A few nights before Christmas, I heard singing coming from the Golders Green bus station. I thought it was carols and ran to see. There was no Christmas tree but a giant hanukiya (Hanukkah menorah). A crane had lifted a Hasidic Jew so that he could light the first candle. Men with black coats and hats were dancing and chanting in the empty bus station. Women were handing out sufganiyot (doughnuts) to passersby from the back of a van.
This Austro-Hungarian peasant carnival doughnut, which became a “royal” delicacy at the French court of Marie Antoinette, has been adopted in Israel to celebrate Hanukkah because it is fried in oil.
Reprinted with permission from The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York (Knopf).
Apricot, red-currant, or raspberry jam
Oil for deep-frying
1 2/3 cups (250 g) flour, plus a little more if necessary
2 or 3 drops vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
1 whole egg
3 Tablespoons sour cream or vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
Confectioners' sugar to sprinkle on
1/4 cup (50 ml) lukewarm milk or water
1 teaspoon dried yeast
Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk or water with 1 teaspoon of sugar and leave for 10 minutes, until it froths.
Beat the rest of the sugar with the egg and the yolk. Add the sour cream or oil, the salt, vanilla, and yeast mixture, and beat very well. Fold in the flour gradually, and continue beating until you have a soft, smooth, and elastic dough, adding more flour if necessary. Then knead for 5 minutes, sprinkling with a little flour if it is too sticky. Coat the dough with oil by pouring a drop in the bowl and turning the dough in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Knead the dough again for a few minutes, then roll out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin to 1/4-inch (1/2-cm) thickness. With a pastry cutter, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) rounds. Make a ball out of the scraps so as not to waste them, roll out, and cut into rounds. Put a teaspoon of jam in the center of a round of dough, brush the rim with a little water to make it sticky, and cover with another round. Press the edges together to seal. Continue with the rest of the rounds and arrange them on a floured tray. Leave them to rise for about 30 minutes.
Heat 1-1/2 inches of oil in a saucepan to medium hot. Drop in the doughnuts, a few at a time. Fry in medium-hot oil for 3-4 minutes with the lid on until brown, then turn and fry the other side for 1 minute more. Drain on paper towels. Serve sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar. They are at their best when still warm and fresh.
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronounced: khah-SID-ik, Origin: Hebrew, a stream within ultra-Orthodox Judaism that grew out of an 18th-century mystical revival movement.