Sweet treats from the frying pan, from sufganiyot to Viennese crepes
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Sweet treats from the frying pan, from sufganiyot to Viennese crepes

At the age of 14, having a great time dropping doughnuts into boiling oil despite the occasional spatter, little did I realize I was decades ahead of the curve.

In the 1960s, who knew that one day doughnuts, fritters and beignets would become trendy during Chanukah, giving latkes a run for their gelt?

In my Ashkenazi world, the feisty little potato pancake flecked with chopped onions was the centerpiece of Chanukah celebrations. My Jewish friends hailed from families who had emigrated from Central and Eastern Europe. Our holiday desserts consisted of brownies and rugelach, almond horns and miniature Danish. By the time the coffee was percolating, someone in the kitchen had already washed and put away the frying pans.

I was in my 40s with a 14-year-old daughter before I found out that Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and certain parts of Europe fry up a myriad of Chanukah pastries, which differ from country to country. Many of these crunchy delights are drizzled with sweet syrups and served for dessert.

As a lover of fried dough, I liked this idea before indulging in any of these sizzling pastries.

Perusing recipes, I soon realized you had to distinguish between cooking techniques: pastries that swell from yeast vs. the more crepe-like pancake, and batter that is deep fried vs. sauteed.

At Chanukah, sufganiyot are wildly popular in Israel and sold at virtually every market and bakery. Best consumed warm, the yeast-based balls of dough are deep fried and often contain jelly or custard that oozes from their portly centers.

While sufganiyot grabbed my attention in the ’90s, more and more American Jews are making them now. I like sufganiyot in principle because they are a marriage of Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisines.

Sufganiyot are similar to pfannkuchen, a jelly-filled doughnut that German Jews served at Chanukah during the ’30s. German Zionists carried this holiday custom with them when they immigrated to Palestine.

Scholars claim that sufganiyot are reminiscent of a springy cookie known as sufganne, a fried dough eaten around the Mediterranean since the time of Judah Maccabee. Perhaps that’s why these heavenly doughnuts were given the name sufganiyot in Hebrew, which comes from a Greek word meaning puffed and fried.

Yeast dough fritters called bimuelos are a Chanukah confection favored by Jews from Greece and Turkey. The word bimuelos derives from Spanish. Often drenched in honey syrup after emerging from the frying pan, bimuelos are also called loukomades by Greek Jews.

Sufganiyot are an offspring of loukomades, one of the oldest sweets known to mankind.

Throughout the Sephardi world, variations on the doughnut-fritter theme are riffed and repeated.

In her book "Classic Italian Jewish Cooking," author Edda Servi Machlin reminisced about the Chanukah fritters called Frittelle di Chanuka that she ate in Tuscany during her childhood. Flavored with anise seeds and raisins, the yeasty dough is cut into diamonds, fried in a saucepan until golden, and drizzled with warm honey.

Several years ago, Mathew Goodman in his Food Maven column in the Forward described Moroccan sfenj, airy light yeast doughnuts in the classic ring shape. After being dunked in seething oil, they are glazed with sugar syrup infused with cinnamon and orange. Chopped nuts are added occasionally to the batter, giving them a pleasing crunch.

In the "Jewish Holiday Cookbook," Gloria Kaufer Greene explained that Jews from throughout the Middle East and North Africa swirl strings of dough into simmering oil, creating rosette shapes. This pastry is often called zlabia but goes by zelebi among Yemenite Israelis, and zangoola or zingzoola among Iraqis.

On the Ashkenazi side, I discovered some traditional but often overlooked fried pastries. Viennese layered crepes are an elegant spin on latkes that call for flour and vanilla rather than potatoes and onions. Similar to a layer cake, eight of these crepes – for the eight nights of Chanukah – are piled atop one another with a spiced applesauce filling between them.

Apple fritters are batter-coated apple slices that are submerged into a deep fryer until they turn a resplendent golden brown. While still warm they are dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Never eaten fried desserts before? Why not start this Chanukah?

