Every baker in Israel makes jelly doughnuts, or sufganiyot, for the eight days of Hanukkah. The word sufganiyot comes from the Greek sufan (“puffed,” “fried,” and “spongy”) as well as from the Hebrew sofiget (“water”) and sofeg (“to blot”). Though traditionally sufganiyot were stuffed with jelly, today innovative Israeli bakers fill them with Nutella, lemon curd, and even foie gras.
While visiting Israel recently, I made some sufganiyot for my old friends Rafi and Liz Magnes, who live in Jaffa. Rafi waxed nostalgic about the early doughnuts he ate when he was growing up in Jerusalem in the 1950s. “The best sufganiyot were at Cafe Allenby near the center of the city,” he said. “Near the window was a huge bath of oil that was bubbling and a machine that would drop the doughnuts into the oil. There was a lady who would turn them over when they were golden. Then she would fish them out and they would dry out on paper. Afterward another machine would inject them with red jam. What was good was they were so light with a lot of sugar and so big. Everybody in Jerusalem used to buy these sufganiyot for Hanukkah. They were unreal.”
This year, the first night of Hanukkah falls the night before Thanksgiving, which also happens to be my daughter Daniela’s birthday. So we’ll feast on sufganiyot stuffed with sweet potato puree, pecan pie filling, pear or apple butter, or maybe even Speculoos spread. Make some yourself using this simple recipe, and use your imagination with the fillings.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.