Chanukah: Lior Hillel’s family pastry project

Every year before Chanukah rolls around in Israel, everyone gets very excited. They can’t wait to start to enjoy the holiday spirit — and, of course, the food. In the past few years, talented pastry chefs in Israel have made very creative sufganiyot, the holiday’s traditional jelly doughnut. They’ve played with the dough, the fillings, added crazy garnishes on top, and obviously tacked on a price to match. 

I grew up in a middle-class home in Moshav Sday Hemed near Ra’anana, a small community of about 80 families, a beautiful pastoral place. My mother wasn’t, and still is not, the biggest fan of sweets. So every Chanukah, she’d put aside a sufgania and say, “Too big. … Too fried. … Too much. … I’ll eat half and save for later.” I can still hear her voice saying that in my head. 

But she has a recipe for mini-sufganiyot that takes just 15 minutes. It’s easy and fun to prepare as a family activity, and you feel better about eating it because it’s small. The filling can be anything you want, from jelly, nut butter or chocolate ( my favorite). 

I choose to keep them as is, without filling, and I toss them in powdered sugar mixed with cardamom and dip them in caramel sauce — yes! It’s straight up delicious! I hope you find this recipe fun, easy, delicious and an activity that brings smiles and light to your family.

Chag sameach.

Sour cream and cardamom sufganiyot

  • 1 quart cooking oil (grapeseed or canola)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspooon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cardamom 


In a deep, narrow pot, heat the oil slowly to 350 F.

In one bowl, thoroughly mix the flour, granulated sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In a second bowl, thoroughly mix the sour cream, eggs and vanilla extract.

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and mix well.

Drop batter by spoonsful into the hot oil. When the sufganiyot is golden, flip it to the other side, and fry until it is a deep caramel color.

Place the finished sufganiyot on paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and cardamom. Add the sufganiyot and toss gently until coated.

If you have a good caramel sauce, dip the fresh sufganiyot into the caramel and enjoy.

Makes  about  25 mini sufganiyot. 

Lior Hillel is executive chef and owner at Bacaro LA.

In Israel, Chanukah season is already here

After more than three weeks of feasts, prayers and days off from work and school, Israel’s busy holiday season — from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah — finally ended earlier this month.

But, it turns out, another holiday was just beginning: Chanukah.

To be sure, Chanukah doesn’t begin this year until the evening of Dec. 6. But just as in the United States, when the end of Halloween now means the beginning of the Christmas season (remember when that day used to be Thanksgiving?),  in Israel, the conclusion of the High Holidays — and sometimes, even during the High Holidays — means the start of the Chanukah season.

Welcome to Chanukah creep.

Of course, in Israel, Chanukah isn’t the Jewish Christmas. It’s a relatively minor holiday, celebrating an ancient Jewish kingdom; adults still have to work. Chanukah gifts aren’t a thing, either, so there are no crowds mobbing the mall for last-minute shopping.

But one thing that’s huge in Israel during Chanukah is sufganiyot, the oily jelly doughnuts that are traditionally eaten here rather than latkes, the holiday favorite among Jewish-Americans. Savvy businesses have noted Israelis’ love of the pastries and are marketing them to the hungry masses months in advance.

In September, right after Rosh Hashanah ended, the Israeli bakery chain Roladin rolled out its first batches of sufganiyot.

Roladin is famous in Israel for getting creative with its sufganiyot, including variations with syringes filled with jelly (or another gooey treat), ensuring each bite has that perfect ratio of fried dough and filling. Last week, a branch of the bakery in Tel Aviv showed off a variety of flavors — the traditional jelly-filled sat on display trays alongside dulce de leche; meanwhile, an employee carried a tray from the kitchen filled with chocolate-sprinkled versions.

The bakery starts sufganiyot so early, a spokeswoman said, simply because people like them — in fact, they’ve been getting an early jump on the doughnuts for 26 years.

“People come in for it, for sure,” she said. “We have the sufganiyot with the most innovative flavors. The inspiration comes from French desserts.”

Others have followed Roladin’s lead. A sweet shop in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market plans to start selling the doughnuts this week. And a bakery in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station sold its first sufganiyot on Thursday, presented in layered rows on its front counter.

“In the United States, they sell jelly doughnuts all year round,” said Ramon Mendesona, a ceramics artist with a stall in Tel Aviv’s Nachalat Binyamin craft market. “Why should we save them just for Chanukah?”

After all, Mendesona and a couple other artists in the craft market sell menorahs and for them, Chanukah season never ends. Tourists buy them year-round. Israelis, they said, begin buying menorahs a month or so before the holiday.

Fortunately, for Israelis with sweet tooths, the selling of sufganiyot is in full swing. One fan of the early doughnut push is Elie Klein, a public relations professional who from 2010 to 2012 ate an average of 100 sufganiyot a year. Like a marathon runner, Klein got friends to donate money for each sufganiyah he consumed — and ended up raising $40,000 for various charities.

While Klein has had his fill of doughnuts for a while, he said he still loves seeing them in bakery windows.

“The fact we’ve turned it into something so huge, this seasonal food, it’s pretty amazing,” he told JTA.

A Glazed Miracle Happened Here

During the festival of Chanukah, Jews around the world will prepare the traditional foods that represent their individual cultural backgrounds. Families with Eastern European ties will serve fried potato latkes. In Germany, jelly doughnuts called Berliner pfannkuchen are prepared. Italian Jews deep-fry fritters known there as bombolini. In Israel, they make sufganiyot, jam-filled doughnuts, and it is reported that more than a quarter of a million of them are made there every year during Chanukah.

It’s all about frying foods, usually in olive oil. Each dish is a way of remembering the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that lasted for eight days as the Jews processed the new oil necessary for the Temple in Jerusalem many years ago.