I suggest dedicating one of the holiday’s eight nights to some of these stunning desserts, perhaps forgoing latkes and other savory fried foods in favor of pastries crisped in oil.

Better still, throw a Sunday afternoon Chanukah party with a "just desserts" menu. Serve fried sweets along with favorite cookies and platters of fruit.

As Chanukah is a holiday celebrating the miracle of a one-day supply of oil that stretched for eight days, you can’t find enough excuses to grab a bottle of cooking oil and fry, fry again.

Apple Fritters (Dairy)

Ingredients:

3 to 5 cups of flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/’ cup milk at room temperature

‘ eggs at room temperature

3 Granny Smith (green) apples

3 cups corn oil

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preparation:

1. Sift flour until it yields 1 cup. Reserve remaining flour. Add salt, sugar, and baking powder to the cup of sifted flour and sift these 4 ingredients into a large mixing bowl.

‘. Add milk and eggs to flour mixture and beat until well incorporated. Batter will be thick but smooth. Reserve.

3. With a vegetable peeler, remove apple skins. With a sharp knife, core the apples. Cut off the bottom of apples to achieve a flat surface. Cut apples horizontally into 1/’ inch slices, about 5 slices per apple. Each slice will be ring shaped with a hole in the center.

4. Pour oil into a saucepan several inches deep and heat it on medium-high flame. Oil should be 1-inch deep. Oil is sufficiently hot when a speck of batter dropped in oil browns immediately.

5. Meanwhile, place a cup of flour on a dinner plate. In batches of ‘ or 3 apple rings, roll each ring in flour to cover every surface. Add more flour as needed.

6. Coat each ring in batter, letting excess batter drip back into bowl. With fingers, hold ring vertically over oil near its surface. Carefully ease bottom of ring into oil and let go. Cook no more than ‘ to 3 rings at a time. Fry fritters for ‘ to 3 minutes on a side, or until they turn a deep golden brown. Turn fritters with a slotted spatula. They will look like doughnuts.

7. Remove fritters with slotted spatula, letting excess oil drip into pan. Place on paper towels to drain. Move to a platter and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately. Yield: approximately 15 fritters.

 

Viennese Layered Crepes (Dairy)

Ingredients:

Filling:

4 cups applesauce

1/’ tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/’ tsp. lemon zest

Preparation:

In a medium-sized saucepan, mix together all filling ingredients. Over a medium-high flame, simmer ingredients for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Carefully drain out excess liquid by straining applesauce in a fine sieve. Reserve.

Crepe Batter:

Ingredients:

6 eggs

1/4 cup melted sweet butter, plus 1/4 cup chilled butter, or more for frying

‘ cups (commercially) whipped cottage cheese

1/’ cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

‘ tsp. granulated sugar

1/’ tsp. vanilla

No-stick spray

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Preparation:

1. Place eggs in a large bowl and beat until light and foamy. Add 1/4 cup melted butter, cottage cheese, flour, salt, sugar, and vanilla, incorporating well. Ladle the batter in equal parts into 8 small bowls.

‘. In an 8-inch skillet, preferably stick-resistant, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Pour batter from 1 bowl into skillet, tipping it so batter spreads evenly. Fry until crepe is lightly browned. Flip over and brown bottom side. Move to a rimmed cake plate and spread a portion of applesauce over it.

3. Repeat with remaining batter. Pile crepes one atop the other with applesauce between each layer. End with a crepe, spreading no applesauce on top. Sprinkle sifted confectioner’s sugar over top crepe. Serve immediately and cut with a sharp knife into slices like a cake.

Yield: 8 slices

 

Hints For Making Yeast Dough For Bimuelos And Sufganiyot:

Rising (proofing) yeast and dough require a warm room free of drafts. Dough rises best when it rests in peace, so avoid loud buzzing noises. To heat up a cool kitchen, keep oven at 350 degrees while dough rises.

