Saga of sufganiyot

jerusalem | In Israel, the culinary delight most often associated with Chanukah is the treat known in Hebrew as sufganiyot, or jelly doughnut.

Despite its vast popularity, not too many people know this delectable confection was the brainchild of an anonymous 15th-century pastry chef.

Written in Nuremberg in 1485, “Kuchenmeisterei” (Cooking Mastery) was a treatise on mastering the art of cake making. Although the book contained little that was considered daring, the author included one recipe so radical that all of Europe became excited. It is to this unknown genius that the world owes an enormous debt, for he had invented the jelly doughnut.

By the 16th century, nearly every European nation had developed its own form of the pastry, and these simple treats invariably became associated with holidays. In France, without jelly, they are known as beignets and are especially popular during the Christmas season. The beignets are served piping hot and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. In Spain, where they are filled with custard and called bartolilos, they are most enjoyed on the evenings of Oct. 30, marking All Saint’s Eve, and on Dec. 31.

In Germany, filled with sweet jellies, these doughnuts are called Bismarcken after the Prussian statesman Prince Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck, of whom Berliners have always been particularly proud. Interestingly enough, even though these are considered traditional fare during Fasching or Shrove Tuesday, there is no historical evidence that Bismarck, who did not like sweets, ever tasted them.

Because there is neither an historic nor religious connection between Judaism and the jelly doughnut, some wonder precisely why this treat has become associated with Chanukah. Simple enough, eating this deep-fried delicacy commemorates the miracle of the oil. In fact, so omnipresent are doughnuts during the Chanukah season that they are on sale at every grocery store, supermarket, kiosk, cafe and espresso bar in Israel, and at Jewish bakeries in the United States.

Sufganiyot | Makes about 2 dozen

1 oz. dry yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten lightly
3/4 tsp. salt
apricot, strawberry or raspberry jam for filling
confectioners’ sugar as required
oil for deep frying

Combine the yeast and 2 Tbs. each of the flour, sugar and warm water. Cover with a towel and let stand until the mixture rises.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the remaining flour and sugar with the oil, egg and salt. Mix well and add 1 cup of warm water and the yeast mixture. Stir until the batter is smooth and firm. Cover the batter with a towel and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk. This takes about 30 minutes.

After the batter has risen, turn it onto a well-floured board. Beat down the dough, cover with a damp towel and let rise again. Cover the mixture with a towel and flatten by hand. Using a wine glass, punch out individual pieces from the dough. Cover these and allow to rise once again for about 1/2 hour.

Drop the individual pieces into a large pot containing very hot oil and fry until both sides are brown, turning the doughnuts occasionally as they fry. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent toweling. Using a cake decorator filled with jam, fill the inside of each doughnut. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Beignets | Makes about 20

3/4 cup flour
2 Tbs. butter
8 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar as required
vegetable oil for deep frying

In a saucepan combine the flour and butter with 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and then lower the flame to maintain a light boil for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Remove from the flame and, one at a time, beat in the eggs, beating the batter for about 3 minutes after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and stir in thoroughly.

A tablespoon at a time, drop the batter into deep oil that has been heated to 350 degrees. Cook until golden brown, turning the beignets occasionally. Drain on absorbent toweling and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot.