Sufganiyot

You’ll forgive me if I stray again this week from the world of baked goods. This week I highlight a lovely dessert that is not baked, but fried. It’s a traditional Hanukkah dessert called sufganiyot. (That’s the plural. Sufganiyah is the singular.) They’re delicious jelly filled donuts, and I think you’ll appreciate them.

If you ever pay attention to Jewish holidays, you’ll know that relative to the secular calendar Hanukkah moves around a little bit. Of course it never moves so much as to happen in the middle of May. I actually made this recipe during Hanukkah, but I’m just now getting the chance to write about it. (BTW, want to hear one of my favorite jokes about Hanukkah? Q: What day is Hanukkah this year? A: Same day it is every year. 25th of Kislev. Okay, so it’s not that funny. But I think you have to give me bonus points because I made it up myself.)

The holiday of Hanukkah commemorates a miracle with oil. To recognize that, different foods cooked in oil are traditional on Hanukkah. Sufganiyot are one of those foods. Another popular one you may be familiar with is latkes. Latkes are potato pancakes and are also delicious.

To digress for a moment about latkes: every year my wife and I have a tradition which she has lovingly called Latkepalooza. It is not a music festival headlined by potato pancakes, although that would be awesome. Latkepalooza involves us making and eating tons and tons of latkes. Sometimes there are other foods involved. Sometimes there are other activities. But latkes are the main attraction. When I say tons and tons of latkes, it’s actually a single recipe. We use my family latke recipe, which comes from my maternal grandmother (and probably her mother before that). One recipe’s worth of the latkes makes enough to feed a small army. So for the two of us, it’s quite a lot.

The first time we decided to make the latkes together after moving in together, I printed a copy of the recipe out and taped it up in the kitchen for easy reference while we were cooking. Eight years later, it’s still hanging up there. Year round. We only use it once a year, but somehow, we’ve never taken it down. I think it’s a good reminder.

But back to the sufganiyot. They’re donuts. Now, one might ask, what is a donut really? Is it a pastry, as I’ve labeled it here? Is it a cake? I’ve done some research, and those in the know seem to refer to it as a cake. But to the general populace, I think people consider them to be pastries. Maybe they’re culinary pastries? By that I mean, they’re like tomatoes. Tomatoes are biologically fruits. However, people often think of them and use them like vegetables. Hence they are considered culinary vegetables. Maybe donuts are the same way.

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The dough before rising.

When I started putting them together, I originally mixed them by hand, but it was really tough. I brought out the hand mixer, which unfortunately did not have a dough hook. The dough eventually climbed up and covered the beaters, but it got done much quicker. I let the dough rise two hours. I put plastic wrap on the bottom of a baking sheet which I then floured.

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The dough after rising.

I rolled out the dough. I measured it. It was kind of 1/4 inch, but it wasn’t even all around. The recipe is supposed to make 30, but I got 41. Maybe they were too thin? I measured with a 2″ cup and used that to cut them out, so they should have been the right diameter, if not the right thickness.

The sufganiyot before rising.

The sufganiyot before rising.

I covered them with plastic wrap. It ended up taking two baking sheets to fit them all. I let them rise 30 minutes. Toward the end of it, I started heating up the oil. I could have started earlier. It took a while to heat up. More than 30 minutes. I took the plastic off at 30 minutes, and it was still a bit longer. (Later events will explain why it took so long to heat up. Read on.) 

The sufganiyot after rising.

The sufganiyot after rising.

I used a candy thermometer for the first time for measuring the oil temperature. I had resisted getting one for a long time, because who needs another kitchen gadget sitting around? But I was coming across enough recipes that needed one, so I figured it was worth getting one.

Heating up the oil.

Heating up the oil.

When I started cooking the sufganiyot, they cooked super fast. I tried the recommended 90 seconds per side, but after no more than a few seconds in they started getting really brown. The first batch or so was blackened. I noticed that the temperature had shot up. The thermometer was in the middle of a few donuts. I moved it to get a better reading, and I lowered the heat. The temperature shot back down again. I tried again, but they still got black pretty quick.

