Sufganiyot, the Israeli jelly donuts popular among Jews during Hanukkah, are at the top of their game right now, having been embraced wholeheartedly by the Thanksgivukkah lobby. That your humble blogger has never remembered encountering them, ever, during a holiday season before this one should only affirm the pronouncement that sufganiyot are having a moment.
On this very site today you can find a video of Joan Nathan making sufganiyot stuffed with apricot jam (she recommends sweet potato puree, pecan pie filling, pear or apple butter for next week’s dual festivities). We’ve also featured a pumpkin sufganiyot recipe from Gil Marks, author of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, in our perfect Thanksgivukkah dinner menu (there’s a recipe for deep-fried turkey too, so you should probably take a look).
But everyone wasn’t always so gung-ho about sufganiyot. After all, they are a notoriously difficult pastry to pull off. In Sara Ivry’s wondrously detailed account of trying to make the deified donuts a few years back (“At first sticky and tattered-looking, the mass gained coherence with each thrust of my palms and soon something magical—miraculous, even—happened: dough”), she questions exactly how—and when—these jelly-filled treats came to such seasonal prominence:
The exact origin of these doughnuts and their association with the Jewish tradition is uncertain. Leviticus makes reference to “unleavened cakes mingled with oil”; Joan Nathan tells of a Bukharan fable in which Adam and Eve partake of these delights after getting the boot from the Garden of Eden; and there is the obvious symbolism of oil-reliant food, since Hanukkah celebrates the miraculous single day’s worth of oil that kept a menorah lit for eight. But in Platonic terms, it’s simply fried dough—aka zeppoli or beignet or loukamades or, in this case, sufganiya.
Simply fried dough they may be, their Thanksgivukkah appeal is off the charts. Maybe I’ll even see one in person this year.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.