Easy (As Possible) Sufganiyot
Plus: The Four Questions Interview with Ori Zohar from Burlap & Barrel
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I love almost everything about sufganiyot - aka Hanukkah jelly doughnuts.
I love that they hail from Poland, where Polish Jews called them ponchik, even though everyone around them called them paczki, and fried them in oil rather than lard to keep them kosher. (Polish Jewish immigrants brought their beloved ponchik to Israel, where the pastries were renamed sufganiyot and became immensely popular around Hanukkah.)
I love sufganiyot’s soft, bouncy texture. (It is no wonder that the name means “spongy dough” in Hebrew). And I love their burst of sweet filling.
I love them simple with strawberry jam and a snow cap of powdered sugar. And I love them extravagantly filled with pistachio cream, lemon curd, or dulce de leche, and crowned with a Technicolor array of glazes and toppings. They are every bit as festive and sparkly a treat as the holiday deserves.
But you know what? I don’t really love making sufganiyot. It’s not that they are particularly fussy - if you’ve made challah or babka (and even if you haven’t!), you can make sufganiyot. But they do take a significant amount of both time and oil.
Early on in my food writing career - back when I made some very foolish decisions in pursuit of story clips - I fried close to 200 doughnuts in my tiny, poorly ventilated apartment kitchen while developing a package of sufganiyot recipes for the food website Chow (now defunct, along with the recipes). I really wanted to wow my editors with my creativity and air-tight testing, but it was too much. And no, I was not paid nearly enough.
The saving grace of the situation was when a friend-of-a-friend agreed to take the many quarts of used cooking oil I used in the process of frying to power his bio-diesel car!
After the story was published, I didn’t want to make sufganiyot for a very long time. And honestly, I usually still don’t. I am lucky enough to live in New York City, which has plenty of bakeries selling top notch sufganiyot. (I’m particular to the ones from Breads’ Bakery.) But for anyone who does not live in or near a jelly doughnut hub - and wants to do way better than Dunkin Donuts to fill their Hanukkah table - I offer you this Easy (As Possible) Sufganiyot recipe.
I’m not going to promise that they take 20 minutes. And I’m not about to offer some dumbed down recipe that produces a bogus simulacrum of the real thing. These are proper sufganiyot. But I’ve streamlined the ingredients and instructions as much as possible to maximize the impact you get for your effort. Will you be using yeast? Yes. Do you have to heat up a pot of oil? Yes. But the process is straightforward and leads to abundant joy.
Wishing you all a happy and joyous Hanukkah and holiday season!
Easy (As Possible) Sufganiyot
Adapted slightly from The Jewish Cookbook. I’ll be back very soon with brand new recipes, promise! But Covid is still running rampant in my home, and we are somehow also moving apartments tomorrow. So for this week, I am happy to have this delicious and simple (as possible) sufganiyot recipe to share from my cookbook archives.
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup (50 g) plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) warm water
2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup (80 ml) milk or non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, cut into pieces, at room temp
Vegetable oil, for frying (I like sunflower or grapeseed)
Strawberry or raspberry jam (or Nutella, lemon curd - whatever you’ve got), for filling
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the warm water. Let sit until the mixture is bubbling and foaming, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
Add the remaining 1⁄4 cup (50 g) sugar, the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla to the yeast mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and begins to form a ball.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Scatter the butter pieces over the dough and knead, sprinkling with additional flour as necessary, until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 8 minutes. (The kneading can also be done in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, 5–7 minutes.) Grease a large bowl with a little vegetable oil, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Fit a wire cooling rack inside a large sheet pan. Set aside.
Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a ¼-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, stamp out as many dough rounds as possible and place them on the lined baking sheet. Gather the scraps, re-roll, and cut out more rounds. Cover the dough rounds loosely with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until puffed, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat about 2 inches of oil in a medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat and bring to 350˚F on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches of 4, gently add the dough rounds to the hot oil and fry, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to the wire rack in the sheet pan and let cool slightly.
Use a small knife to puncture the side of each doughnut to form a pocket, then use a spoon (or piping bag if you have one) to fill with jam. Place the filled doughnuts back on the wire rack and dust tops with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.
