Sonya Sanford: “Braids,” Pacific Northwest Jewish Cuisine and Marionberry Rugelach

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 44
February 22, 2024
Photo by Janine Namgung

“Jewish food differs in any region,” chef, writer and podcast host Sonya Sanford told the Journal. “That’s because of what’s available to people and what the cultural trends are.”

For instance, on the East Coast, and in many other places in American Jewish food culture, everyone prefers cold, smoked Nova lox.

“In the Pacific Northwest, hot, smoked lox are more dominant because indigenous people were hot smoking fish,” said Sanford, “That kind of firmer, flakier, usually heavily spiced seasoned fish is very popular, and salmon is incredibly central to Pacific Northwest Jewish food.”

Sanford, who has been studying cuisine in the diaspora for more than 15 years, is author of “Braids: Recipes From My Pacific Northwest Jewish Kitchen.”

The child of Ukrainian immigrants, who left during the Cold War, Sanford grew up in Seattle and is the first born American in her family.  Sanford explains that Jews have been in the Northwest since the mid 1800s, and have been a small, meaningful community there for more than 100 years. It’s uniquely mixed with Sephardic and Ashkenazi backgrounds.

“I had this understanding that food travels to new places and emerges as something new,” she said. “That was always something I was curious about.”

As an “immigrant kid,” Sanford was expected to be a lawyer, doctor or academic. She ended up working in the television industry after college.

“At some point my love of food became really strong and through a series of unpredictable events, I became a personal chef in Hollywood,” she said.

That led to a career in food media, producing cooking shows, food styling, catering and pop-ups in Los Angeles. Sanford eventually returned to the Northwest to open her first restaurant, a Pacific Northwest Jewish Deli.

Although Sanford loved Los Angeles for its food culture, its produce and her friendships there, she missed home and always knew she’d come back.

“Upon returning, all those parts of me that I’d always carried with me started to blossom more,” she said.

Sanford opened her Jewish deli, six months before Covid began, which was unfortunate timing. They were hitting their stride as the pandemic hit, and tried to keep it going for another six months.

“After it ended, so many people kept asking me for recipes, kept wanting to share food or asked me if I would start another restaurant or catering. and I just couldn’t do that,” she said.

Six months after her restaurant closed, Sanford started writing “Braids.” Her goal with the restaurant was to create community and connections, share stories around these foods and make people feel safe, nourished and cared for. She hoped her book would do that, as well.

For a taste of a classic Jewish recipe with a northwest element, try Sanford’s marionberry rugelach. Recipe is below.

“They’re a really simple rugelach recipe with a cream cheese dough, and they’re just so beautiful,” Sanford said. “Marionberries are … a little bit of a mix between a blackberry and a raspberry, but I think that’s too simplistic of a description, and in Rugulach they’re just such a wonderful filling.”

Sanford’s rugelach is made with marionberry jam or preserves, which is available in stores and online. The recipe, however, can be used with whatever flavor jam or preserves you like.

“That’s definitely a recipe that I feel like anyone can make, and it can turn out beautifully and deliciously,” Sanford said.

Learn more at Sonyasanford.com and follow her on Instagram @sonyamichellesanford.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Sonya Sanford’s Marionberry Rugelach

Makes 2 dozen cookies

For the dough:

1 cup (2 sticks /226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 ounces (226 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

For the sweet berry filling:

⅔ cup marionberry jam, or substitute with jam of your choice

⅔ cup sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon of ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

Turbinado/Raw sugar for a sweet topping

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and salt together until they are light and fluffy, on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the flour to the butter and cream cheese mixture, and mix on medium-low until the flour is just incorporated. Be careful not to overmix.

Transfer the dough onto a clean surface and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a disc and wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or beeswax wrap. Let the dough chill for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first disc of dough into a 12-14-inch circle. Do not worry if the circle is uneven or if the edges aren’t perfect.

Spread 2-3 tablespoons of jam onto the dough using an offset spatula or spoon; make sure the jam is in an even thin layer, too much jam will result in a leaky mess. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar on top of the jam.

Cut your circle into 16 even triangular wedges, like you would cut a pizza. Roll up each rugelach from the outside-in (wide end towards the point), and place them on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Ideally, put the cookies into the freezer for 15 minutes before baking. They can also be frozen for up to 2 months at this stage. Before baking, brush each with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little turbinado or raw sugar and/or flake salt.

Bake for 20-25 min, or until golden brown all over. Transfer to cooling racks. These cookies will store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.


*To make these cookies gluten-free, substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free 1:1 mix.

*I do not recommend substituting vegan cream cheese or vegan butter. This recipe simply works best with dairy products.

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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