A nine-step lesson in preparing a delicious Israeli Hanukkah treat
There are few things more miraculous than a homemade jelly doughnut, fresh from the frying pan. Tossed with a dusting of crunchy sugar, its crisp exterior gives way to a fluffy, yeasty interior and a sweet burst of hot jam that makes biting into one almost a religious experience. So it's fitting that, in Israel , this heavenly treat has become a tradition during the holiday of Hanukkah.
Israeli jelly doughnuts, called sufganiyot, bear a strong resemblance to the Viennese confections called krapfen-the recipe was probably brought to Israel by Austrian Jews who immigrated in the mid-20th century. Being, like latkes, fried in oil, the doughnuts were a perfect fit for Hanukkah's culinary symbolism (fried foods commemorate the Biblical miracle of a small amount of sacred lamp oil burning in the Temple for eight nights rather than the expected one). They were soon adopted by the young country as a holiday favorite.
Sufganiyot are not difficult to make, but they do include several techniques that could be tricky for yeast-dough beginners. To walk you through the process, I tested a recipe by Jewish cooking expert Joan Nathan. If you want to incorporate this tasty tradition into your own Hanukkah celebrations, just follow my tips and step-by-step instructions.
- Stock Up
Unlike most recipes for yeast doughs, this one does not "proof" the yeast by first adding it to warm water and waiting to see if it foams. Since the yeast is added directly to the warm milk and sugar, have plenty of extra milk and sugar (as well as yeast, of course) on hand in case your first packet proves to be "dead."
- Plan Ahead
Like most yeast doughs, this recipe requires two rises-the first after mixing and kneading, and another after forming the doughnuts. Nathan's recipe allows the dough to be mixed a day ahead and then left to rise overnight in the refrigerator-a boon if you're making the doughnuts for brunch and don't want to get up at the crack of dawn to begin preparing them. If you're serving them later in the day, start the dough in the morning and do the first rise in a warm, draft-free place (rather than the refrigerator) for one-and-a-half hours or until the dough has doubled in size. Done this way, the whole process will take about four hours.
- Make the Recipe Your Own
In true Jewish cooking tradition, I tinkered with the recipe. I made the doughnuts slightly larger, used a bit more filling, and used a method of forming them that I found easier: cutting smaller, thicker rounds and then stretching them to accommodate the jam. See the step-by-step demo, below, for details of my changes. However you make them, be sure to pinch firmly when you seal the two rounds of dough, and beware of overfilling. Otherwise you'll end up with leaking jam after the second rise.
- Reroll If You Like
I couldn't stand to waste all the dough left after cutting (especially after I sampled some of the delicious, cinnamony stuff), so I rerolled the scraps and used them to make additional doughnuts. The "leftover" doughnuts were not quite as fluffy as their first-round siblings, but they were still quite good.
- Timing Is Everything
Like all miraculous things, the beauty of jelly doughnuts is fleeting. Eaten practically right out of the pan (cool for a minute to avoid burning your mouth on the hot jam), they are a wonder. An hour or two later, when they've cooled completely, they will still be delicious, but will lack that over-the-top perfection. By the next day, the exteriors will have lost their crispness, the sugar may have begun to absorb moisture, and the interiors will have become tougher and drier, rather like day-old bread. As with bread, storing them in paper, rather than plastic, bags will help increase their shelf life.
The best method for getting the milk to the proper temperature for yeast to grow is to bring it to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, remove it from the heat and whisk in the sugar, pour the mixture into a bowl, and cool it to 90° F. Then mix in the yeast and let it sit for about five minutes, until it foams.
Separate the eggs, beat the egg whites, and set them aside in the refrigerator for sealing the rounds later. Add the egg yolks and the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients, mix with a wooden spoon, and dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
Gently knead the dough for a minute or two, then make a well in the center and add very soft or melted butter. Knead again until the butter is absorbed (the dough will get oily, but this is not a problem). Form the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl, and cover it with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Let it rise in the refrigerator overnight, or in a warm, draft-free place for approximately one-and-a-half hours, until it has doubled in size.
Flatten the dough into a disk and roll it to a thickness of a third of an inch. Using a floured cookie cutter or glass, cut out as many two-inch disks as you can. If desired, reroll the scraps and cut out more rounds. Stretch the disks using a pinching motion until they are thinner and about two-and-a-half inches in diameter.
Place three-quarters of a teaspoon of jam in the center of half of the rounds. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, moisten the edges of these rounds with the beaten egg whites. Top with the other rounds. Crimp closed firmly, using your thumb and fingers.
Use a floured two-and-a-half-inch cookie cutter or glass (I used a wooden condiment bowl) to trim the ragged edges of each round. Place the rounds on a cookie sheet, cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 minutes. Some doughnuts may need to be crimped closed again after the second rise.
Heat one to two inches of oil in a deep frying pan or pot. (I had only seven cups of oil, which filled the pan to a depth of one inch, but was plenty to keep the doughnuts from sticking.) The temperature of the oil is important-too hot and the doughnuts will burn, too cool and they will not brown properly. For best results, use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature during frying, and adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil at 375°F.
Fry the doughnuts in hot oil for 30 seconds to one minute per side. Use two slotted spoons or skimmers to flip each doughnut when the underside is golden brown. Working with no more than two to three doughnuts at a time will make them easier to monitor.
Drain the doughnuts on paper towels, roll in sugar, and serve immediately.
By Sarah Kagan
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