Worldwide, we have a lot of holidays.
One that is being celebrated just about everywhere this month is the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah).
Lady Pennywhistle and I have undertaken to explain a bit about it in a three-part series. This is part three.
If you're planning to celebrate by lighting the menorah, Hanukkah this year falls on 20-28 December. If you'd just like to know more about it, InterfaithFamily.com has lots of information.
In the interest of full disclosure, and to let you know where we're coming from: Lady Pennywhistle is Israeli. I am not Jewish, but I speak Yiddish and know a fair amount about US Jewish culture.
This week, we're going to talk about... – DG
The best holidays are about eating.
Although everybody's lighting candles, the Hanukkah story involved oil lamps. So oil is an integral part of the cooking involved. It's winter, so let's deep-fat-fry something tasty. [Comment by Dmitri: This is where my Jewish friends and my Southern relatives are in perfect agreement.]
Sufganiyot, or Ponchkes
Heat up the oil while Lady Pennywhistle explains:
As for the doughnuts, well, they aren't really my forte either (I occasionally eat some, but they tend to be much too sweet; and it involves too much of a mess and deep-frying to make at home). But I do happen to have a rather wonderful cookbook of Jewish Eastern European food, called Schmaltz1, which includes a recipe for sufganiyot, or ponchkes – the Hebrew and Yiddish names (respectively) of these holiday doughnuts. In an on-the-spot free translation, the recipe (and its rather enlightening introduction) goes as follows:
Ponchkes were not born as a Hanukkah dish. They got this status only in Zionistic Israel2. They are originally from Central and Eastern Europe, where they were known as... a Christmas pastry3. Jews served sweet and savory latkes on Hanukkah. Therefore, whenever my mother would make her traditional sufganiyot on Hanukkah, Grandma Fruma would mumble 'darkey ha-goyim, darkey ha-goyim'4.
- 4 cups flour [translator's note (at least it's not a footnote!): 1 cup = 200 ml]
- 40g fresh yeast
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 100g melted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup strawberry jam or powidel [translator's note: a kind of plum jam)
- Powdered sugar
- 2 litres sunflower or other vegetable oil
- Soak the yeast in a bowl with 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour. Leave it for about 10 minutes to ferment and rise.
- Put flour, yeast mixture, warm milk, sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer and knead with a dough hook for about 15 minutes, for a soft flexible dough.
- Cover with a towel or clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour, until it doubles in volume.
- Knead the dough to let out the air. Leave it covered again to rise until it doubles.
- Roll the dough to about 1.5 cm thickness, then cut circles out of it, about 8 cm wide (you can use a glass).
- Put a teaspoonfull of jam on a circle, cover with another circle, pinch well to close, and then place on a tray or baking pan. Repeat. When the pan is full, cover with a towel and leave to rise until the sufganiyot double in volume.
- Heat the oil in a large pot. When it's hot, drop in the sufganiyot and fry for about 4 minutes on each side, until they are fully browned. If they brown too quickly, reduce the heat.
- Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorbe the oil. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar and serve immediately.
[Credit: Shmil Holland. And his mum, I guess.]
Of course, there are all sorts of fried pastries that aren't 'ponchkes' – the more Levantine versions are basically various forms of deep-fried dough, usually served soaked in syrup. Things like the Moroccan 'sfinj', or the more generally Middle-Eastern 'zalabieh' (or 'awameh', depending on whom you ask). You can look up recipes for those. They're okay, if you like very sweet deep-fried dough5.
But also, in modern-day Israel, the sorta-traditional sufganiyot have evolved way beyond just jam. The jam-filled, powdered-sugar-covered ones are still the most common (in fact, they start appearing on markets somewhere around September), but bakeries go nuts trying to create more and more creative versions. The least of these are just getting a different filling, like chocolate or vanilla cream or dulce de leche; the slightly more advanced add some frosting, inspired by the American donuts; and then you have... well, look at this picture, first6:
The article it's taken from lists varieties like pistachio, banoffee (called an 'Indian sufganiyah', for some reason), Irish cream and Halva, araq-infused white chocolate ganache with white chocolate frosting, or their 'Brasilian sufganiyah', filled with chocolate ganache with coconut milk and Kahlua and frosted with chocolate and coconut flakes.
This is just madness. Indulgent, overly-sweet madness.
At which point in the description, all Dmitri could say was, 'I'm kvelling over here.' [Lady P. had to look up this Yiddish expression of positive emotion.]
If you're not into the sweet stuff, or if (like me, DG) you can't eat fried dough because you have celiac disease, try this delicious alternative: potato pancakes, or latkes. One advantage is that they are fairly easy to make. Another is that they can be part of the meal, rather than dessert7.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) potatoes
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- Parsley to taste
- oil for frying
- Peel the potatoes and then grate them. Soak the grated potatoes in cold water for half an hour, then squeeze them through a colander to remove the starchy liquid.
- Beat and salt the eggs. Mix potatoes, eggs, onion and parsley.
- Drop latke mixture into about a centimetre of hot oil by spoonfuls. Flatten the pancakes so they fry evenly, and turn them once.
- Serve with applesauce or sour cream, depending on what else you're having and whether you 'keep kosher'.
Note from lazy cook: It is also possible to buy latke mix in the kosher section of a US supermarket.
Hanukkah Greetings to Our Readers
So there you have it – an international view of a holiday with historical, traditional, and religious roots.
Whether you light the menorah and recite the blessings, sing a song or two, or just try out the sufganiyot and latkes, you will be connecting to an old tradition practiced in many lands.
No matter what language you speak, it is a friendly gesture to wish other people a 'Happy Holiday!', whether their holiday celebration is the same as yours or not. In that spirit, we wish all our readers Chag Sameach and Gut Yontiff!
3See here – although they claim it's actually more traditional on Fat Tuesday. But I'm sure they're happily eaten at Christmas, too. The name is of course basically the same as the Yiddish version; the Hebrew name is, not to go into too many linguistic notes, based on the same root as the English 'sponge', due to the fact that the dough is sponge-like and absorbs the oil. Also, it's a cute name. 4 Literally: 'Ways of the gentiles, ways of the gentiles'. Okay, I promise I'm done with these footnotes.5Who wouldn't like sweet, deep-fried dough? – DG6Can you spell 'Dunkin Sufganiyot'? I knew you could. – DG7Note for UK readers: Dessert: what other people you’re your pudding.