After that, I put in a few more and once I was done putting them in, I started flipping the first ones over already. That seemed to work better. Maybe only 20 seconds or so a side. Some were definitely smaller, but even the bigger ones cooked really quickly. Maybe the thermometer was off? Maybe I wasn’t using it right? Maybe they were all too small?

Freshly fried!

Freshly fried!

In any case, I eventually got the hang of it. Most of them turned out okay. I tried one of the blackened ones, and it was still yummy!

A mountain of sufganiyot.

A mountain of sufganiyot.

I punctured them all. The crispier ones were a little harder to do. I set about to fill them all with jam. (For a funny look at removing the jelly from a donut, check this out.) I didn’t have a proper pastry bag and tips. I used the plastic bag trick, but since I had to stick it inside the donuts a bit, I attached a straw at the end. (I actually cut down a full size straw and used pieces of it.) It kinda worked, but it was messy. Several times I had to reattach the straw or get a new one, and eventually I needed a whole new bag. It took a lot longer than it should have, but it worked.

Filling the sufganiyot. Action shot! (My wife took this picture, in case you're wondering where the extra set of hands came from.)

Filling the sufganiyot. Action shot! (My wife took this picture, in case you’re wondering where the extra set of hands came from.)

As I was filling them, I realized that they are really just big air pockets surround by a bit of dough. And it’s hard to know how much jam to put in. You can’t really tell how much is going in, because you can’t see the inside. I had to guess based on guessing the rate of filling and the size of the donut.

I used a bit more jam than they said to. There were many reasons for this. Some spilled out the back of a bag when it burst. Some got left in a bag once the bag was unusable. Also I made a few more sufganiyot than the recipe called for. There was also the aforementioned not knowing how much was going in. After filing them, I let them sit. I decided to put the powdered sugar on them later.

All filled with jam.

All filled with jam.

In retrospect, I probably could have used less oil. There was so much left over. I get that they needed to cook in it, but there could have been much less oil and it still would have worked out fine. (It’s possible that they would have soaked more up had they cooked longer, as originally designed.)

Like I said, a lot of oil left over.

Like I said, a lot of oil left over.

I put powdered sugar on them later. I started using a spoon, but it didn’t give me enough control. So I ended up using my fingers. It probably would have been better to sift the sugar right onto them. Then it would have been finer, and I could have spread it more easily.

Powdered sugar!

Powdered sugar!

I can’t remember making sufganiyot before, so I have to say I’m impressed at how they turned out. They tasted great. There was fried doughy goodness, sweet raspberry filling, and the little sprinkling of sugar on top. Admittedly, the ones that got a little overcooked were less yummy, but still not bad. Also, a helpful tip: if you’re not going to eat them right away, don’t cover them in powdered sugar right away. Wait until right before you’re going to eat them. The powdered sugar will be in better shape that way.

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One other note I should mention is that between making the sufganiyot and writing this post, I found out what the issue was. My thermometer is off. Far off. After some other temperature sensitive recipes seemed to have issues, I began to suspect the thermometer was the culprit. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I came across an easy test.

Fill a pot with water and put the thermometer in. Heat it till boiling and read what the temperature on the thermometer is. We know what temperature water boils at, so if your thermometer doesn’t read that temperature in boiling water, adjust accordingly. I can’t remember at this point how far off it was, but it was definitely running hot. In boiling water, it said it was like 240°F. Since water boils at 212°F, it was running about 30° too hot. No wonder they cooked so fast! I have to see if there’s a way to adjust the thermometer, otherwise I’ll just have to keep this in mind when I use it going forward.

Now that you’ve heard my story, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any thermometer tips or tricks? Do you have a favorite Hanukkah recipe (dessert or otherwise)? Any holiday recipes that you like to make, even when it’s not the holidays? Let me know!

Recipe courtesy of Chow.

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