The sweet side of Chanukah

Chanukah conjures up images of the soft glow of candles, foil-wrapped chocolates, spinning dreidels, children unwrapping gifts, and platters of potato and onion latkes. I love my latkes, all crispy and greasy right out of the pan, with alternating mouthfuls of sour cream and apple sauce. My favorite Chanukah meal goes something like this: LARGE, crunchy bite of latke loaded with sour cream, another large oniony-salty bite of latke with applesauce, repeat!

But, Chanukah is eight nights long and, alas, I cannot sustain the regimen for eight nights. So, this year, I am exploring the sweet side of the holiday. Israel has a delicious tradition of sufganiyot -decadent doughnuts-and this is the tradition I am researching. Sweet, lighter-than-air doughnuts with an indulgent glaze. Delicious! 

Think doughnuts are out of your league? Think again! Doughnuts are easy to make, and fun for the entire family. A few simple rules make frying safe and simple:

a. Use good quality oil; I only fry in extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is healthy and does not make your doughnuts taste olive-y!
b. Use common sense. Once the oil is heating up, stay in the room. Use a thermometer, which is handy and necessary for any serious cooks. 
c. Get the kids involved in glazing and decorating.
d. Enjoy the sweet side of the holiday and make some good… dough! Have a freilichen (happy) Chanukah!

Gluten-free Doughnuts

(Yields: 20 small beignets)

Before you decide you don't need gluten-free doughnuts, check out this recipe. Melt-in-your-mouth, lighter-than-air globes of vanilla-scented cheese barely bound together and fried to a delicate crust. These doughnuts are perfect for your holiday celebration. 

Though cassava flour and tapioca flour are often used interchangeably, there are, in fact, distinct differences. Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root through a process of washing and pulping. The wet pulp is then squeezed to extract a starchy liquid. Once all the water evaporates from it, the tapioca flour remains. Cassava flour, on the other hand, is the whole root, simply peeled, dried, and ground. This means cassava flour has more fiber and "substance," which allows this flour to be used to bake cakes, tortillas and many other baked goods.

  • ¼ cup yucca/cassava flour
  • ¾ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped or 2 teaspoons extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cup farmer's cheese, drained of any liquid
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 4 cups extra virgin olive oil, for frying

To roll doughnuts in: honey cinnamon and sugar, powdered sugar.

Line a plate with several layers of absorbent paper towels.

  1. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  2. Mix vanilla, zest, cheese, eggs, and milk into dry mixture with your hands (feel for any pockets of dry flour) until a soft dough is formed. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Heat oil to 350 degrees . With slightly damp hands, roll walnut-size scoop of dough between hands to form soft ball and place in oil Dough will sink, then rise and will "dance and twirl" in the oil. Cook until medium golden brown.
  4. Transfer to lined plate and drizzle with honey, then roll in sugar, cinnamon, or powdered sugar.

Baker's Dozen Doughnuts

(Yields: 12 3-inch doughnuts)

  • 1¼ cups whole milk, heated to about 90 degrees
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more rolling out the doughnuts
  • 2 quarts oil, for frying 

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, and lightly dust the sheets with flour. Line 2 additional sheets with paper towels.

  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine warm milk, yeast, and 1 cup flour. Stir together. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
  2. With a dough fitted on the mixer, and the motor on LOW, add eggs, butter, vanilla extract, sugar, salt, and remaining flour.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Turn the dough out and place in a lightly greased bowl if making doughnuts same day. If not, lightly oil the dough and place in a Ziploc bag; store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
  4. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into desired size doughnut with cooking cutters. If you making sufganiyot , do not cut out a center. Be sure to save the doughnut holes if you are making un-filled doughnuts. Allow the doughnuts to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
  5. In a large heavy gauge pot or Dutch oven, heat oil to 360 degrees . Fry several doughnuts, and holes, for about 2 minutes per side. Use chopsticks to gently flip the doughnuts over and fry the other side. Transfer fried doughnuts to paper towel-lined sheets.

Luscious Vanilla-Bean Glaze

  • 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  1. Whisk sugar, milk, salt, and vanilla bean seeds in a medium bowl until smooth.
  2. Spoon over doughnuts.
  3. If glaze becomes too hard, add a teaspoon of milk at a time to thin it out.

Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Heat cream in sauté pan, over low heat until a whiff of steam, but not boiling.
  2. Pour hot cream over chocolate and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in butter and vanilla.
  4. Spoon over doughnuts.

You can spoon vanilla bean glaze on one half and dark chocolate on the other half for a black-and-white doughnut!

Topping variations

Both glazes are sticky before drying and can hold a variety of delicious and fun toppings including (but in no way limited to): colorful and crunchy cereals, mini chocolate chips, chocolate shavings, chopped pretzels, freeze-dried berries, coconut, mini marshmallows (which you can brûlée with a blowtorch), cookie crumbs, graham cracker crumbs, and gummi candies.

Leftover doughnuts (as if!) can be stored, covered, at room temperature for 1 day.

Laura Frankel is a noted Kosher Chef and Culinary Director for Jamie Geller's Test Kitchens and Kosher Network International. She is the author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes (Agate Publishing). Her third book, Clean Slate Jewish Cooking is to be published in 2018. She is the founder of Shallots Restaurants in Chicago, Skokie, and New York, and she served as Executive Chef for Wolfgang Puck for 8 years. 

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