Sufganiyot, aka jelly doughnuts, are Israel’s Hanukkah food of choice. Before researching these fried confections, I thought that latkes were the traditional Hanukkah food the world round. After all, latkes are featured in every Hanukkah menu in all my food magazines – how is a shiksa like me to know otherwise? But no, latkes are actually an American favorite, while sufganiyot are more popular in Israel.
Because Hanukkah officially celebrates the “miracle of oil” during the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated by the Syrians, fried foods are a common way to commemorate the holiday. The delicacies range from region to region – fried apple fritters, fried dough dipped in honey, and, of course, fried potato pancakes and deep-fried jelly doughnuts are all traditional Hanukkah fare.
In a piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jewish cookbook author Gil Marks explains that sufganiyot actually originated in Poland. The Jewish community there adopted a local preserve-filled doughnut, the paczki, into their food traditions, which they renamed the ponchik. The ponchik eventually made its way to Israel, where it became known as sufganiyot.
Nowadays sufganiyot are much more than jelly doughnuts – fillings run the gamut from different preserves, to custards, to chocolate. Last year, Haaretz journalist Michal Palti complained that Israeli bakeries were ruining sufganiyot with “designer” flavors – his description of “trendy” sufganiyot fillings reminded me of the array of flavors at DC’s cupcake shops.
Palti would have been pleased that I chose a more traditional recipe for my first attempt at sufganiyot – the simple dough is flavored with nutmeg, fried in oil, and filled with jam. Although he probably would have disapproved of my filling choice – marionberry jam, a local Oregon specialty. Mostly I chose it because I had an unopened jar in my cabinet, leftover from a visit to Oregon.
Making and assembling the sufganiyot dough was quite simple, but the deep frying was another matter. I’ve only deep fried a handful of times, and my one previous experience with doughnuts was a disaster (burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, the entire batch was inedible). I got myself a deep-fry thermometer and tried to be vigilant about the oil temperature, but every time I added another batch to the pot, the temperature fluctuated wildly. My balls of dough turned dark brown in about 10 seconds – not the 40 seconds per side that the recipe calls for. Clearly I need some deep frying lessons. Or a real deep fryer, not a pot filled with oil.
My sufganiyot came out much browner and darker than I wanted them to be, although they were still tasty. Rolled in sugar, they even looked rather pretty. And I liked biting into the crisp, sugary crust and finding a pillowy interior filled with sweet-tart jam. No wonder these became such a popular treat in Israel. I have to say, I like them even better than latkes.