Today, many restaurants feature a variety of doughnuts on their dessert menus. Some are glazed, rolled in sugar or filled with preserves, and they are the perfect dish to serve for Chanukah.

Chef Thomas Keller at the French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley was one of the first to serve fried pastries at the end of the meal. In his wonderful “The French Laundry Cookbook,” from 2000, he recommends serving them with coffee semifreddo for dessert, and calls it coffee and doughnuts. Sherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills, has just published the cookbook “The Secrets of Baking.” One of the photos in the book shows a tower of doughnuts, along with the recipe, and variety of toppings. And at the newly opened Grace Restaurant in Hollywood they serve sugar-coated doughnuts with a raspberry sauce on the side.

Bruce Marder the chef-owner of Capo Restaurant in Santa Monica and Brentwood Restaurant in West Los Angeles, offers for dessert a combination plate of mini-doughnuts with a sugar glaze topping and doughnuts that are filled with homemade fruit preserves.

I tested all of these recipes and have selected three that are the easiest to prepare in the home kitchen. One of my favorites is a recipe for Pecan Doughnuts that replaces the yeast with baking powder. Yard’s doughnuts that are served at Spago may take a little more time, but the results are delicious. The recipe from Marder is unusual because you don’t roll out the dough, just shape it into logs and cut them into rounds.

I can’t think of anything more fun at a Chanukah party than serving homemade fried doughnuts with a variety of toppings and dipping sauces for every one to enjoy. Serve them with milk, hot chocolate or — as Keller suggests — with coffee semifreddo.

Chanukah Pecan Doughnuts

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Olive oil or Vegetable oil for deep frying

Granulated sugar or powdered sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or hand mixer) cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and salt. Add to the sugar mixture in batches alternately with milk. Stir in pecans and orange peel. Cover with a towel and refrigerate at least one hour. (Can be prepared eight hours ahead.)

Roll dough out on lightly floured surface to 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. Cut out rounds and holes using 3-inch floured doughnut cutter. Repeat with scraps.

Heat oil to 370 F. In deep fryer or deep large skillet. Add doughnuts and holes in batches and fry until golden brown, turning once, about two minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Roll in sugar or dust with powdered sugar.

Yield: About 12 doughnuts and holes.

Capo Restaurant’s Doughnuts

2 packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1/4 cup warm milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

3 whole eggs

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Zest of 1 lemon

5 cups flour

1 cup strawberry or raspberry preserves

Combine the dry yeast with warm water and milk, mix well and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend the butter and sugar until fluffy. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks, whole eggs, salt, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture and blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture.

Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough comes together. Place on a wooden surface and knead into a ball. Cover and let rise for 90 minutes.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove from the refrigerator and divide into four parts. Roll one part into a log (1-inch round) and cut into 1-inch pieces. Place on baking sheet, cover with a towel and continue with the remaining three parts. Let rise for 30 minutes.

Heat oil in deep fryer or large saucepan to 365 F. Add doughnuts three or four at a time (do not crowd) and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Using a pastry bag with a small tip, fill with preserves. Make a small slit in each doughnut while still hot. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into the slit and fill each doughnut with a teaspoon of preserves. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or roll in sugar and serve doughnuts warm or at room temperature.

Yield: About 30 small doughnuts.

Sherry Yard’s Doughnuts

For the sponge

1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup milk, room temperature

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoons light brown sugar

For the dough

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened

For the frying

1 quart safflower, sunflower or olive oil

1 cup sugar for coating or more to taste

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine yeast and milk and whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand for five minutes, then stir in the flour and brown sugar, forming a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, or until bubbles form.

Add the flour, salt, cardamom and cinnamon to the sponge, then add the eggs. Mix on low speed for two minutes, or until the eggs are absorbed. (Switch to dough hook) increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for five minutes, or until it begins to slap around.

On medium-low speed, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. Stop the mixer and occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl. Knead until the dough is shiny and smooth, about five minutes. Scrape out the dough, wash and dry the bowl and coat it lightly with oil.

Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so that the top is coated with oil. Cover with plastic film and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about two hours.

When the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down by folding it two or three times. Cover with plastic film and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to a thickness of 1/2 inch. If the dough is difficult to handle after rolling, place it in the freezer for 20 minutes. Cut the dough using a doughnut cutter or two round cutters of graduated size. Dip the cutters in flour each time to make it easier. Once cut, the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to one week.

Defrost in the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before frying in a heavy skillet, wide, heavy saucepan, or deep fryer, over medium heat. Insert a candy thermometer. When oil reaches 350 F-360 F carefully place four or five doughnuts in the oil. Fry for one minute, then use a slotted spoon to flip them over and fry on the other sides for one minute, then flip over again and fry until dark golden brown. Remove the doughnuts from the oil and drain them on paper towels for 30 seconds before coating them with sugar. Repeat with the remaining doughnuts. Serve immediately.

Yield: About 24 doughnuts.

Variations from Sherry Yard:

Cinnamon-Sugar: Combine 1 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon. Coat top of doughnuts with the mixture while they are still hot and wet with oil.

Powdered Sugar: When the doughnuts have cooled and the oil has dried, sift powdered sugar generously on top.

Glazed: Combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a small bowl. Drizzle the mixture over the hot doughnuts and let dry.

Chocolate Glaze: Combine 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate and 1/4 pound unsalted butter in a small bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted. Dip the top of each doughnut into the chocolate. Before the glaze sets, top each doughnut with candy sprinkles, jimmies, chopped nuts or coconut.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” and “The
30-Minute Kosher Cook” Her Web site is