It might seem that getting eight nights worth of presents is the best thing about Hanukkah, but it isn't. The doughnuts are.
In the United States and in Europe, fried potato latkes are the best- known food for celebrating the legendary miracle of one day's worth of oil that burned in the temple for eight days. But, puffy doughnuts called sufganiyot (which means "sponge," describing the texture) can rival potato pancakes in popularity.
Many food historians say that, in the past, potatoes were more abundant in Northern and Eastern Europe, while in the Middle East and Africa, wheat and other grains were more available. Not surprisingly, when it came to celebrating Hanukkah by cooking foods in oil, people fried what was easiest to get.
Given Americans' love of doughnuts, sufganiyot are growing in popularity. On Long Island, many kosher and kosher-style bakeries make them for Hanukkah. At ZuckerBaker's Kosher Bake Shop in Wantagh, "people go bananas for the doughnuts," said co-owner Donny Bashkin. "We can't make them fast enough," added his partner, Evan Zucker.
Nor can they make them in advance. Unlike most cakes and pies, which have a shelf life of a few days, doughnuts have only a few hours in peak condition. And they are very labor intensive. Once formed, each doughnut must be pierced with a fork before being lowered into hot oil -- otherwise it won't turn over when the bottom is cooked. When both sides are brown, the doughnuts are drained and cooled.
Next, Zucker uses an electric pump filler to inject filling (jelly or custard) into each one. Finally, they are either showered with confectioners' sugar, or dipped in chocolate or vanilla glaze.
Before opening in the morning, ZuckerBaker's might put a tray of sufganiyot in the bakery case, but once customers start coming in, there's no point in displaying them. "They buy them as fast as we make them," Bashkin said.
MAKE YOUR OWN
The absolute freshest doughnuts are the ones you make yourself.
4 1/4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons dry active yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
Vegetable oil, for frying
Powdered sugar, for dusting
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan over medium, heat the milk until steaming but not boiling. Remove the pan from the heat and add the buttermilk. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Whisk in the yeast and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes.
3. Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened and form a ball, about 3 minutes. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing for 2 minutes longer. The dough will be quite sticky. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly coated with vegetable oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a draft-free spot. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
4. Fill a large Dutch oven or deep, heavy frying pan with about 3 inches of oil. Heat over medium to 375 degrees. Line a large plate or sheet pan with paper towels for draining.
5. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Turn the dough out onto surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour, then press to flatten into a rough circle. Fold the dough in half, tucking the "ends" underneath to create a sort of ball. Dust with flour again and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into roughly an 11-by-17-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick.
6. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough lengthwise into 4 equal strips, then cut each strip horizontally, at an angle, to make 6 to 12 diamond-shaped pieces.
7. Working in batches, carefully drop pieces of dough into the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them in the pan. Fry, turning them often with a slotted spoon or tongs, until puffed and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet to drain while frying the remaining sufganiyot. Fill or top as desired and serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar. Makes 24 large to 48 small sufganiyot.
You can use a pastry syringe (available in baking-supply stores) to inject sufganiyot with jam, or you can use a pastry bag. Puncture the side of the doughnut before filling. Easier still is to slice them open with a sharp knife and make a little sufganiyot slider, if you will. Here are some ideas for fillings:
* Sliced banana and hot fudge
* Lemon curd with toasted sliced almonds
* Ricotta mixed with chopped walnuts, raisins and a drizzle of honey
* Cream cheese and chunky strawberry jam