the kitchen? My grandmother broke every kosher rule in the book.  With delicious results.  
So. You want roots?  You plant yourself firmly where you want to grow.  You want tradition?  You start one yourself.  You want memories?  You improvise, you explore, you celebrate and create memories of your own.   Really, isn’t this what all generations must do?
Russian tea biscuits. My way.  
And so I made my own magic this week: rattling in the kitchen at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 15th. Taking out baking pans. Preheating the oven. Rolling pastry dough.  Chopping nuts and raisins. Slathering jam.  Making Russian tea biscuits.  In memory of my grandmother.  In celebration of  a birthday. The birth day of my first grandchild. 
Mason.  One day old.  Happy in the world so far.      
So! Now that I’m a brand new grandma, Russian tea biscuits are the most natural “grandmotherly cookies” I know. Not to be mistaken for the more familiar powder-sugared Russian tea cakes, also known as Mexican wedding cakes, Russian tea biscuits look like giant rugelach. Rolled like a strudel, not as rich, nor as sweet and flaky as the cream cheese pastry of classic rugelach, the dough is cookie crumbly, almost like a scone. Truly a "hybread," that is to say a hybrid pastry.      
Searching for Russian tea biscuits, you won’t find them just anywhere. 
While their origin may be Eastern European, I’ve found no place that makes Russian tea biscuits better than Lax & Mandel Kosher Bakery in Cleveland, Ohio.   Lax & Mandel opens after sundown every Saturday, to bake through the night for the Sunday morning rush. If you go there around 11:30 p.m. -- you’re in for all manners of treats hot out of the oven.  But the best of all, and worth every bite,  are the tea biscuits, either fruit-filled or the chocolate nut variety.  I’m sure my grandmother made her own version of this scrumptious pastry, but I can't recall it, so wistful and vivid is my memory of Lax and Mandel and the wonders of their Russian Tea biscuits fresh out of their yeasty night kitchen.  
Is your mouth watering?  Based on a recipe I discovered in Five Star Sensations: Compiled and Edited by the Auxillary of University Hospitals of Cleveland -- here’s the best I can do for you:   
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup  (1 stick) margarine melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, plus 1 yolk, reserving white
1/4 cup orange juice 
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 1 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2  to 2 cups Golden or Sultana raisins
Raspberry jam or any kind of preserves  
1/4 cup coconut 
lemon juice 
1 egg white
Combine all dough ingredients, except the reserved egg white, and mix well. You should have a golden citrous-y mixture.  Divide dough into six balls and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Grease cookie sheets
Combine ingredients for filling and mix well
Working with one dough ball at a time, roll out on a heavily floured board into a 6 to 7 inch square.  Spread raisins and jam, sprinkle with filling and roll up jelly-roll style.
Slice into 1 1/2 inch pieces and brush with beaten egg white.  Bake on prepared cookie sheets 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown. 
Remove from cookie sheets immediately, cool and enjoy.  
As for the batch of tea biscuits I baked last Tuesday morning, they’re in the freezer (where they keep well). Next week, they’ll make their debut with kugel and bagels at the baby’s naming ceremony. . .a “first birthday party” of sorts. 
(Smiling now.  Little does he know.)  
(Oh my, isn't he yummy?)   

As always, thanks for dropping by.   Photos by V. Henoch. 

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First of all congratulations on the birth of your grandchild. My daughter is also born on the same day, which puts a new twist on the Ides of March.

I loved to read your philosophy on roots and relate to it in some way as I left my mother land many years ago. Your recipes are what will keep tradition and a sense of identity alive as they grow and improvise with time.

L'Chayim !
Yes, yes... thank you Fusun! L'Chaim, indeed. (Reminding me that I mean to end my post with that note!)
Wonderful recipe and such sweet pictures!

Shabbat Shalom. xox
CongratS on all "fronts!"
I'm sure you have many joyful memories of cookies, and all else, coming up. They'll dovetail into the the ones from the past and be a gift to your beautiful, beautiful boy. Congratulations! A little video gift: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt3IOdDE5iA

:) Rated
As " Nonni" to two delicious grandsons I say you are about to embark on a terrific ride! Mason is beautiful and those cookies are calling my name.
Oh my goodness, he is yummy. What an adorable child!

And these cookies look like a true labor of love. I only recently discovered ruggelah, and I think I must be at least part Jewish, I could l live on them.

I grew up in Cleveland. West side. Where are your peeps from?
Robin, Midwest, Theresa, lschmoopie... Thank you all for your kind words and well wishes! (I had fun with this week's post, I'm sure you can tell.)

Jeanette -- East siders: I grew up in Cleveland Heights. Raised two sons in Shaker Heights. Moved to Detroit, (of all places!) eleven years ago, and have been searching for a decent bakery and Russian
tea biscuits ever since. (Though I must admit to discovery of the chocolate bobkeh here -- some day will do a post on that extravaganza!)
Mazeltov!!! And look at all that hair -- how adorable he is.

This recipe sounds like something my Russian Bubba used to make...can you delete the coconut? I am not crazy about coconut but it is for texture and not taste I can live with this -- they sound delish!!

I have a bakery right down the street from me here in LA, the Beverlywood Bakery that makes strudels and danish with fillings my Bubba used t make too with sour lemon. OMG I thought I'd never taste that again...did not like it as a kid but nostalgia really makes certain foods so worth it.

Have fun at the Pidna Ben (sp?) and again congrats. You must be kvelling!
gorgeous recipe, gorgeous story. and wishing Mason and you much happiness.
Congratulations! What a wonderful name. Searching for the past and making new beginnings, isn't that the American story? I really enjoyed your story about Russian tea biscuits, they look scrumptious.
First, congratulations on your adorable grandson. =o)

You ask if my mouth is watering-- the answer is an emphatic YES!

Let me at those Russian tea biscuits!
My mother, who is pretty WASP, was richly complimented by her Jewish gentleman friend when she tried making her own rugelach a few years ago. He suggested genetic testing, as there HAS to be some Jewish blood in our ancestry somewhere to account for such delicious cookies. Your Russian Tea Biscuits sound fantastic.
Many thanks to sharing the joy of baking for grandchildren.

Vendela - I added the coconut for texture and sweetness, but the "original" recipe doesn't call for it. For tartness, try orange rind instead. The original recipe also calls for sugar in the filling -- but with the jam it's not necessary. (Less sugar is more in my book).

bbd- thanks a bunch
Grace- great to hear from you. I look forward to your recipe on OS each week
Shiral --thank you! And thank you for reminding me how to spell rugelach. Lach!
The only thing lovelier than those biscuits--and your prose--is the adorable grandson. My, what a lot of hair! And what a wonderful smile!
Congratulations - and the tea biscuits look luscious!
I love the story and the cookies. I can't believe the hair on this beautiful baby. Congratulations. -r-
This is an absolutely wonderful blog. I am so glad I have run across this. Thank you. And congratulations on the wonderful addition.
Ooh, that baby! Welcome, Mason! Your story is my husband's story, Vivian. Grandma Betty from "Minsk near Pinsk", alone on a boat to America at 16, forever estranged from her siblings. Made her way as a seamstress before the 4o years at a cake factory. If only she had learned to make Russian tea biscuits there instead of Ring Dings!
Mazel tov!

I love rugelach. This recipe looks great. Thanks for sharing.
So glad to hear from y'all, and thanks for sharing your comments. Sampling the rest of the posts in the kitchen challenge this evening. Lots of good ones to choose!
Beautiful baby! I'm printing off the recipe - will make these. I grew up in Lake County, grandparents lived off E. 131st for years, then Garfield Hts. Remember the West Side Market?

West Side Market. Of course... I still head there for recreation from time to time when I'm in Cleveland.

Detroit has a huge, fascinating and sprawling farmers' market -- the Detroit Eastern Market where as many as 40,000 will flock to buy produce and flowers once the season starts again.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment.
Neat stuff! I've never heard of Russian tea biscuits; your recipe sounds yummy. And your new grandson looks yummy too--what an amazing head of hair he's got!
That is a GORGEOUS baby! Congratulations! If your tea biscuits are half as yummy...
I loved your paragraph about roots. Congrats on your beautiful grandson. The Russian Tea Biscuits look delish!
Congratulations Grandma! Thank you for sharing the Russian tea cookie recipe and photos of your grandchild. Beautiful child. Beautiful smile. And who said newborns don't smile? My son did, and so has your grandson.
Congratulations, Vivian, on being a grandmother to that beautiful baby! And lucky little one needs to grow teeth so he can have these yummy cookies!