The Four Questions: with Ori Zohar
Welcome to the latest installment of The Four Questions, The Jewish Table’s semi-regular interview segment featuring Jewish food luminaries. This week I’m excited to be joined by Ori Zohar of Burlap & Barrel - a single origin spice company that partners with sustainable spice farmers around the globe.
I met Ori in 2019 while I was on tour for The Jewish Cookbook in San Francisco. Burlap & Barrel generously donated some spices for that night’s event, and Ori came to represent the company. We only chatted for a few minutes, but I remember being impressed by the company’s products (particularly their dusky, Turkish blue poppy seeds) and also by Ori’s obvious passion for spices and sustainable agriculture.
Over the last few years, people have begun to catch on to Burlap & Barrel’s magic. Ori and his business partner, Ethan Frisch, work with small, sustainable farmers from around the globe to source ginger and cinnamon from Vietnam, vanilla beans from Tanzania, caraway from Egypt, and cumin from the mountains of Afghanistan - among many others. The spices are incredibly fresh and flavorful. And meanwhile, the farmers are paid fair wages for their work, and supported with opportunities for business growth and development. (Here’s more about Burlap & Barrel’s work with partner-farmers.)
In this week’s The Four Questions interview, Ori talks about continuing in the “travel and trade” tradition of his Jewish ancestors, walking through the cloud forests of Guatemala in search of cardamom, and his mad genius approach to making potato latkes.
Read on, then head over to Burlap & Barrel to bring your spice cabinet to the next level. The Jewish Table readers can use the code TOWELTIME to get free Burlap & Barrel kitchen towels with any $25+ order. (Add the spices and kitchen towels to your cart, then enter the code at checkout.)
[Oh, and Ori - remember to always cover your brisket!]
How would you describe your relationship with Jewish food, and how has it changed over the years?
My family moved from Tel Aviv to suburban Baltimore when I was 5 years old, and that move defined my relationship with Jewish food. We didn't have extended family around, so we expanded our definition of family. We'd cobble together holiday celebrations with all the other people who were away from home, just like us. Our meals involved a rotating cast of dad's PhD students, friends and family coming to visit, our classmates and co-workers and all of their +1s. They were all invited into our home, to our traditions, and whenever we were their guests, we were treated with the same warmth.
A big change in my relationship with Jewish food happened this year when I hosted my family for a Rosh Hashanah dinner. There are first times for everything, and here I was, serving my parents the same dishes they've cooked all of my life. I served them matzo ball soup, chicken livers seared on a hot pan and sprinkled with salt crystals and aged balsamic vinegar served over deeply caramelized onions, and jerky-style brisket (whoops!). I don't know what I got wrong with the brisket - maybe I forgot to cover it? Or to uncover it? I'm not sure, but I'll ask Leah after I finish writing this. Plus, a good friend shipped us homemade challah, while my partner made a beautiful honey apple crumble.
We ate, we welcomed in the new year, everyone helped clear the table, and, as we cut into the apple crumble and made a carafe of mint tea, it dawned on me that we had just entered a new chapter in my relationship to Jewish food: from guest to host.
In what way did your Jewish food heritage influence or inspire your work with Burlap & Barrel?
Our people have always been travelers and traders. Even as a kid, our family spent the year traveling back and forth between Israel and America, and I couldn't wait to visit a place with new foods. This makes me sound like an old man, but what the hell. As a kid, we didn't even have personal screens in airplanes, usually just a lame movie projected for the whole plane. That meant that the flight to Israel from Baltimore was, best case, 10-12 hours with no hope for real entertainment. It drove me mad, but the family and food waiting for us after we landed were well worth it.
I am still a traveler and a trader. I get to work with our partner farmers in 23 countries around the world. We get to build a social enterprise that creates healthy, mutually-beneficial trade relationships that help improve the livelihoods of our partner farmers. Growing and trading spices is maybe the oldest profession in the world, and we get to create what comes next.
