Why Do We Eat Jelly Donuts on Chanukah?

0

Why Do We Eat Jelly Donuts on Chanukah?

The answer has everything to do with agriculture, food politics, and — of course — tastebuds

Jelly donuts are one of the most symbolic dishes of Chanukah, but have you ever wondered how that came to be? Of all the delicious fried foods to nosh on — fried pancakes, fried chicken, fried cheese, schnitzel — how did the jelly donut, or sufganiyah (sufganiyot is the plural), rise to popularity? The answer, like all good food questions, has everything to do with agriculture, food politics, and, of course, our tastebuds.

Oily foods have come to symbolize the miracle of Chanukah since the first celebration, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that jelly donuts became tied to Chanukah.


Food historian Gil Marks wrote that the first recipe for the jelly donut was found in 1485, in a cookbook printed in Nuremberg, Germany, called the “Kuchenmeisterei” (Mastery of the Kitchen) — one of the first to be printed on Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. The original donut recipe didn’t have a hole, but rather was a pillowy pocket of dough, filled with jam. The recipe instructed bakers to make a jam “sandwich” with two circular pieces of dough, to be fried in lard.

The addition of jam was revolutionary, as donuts had usually been a savory dish, filled with mushrooms, cheese, or meat. Regardless of the filling, donuts were expensive treats to make, and not widely consumed. Other fried foods, like buckwheat pancakes, fried radish cakes, and fried cheese curds, were the Chanukah dishes of choice.

Then, in the 1500s, two important jelly donut events occurred: The cost of sugar went down with the proliferation of slave-produced sugar in the Caribbean, and “Kuchenmeisterei” was translated into Polish. By 1600, jelly donuts, called paczki, were beloved throughout Poland on Christmas, Chanukah and other special occasions. In Yiddish, they were called ponchiks, and fried in schmaltz, goose fat, or oil. Interestingly, unfilled donuts, in Yiddish, were simply “donats.”

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the tradition of jelly donuts traveled with Polish Jews wherever they immigrated. According to Marks:

In Israel, ponchiks soon took the name sufganiyah, from a “spongy dough” mentioned in the Talmud, sofgan and sfogga. The word sphog, meaning “sponge,” is so ancient that there is a question as to whether it was initially of Semitic or Indo-European origin.

Sufganiyot became specifically tied to Chanukah in Israel in the 1920s when the Israeli Labor Federation declared them the official food of Chanukah. What do jelly donuts have to do with labor, you ask? While latkes are easy to make at home, sufganiyot provided Israelis with jobs — think of all the baking, transporting, and merchandising behind every box of donuts!

To this day, sufganiyot are hugely visible in Israel in the weeks leading up to Chanukah, and they’re stuffed not only with jelly, but with cream, halvah, or chocolate ganache.
Here, Americans have embraced the Israeli tradition of eating sufganiyot during Chanukah, indulging in a variety of fried and filled confections.

Classic Hanukkah sufganiyot filled with strawberry jelly and powdered sugar above (Noam Furer)
Classic Hanukkah sufganiyot filled with strawberry jelly and powdered sugar above (Noam Furer)
Israeli-Style Sufganiyot (Source: The Nosher)

For the dough:
3 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon dry instant yeast
1 egg
3 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1¼ cups lukewarm milk
For frying:
1 liter canola oil
For the fillings:
½ cup strawberry or raspberry jam
½ cup nutella
½ cup ready-made vanilla pudding
For serving:
¼ cup powdered sugar

Sift flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar and mix well. Add the yeast and mix.

Using a mixer fitted with a hook attachment mix the flour mixture on low speed and add the egg and butter. Gradually add the warm milk and continue mixing for 8-10 minutes until the dough is soft.

Make the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, for about 1.5-2 hours.

Once the dough has risen, place dough on a lightly floured work surface and using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¾ inch thick. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut circles out of the dough, as close to one another as possible.

Place the dough circles on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise again for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a deep frying pan until it reaches 350F.

Place around four dough circles into the oil and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown, but not too brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining dough. Allow to cool slightly before filling.

To fill the sufganiyot: Fill a piping bag with your desired filling. Using a sharp knife, make a small slit on top of the sufganiyot. Place the piping bag inside the slit and fill until you can see the filling on top.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

By Ali Miller | My Jewish Learning

Similar Posts:

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here