I Made Hanukkah Sufganiyot Donuts From This Bay Area Author’s Cookbook

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith/Gado Images

Note: The author sent me a free copy of this cookbook to test

Hanukkah is a holiday celebrating an ancient miracle; when a small group of underdogs known as the Macabees took back the Jewish temple in Jerusalem from an occupying army in 165 BCE, legend has it that a tiny amount of unsoiled oil burned for eight days and eight nights until the temple could be restored and more oil produced. Each year, Jews around the world commemorate the miracle by lighting menorahs (these originally used olive oils), singing songs, and engaging in all manner of other celebrations.

During the 8-night Hanukkah holiday (which runs through Monday evening this year), many Jews also observe another custom: eating fried things. It’s a practice that goes back at least to the 12th century — food fried in oil is meant to commemorate the miraculous oil that burned for 8 nights in ancient times. And so families like mine munch on latkes, fried chicken, and anything else oily and delicious during Hanukkah. An excuse to honor my cultural heritage while stuffing my face with fried tastiness? Celebrating this aspect of the holiday doesn’t take much convincing.

One of the tastiest fried Hanukkah treats are sufganiyot. These yeasty, jelly-filled donuts appear in delis and supermarkets around the world during Hanukkah. They’re sweet but not cloyingly so — more like a fluffy fried danish than something you’d get at Krispy Kreme. You can buy them at places like Whole Foods, but the best sufganiyot are the ones you make yourself. If you’ve never tried them, hot sufganiyot straight out of the oil are mindblowing. Plus they suffuse your home with the yummy smell of roasty donuts for days to come.

That’s why Beth Lee — a San-Jose-based author and founder of the blog OMG Yummy — made sure to include them in her new tome of Jewish baked goods, the Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook. After a career in Silicon Valley, Lee pivoted into blogging and baking. Her book gathers fifty classic Jewish baked goods from across multiple religious, cultural, and secular traditions. There’s challah, black and white cookies, and much more. Lee sent me a copy of her book to test out, and I knew immediately that I needed to try her recipe for sufganiyot.

Before a family Hanukkah meal this week, I grabbed Lee’s book and set to work. Making sufganiyot is easy, but it’s time-consuming. Following her recipe, I prepared a yeasty dough, let it rise, cut it into circles, and left it to proof and rise again. I then fried up the resulting circles of fluffy dough, coated them in sugar, and stuffed them full of tasty strawberry jelly.

You can follow along with me as I cook, see how my sufganiyot turned out, and hear a bit more about Lee’s book in my video:

Spoiler alert: the donuts were amazing. It was a joy to make them and to serve them to friends and family members during our Hanukkah dinner this week. Jewish food often follows a pre-set calendar of feasts and celebrations, but Lee’s recipes were so yummy that I’m already considering making some out-of-season hamantaschen, and I look forward to trying out her challah, too.

If your family celebrates Hanukkah, you can try out Lee’s sufganiyot today. The recipe — as well as step-by-step visual instructions — are published on Lee’s blog. Even if you’re not Jewish, these tiny donuts make a fantastic holiday treat. If you like what you taste, consider buying a copy of the Essential Jewish Baking Cookbook. Supporting a local author while feasting on baked goods? Like the fried-food commandment of the Hanukkah holiday, that’s a pretty easy sell.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips: tom@gadoimages.com

Lafayette, CA

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