Last October, we went on a sourcing trip to Hungary (where our Szegedi 178 Hot Paprika and Noble Sweet Paprika come from), which has a special connection for me. Our best efforts to track my family's lineage tell us that on my dad's side, his family was moved to Senta in Serbia sometime in the 1600s from the city of Zohor in present-day Slovakia, which also how we got our last name. As a kid, my grandfather would take a boat to Szeged, the big city in the area, to go to the Szeged Synagogue for the high holidays, which I got to visit at the tail end of our sourcing trip. A multi-generational circle was closed for me standing in that synagogue where cloves, ginger flowers, and peppercorn vines are built into the stained glass panels on both sides of the main atrium.
What has surprised you most about partnering with spice farmers from all over the world?
The best part of the work is spending time with our partner farmers. So much of running our business is done by email, in spreadsheets, and over Google Meet, so when we get to spend a few days in the cloud forests of Guatemala, trudging through the steep slopes and 100% humidity that cardamom enjoys, it's magical.
Our partner farmers are impressive entrepreneurs in their own right. We're building a different kind of supply chain - one that sets up farmers to directly export the spices that they grow. The farmer becomes responsible for not just growing and harvesting the spices, but also cleaning, drying, in some cases grinding and blending, before preparing for shipping to the US. That's one of the ways that our supply chain gives farmers more control over their crops and lets us offer a premium way above the commodity prices. That means that, on top of being able to grow incredible spices, the ideal partner must be creative and ambitious, ready to help evolve the spice trade. It's been such a great surprise to get to know this group of exceptional entrepreneurial farmers around the world and work on building our businesses together.
If you could sit down to your perfect "Jewish" meal (however you define that), what would be on the table - and who would be around it?
Hanukkah has long been my favorite Jewish holiday. Eight days of fried food, fire, and song? Absolutely. Since it's just about time to start lighting the candles, I'm really looking forward to a perfect version of a classic Hanukkah dish: the latke.
I've been experimenting with what I'm convinced is a revolutionary way to make my ideal latkes: low effort, big flavor. A lightly salted crispy carrier for both savory and sweet toppings. And what if I told you you could have all of this with no more grating potatoes until you accidentally sacrifice one of the edges of my fingers or knuckles? Let me introduce you to juicer latkes.
I recently received a juicer as a gift, and that's when the experiments began. I juiced cantaloupes and watermelons. I juiced tomatoes and chayote - anything I could get my hands on. It was my own version of the "Will It Blend" series, but with a juicer. It didn't take long to start thinking about what to do with the pulp, but the light bulb went off with the next idea: What if we juiced something specifically for the pulp? And that's how juicer latkes were born. Two potatoes plus one onion later, and I was frying up some delicious latkes in my cast iron pan. I used a paper towel to soak up the excess oil, then topped them with some yogurt and spicy mango chutney as I served them.
Since latkes are for sharing, the people that I'd love to have around the table are all family. I want to share this love language of cooking up a good meal that I learned from them. I have a 95-year-old grandma in Israel, as well as uncles, cousins…an entire extended family. I've always been a guest at their table, and I'd love to host them. To create that feeling of home, even when we're all so far away from it.
Bonus Reading (and Wearing)
Want to learn even more about Burlap & Barrel? Check out this article I wrote about them back in 2020.
My friend Kristin Miglore recently published Food 52’s Simply Genius Cookbook - the third cookbook in her Genius Recipes series. And guys, it’s really stunning. As promised, the recipes are simple, but they coax maximum flavor out of every ingredient combination. (I recently made a farro salad recipe that I couldn’t stop eating.) The book also includes a teeny tiny recipe of mine - let me know if you spot it! If you have a novice cook in your life, or know someone who could benefit from straightforward recipes with serious wow-factor, this is the book for them (and you! and me!)
Gefilteria, a company that is focused on reimagining Jewish food, is turning 10 this year! I’ve been a fan and friend of Gefilteria’s since their very earliest days, and was thrilled to learn about their 10th anniversary, limited edition Carp in the Bathtub hat. (IYKYK - and if you don’t know: read here.) I can think of no better way to celebrate Jewish food tradition and innovation, while looking very stylish in the process. Order a Carp in the Bathtub hat here!