The Donut Diaries - First Night
For as long as I can remember, the thing that has signified Hanukkah - more than the kitsch rainbow-colored candles or the unmistakable smells of frying onions and potatoes merging - has been the telltale bakery box. Maybe you know the one. It’s large, flat, rectangular and white. You can’t tell from looking at the top, but to peer inside once the contents are emptied is to reveal poetry in grease spots - the sure aftermath of something profoundly deep-fried and incomparably satisfying. In a word, sufganiyot.
Sufganiyot – powdered-sugar donuts filled with jelly or custard – are arguably the proud root of my donut fixation. (It started with my first Entenmann’s rich chocolate frosted circa age 5 and has only intensified since then. I have sampled donuts in more than 25 states and have blogged about them on Glazed and Enthused.)
Growing up, come Hanukkah time, like any child fanatical for her deep-fried-holiday goodies, I never asked “Why donuts?” And I certainly never asked “Why filled donuts?” Of course, when I did finally get around to asking, the answers were either 1) because the miracle was a miracle of oil, so: we fry and 2) because that’s what they do in Israel.
But there must be more historical and diasporic reasons. According to the Forward’s Philologos, one version of culinary history argues that sufganiyot have their origins in Sicily, where they were called sfinj – the Arabic word for sponge and also the moniker for deep-fried donuts made by Jews in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Another rendition of donut history – by Claudia Roden – purports that the donuts in question were originally a peasant carnival snack in Austro-Hungary, only to go on to become a delicacy at the French court of Marie Antoinette. The Yiddish word ponchkes is also cited in Roden’s writing as being directly connected to sufganiyot. All in all, from France to Italy – or in this case, beignets to zeppoli – the birthplace of the very first sufgania is still somewhat powdered in mystery. But perhaps it is best that way; an interesting food merits a complex and rich history.
Given my universal donut fanaticism and my more recent sufganiyot curiosity, come December, I feel the intense desire to tell everyone I know where I believe they should do their Hanukkah donut shopping. It seems that after this recent donut tour de force – a donut porn slideshow and itemized review of the country’s best donuts - came out last month, there would be no need to do any donut writing whatsoever, at least for the foreseeable future. But with Hanukkah upon us, I feel it my cultural imperative to bring to you, dear readers, some of my recommendations for the finest Hanukkah-appropriate donuts out there. Each day of the holiday I will share a different donut from cities across the country for you to enjoy. So without further ado:
It is impossible to write about donuts and not mention The Doughnut Plant. My personal (and permanent) favorite, their donuts are ever-varied, strike a balance between part-fancy and part-down-to-earth donut accessibility. Their flavor options change seasonally – a recent autumnal option came in the form of a pumpkin donut topped with spiced and caramelized pumpkin seeds. The artful blood orange jelly donut - a large airy yeast donut, powdered and filled with a rich tart citrus jam - is a perfect Hanukkah standby. The peanut butter and jelly - a glazed delight - is another interpretive (if non-filled) way to go for the holiday. Word to the wise: if you arrive around closing time and you’re a friendly customer, you may be offered a free donut, or seven.
Hanukkah relevance: Located on the selfsame block as the world-famous Kossar’s Bialys and right across the way from The Pickle Guys, a person could craft a veritable Ashkenazi feast sampling the goods while in the neighborhood.