Bimuelos (Pareve)

Ingredients:

3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

3/4 cup warm water

1 packet active dry yeast (not close to expiration date). Store in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before using.

5 to 6 cups corn oil, or more if needed

‘ cups flour

1 egg at room temperature

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup honey

1 tbsp. sugar

1/4 cup water

1/’ tsp. ground cinnamon

Preparation:

1. Put sugar in a small bowl. Pour 1/’ cup warm water over sugar. Sprinkle yeast over water. With a spoon warmed in hot water, gently stir mixture. Proof for 10 minutes. Mixture should bubble and increase in volume.

‘. Meanwhile, oil the inside of a large mixing bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil. Place flour in bowl and make a well in center of flour. Inside of well, place 1/’ cup corn oil, egg, salt, and yeast mixture when ready. With a wooden spoon, mix ingredients together until dough sticks together and has a shiny consistency. With hands, form dough into a rounded mound. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm room for 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pot combine honey, sugar, 1/4 cup warm water, and cinnamon. On medium flame, stir ingredients constantly so sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes. Transfer resulting honey syrup to an attractive bowl and reserve. It will thicken at room temperature.

4. Stir the dough. It will deflate. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

5. In a deep pot, pour remaining oil so that it is ‘ inches deep. (The smaller the diameter of the pot, the less oil you will need but the fewer bimuelos you can make at a time.)

6. Dunk the bowls of ‘ tableware teaspoons in hot oil. Pick up a spoonful of dough with first teaspoon and push dough into the oil with the second teaspoon. When bottom side of dough browns, in about ‘ minutes, flip it over with a slotted, long-handled spoon. Continue frying until both sides are brown. You may put several bimuelos in the pot at a time, depending on its size. Don’t overcrowd them.

7. Remove bimuelos one at a time with the slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Wait until they cool to warm. Tastes best when served immediately. Dip in honey syrup. Yield: About 30 bimuelos.

 

Easy Sufganiyot Minis (Pareve)

Special Equipment:

Electric mixer and dough hook

Ingredients:

‘ tsp. sugar

1/3 cup warm water

1 packet active dry yeast (not close to expiration date) stored in refrigerator and brought to room temperature before using.

5 to 6 cups corn oil, or more if needed

3 cups of flour, sifted

1/4 tsp. salt

1/’ cup orange juice, warmed

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, both at room temperature

3 tbsp. non-hydrogenated margarine (such as Earth Balance) melted

1/’ tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 cup

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preparation:

1. Put sugar in a small bowl. Pour warm water over sugar. Sprinkle yeast over water. With a spoon warmed in hot water, gently stir mixture. Proof for 10 minutes. Mixture should bubble and increase in volume.

‘. With 1 tablespoon of oil, grease the bowl of an electric mixer. Place flour in bowl and make a well. Inside of well, place salt, orange juice, egg and egg yolk, margarine, vanilla, 1/3 cup sugar, and yeast mixture, when ready. Using the dough hook attachment, mix until ingredients are well incorporated and a ball of elastic dough forms. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm room for 1 1/’ to ‘ hours, until dough doubles in size.

3. Meanwhile, mix together 1 cup sugar and cinnamon. Place on a dinner plate. Reserve.

4. One at a time, pull off pieces of dough about ‘/3 the size of a golf ball. Roll each piece of dough in palms of your hands until you form a smooth ball. Place balls on parchment paper or foil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30 minutes.

5. Pour remaining oil in a pot, so that oil is ‘ inches deep. The smaller the pot’s diameter the less oil you will need. Heat oil on medium-high flame to 350 degrees or until a speck of dough dropped in oil browns quickly. Place one ball at a time on a long-handled slotted spoon and submerge in oil. Fry for ‘ to 3 minutes until each sufganiyot browns. With slotted spoon turn over sufganiyot and brown. Don’t fry more than a couple of sufganiyot at a time. Lift from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

6. When cooled to warm, roll sufganiyot in cinnamon sugar and serve immediately. Yield: ‘4-30 sufganiyot.

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