Friday, December 10, 2010

Hanukkah Sufganiyot

Sufganiyot, also known as jelly doughnuts, are arguably the biggest Hanukkah tradition in Israel. I had never even heard of them before going there for the first time five years ago, and it surprised me that they only make doughnuts in Israel once a year for this occasion. Crazy!

Apparently they made their way over to Israel via Austro-Hungarian Jews, and due to the fact that they are fried, became extremely popular for Hanukkah. The traditional variety are filled with jam, usually strawberry or raspberry, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. These days pastry chefs have been getting more creative, filling and topping them with chocolate and caramel.

Even in Israel it is hard to find a REALLY GOOD sufganiyah (pronounced: soof-gah-nee-yah), so I thought I would try to master it myself. I am sorry to say that after three valiant efforts, I did not entirely succeed. The best recipe I found was hands-down the Martha Stewart version, which produced the beautiful specimens you see above. If I had not taken a bite, I would never have known that they were not as perfect inside as they first appeared.

Now, these were certainly not BAD. They had a good flavor, clearly a nice puff, pretty as anything, and they were not overly dense. Still, there were problems: 1) A large air pocket formed at the top of them! (see picture below) Causing me much disappointment when I finally did bite into one. 2) While they are not very dense, they still are not as light as I like my doughnuts to be, and thus, simply unacceptable.

After much searching, I have come to three possible explanations for the air pocket problem, and I hope to get the opportunity to try them again as soon as possible! First, it was brought to my attention that the high protein content in regular all purpose flour can cause the dough to be overly tough. This can make the outer layer too strong for steam to get out, and might also be why the texture was not as light as I would have liked. Second, I read somewhere that the doughnuts require a specific level of humidity to rise properly and form the right amount of "skin" to allow steam to escape during cooking. Third, it may be possible that I did not give my rounds enough time to rise before frying, which would affect texture and maybe cause an air pocket.

In conclusion: The next time I make these I will use a mixture of all purpose flour and cake flour (as I read using only cake flour may result in too weak of a dough), I will proof the cut rounds in the oven with water to maintain a good humid environment, and I will allow them to rise fully before frying!

If all of these tricks sound like WAY too much work to you, do not fret! You can still make the original recipe! They are good! They come highly rated! You will like them! I am just extremely picky and want everything I make to be professional quality. It should not surprise me when the results do not meet this high standard, considering I am no professional (of anything).

I have included a nice detailed recipe for anybody who cares to use it.  It is definitely worth a try, and if you are feeling up to it, make some of the changes I mentioned and let me know how it goes! This is half the original recipe + some of my changes, which is what I used.  If you want the full, original recipe just click on the Martha Stewart link.

Adapted from

Makes about 10 doughnuts

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast (not instant)
1/4 cup warm water (100º-110ºF)
1/4 + 1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (or use some cake flour)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
vegetable oil for frying 3-6 cups depending on the pan you are using

Step 1:
In a small bowl combine yeast, warm water, and the 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Mix to dissolve yeast and sugar and let sit 5 to 10 minutes or until very frothy (see step 3).

Step 2:
In a large bowl mix together the remaining sugar, flour and salt.

Step 3:
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then add the egg, vanilla, softened butter, and yeast mixture.

This is frothy yeast!

Step 4:
Mix everything together until a somewhat dry looking dough starts to form.  It should look something like the picture below.  If it is dryer than this (i.e. piles of dry flour remaining in the bowl), add a bit more water (you can also use milk), a tablespoon at a time, until you get to this consistency. 

Step 5:
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 to 8 minutes until smooth and soft.  It will look something like this:

See what a little kneading can do!

Step 6:
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and coat the dough with some oil to avoid a dry skin from forming. Cover dough and allow to rise in a warm place for 1-1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.  

Nicely doubled:

Step 7:
Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and pat or roll to 1/4" thickness.  Cut rounds out of the dough using a 2" circle cutter or a similar sized glass.  You can re-roll the scraps to cut more rounds, but save a few small pieces as mini doughnuts/oil testers. 

Step 8:
Place cut rounds on a lined baking sheet and allow to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until doubled in thickness.

Step 9:
Heat oil to between 350ºF and 375ºF.  Or use some scraps from your dough to test the oil like I did.

Step 10:
Place the rounds in the hot oil a few at a time (do not overcrowd the pan) and flip once the underside is golden brown (about 40 seconds).  When the second side is also golden brown (about another 40 seconds), remove from the oil and place on a draining rack or a paper towel.  Repeat until all doughnuts are finished.

Step 11:
Allow doughnuts to cool slightly so that you can handle them.  Then inject with filling of your choice using either a piping bag or a marinade injector (hint, nutella is too thick for the injector... trust me), and top with powdered sugar or other yummies. [You can also roll the doughnuts in sugar about 30 seconds after they come out of the oil]

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