A Primer to Israeli Hanukkah Donuts - Mini Soufganiyot

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Mini soufganiyot with marzipan, milk chocolate-espresso, white chocolate-strawberry.
Mini soufganiyot with marzipan, milk chocolate-espresso, white chocolate-strawberry.Credit: Vered Guttman

While latkes are the star of any Jewish-American Hanukkah celebration, in Israel soufganiyot, jelly doughnuts, take center stage. And when I say jelly doughnuts, I’m really talking nostalgically about the soufganiyot of my childhood in the 1970’s. The Israeli soufganiyot of today have little in common with the simple fried treats that were sold from a small box held next to the cashier in mom-and-pop grocery stores across the country.

Soufganiyot first appeared in Germany in the Middle Ages, where they were known as Berliners and were a popular Christmas treat. In Poland they’re called paczki and are eaten year round, but especially during winter and on Fat Thursday, the Polish version of the last day before Lent. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to have a Polish grocery store in your area, there's a good chance they sell fresh paczki at least some days of the week, perfect for an easy Hanukkah celebration.

Paczki were brought to Israel by Polish immigrants, where they changed their name to a Mishnaic-origin word and slowly replaced latkes as the main Hanukkah treat.

Over the years, the traditional, simple Eastern European way of filling the doughnuts with jelly and sprinkling the top with powdered sugar gave way to more elaborate, over-the-top creations by Israel’s best young pastry chefs. While the original yeast-eggs-milk recipe for the doughnut dough remains the same, fillings now include Toblerone, tiramisu, macchiato-whisky, passion fruit with white chocolate, chestnut cream and raspberry jam, salted caramel and many more. With only eight days of Hanukkah, it’s hard to try them all.

Here’s a recipe to help you create some of this excitement on your own. 

Mini soufganiyot

As with any recipe that includes yeast, I recommend getting instant dry yeast, available online, which work better and faster than active dry yeast. But both will work for this recipe.

Yields 40 mini soufganiyot
INGREDIENTS
2 lbs. (7 cups) flour
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups warm milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons soft butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Brandy
2 teaspoons kosher salt 
Corn or canola oil for frying
Jelly for filling, powdered sugar for sprinklings (optional)

DIRECTIONS
1.    Put flour, dry yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix for 2 minutes. Add milk, eggs, yolks, butter, vanilla and lemon zest and mix on medium-low speed for 8 minutes. Add brandy and salt and mix for 2 minutes longer. Remove bowl from mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and keep in a warm place for an hour, until dough doubles in volume. Alternatively, keep covered bowl in fridge overnight; the dough will develop better this way.
2.    Lightly flour a working surface and oil several baking sheets. Flatten half the dough on the floured surface, and using your hands roll 1 oz. balls, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and put on the baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Flour your hands occasionally to prevent the dough from becoming too sticky. Cover the balls with towel and let rise for 45-60 minutes until doubled in size. Do not let dough rise much longer, since this will cause it to lose its shape and absorb much more oil during frying.
3.    Layer two baking sheets with two layers of paper towels.
4.    Put 1 1/2 inches of oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat, and heat to about 325 degrees Fahreneit (160 degrees Celsius) - a piece of dough should fry gently with very little bubbles around it. Use a metal spatula to gently remove balls from the tray and transfer them into the oil, frying about 6-7 at a time, about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Transfer to the baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat with all balls.
5.    Use a Bismarck pastry tip and pastry bags to fill soufganiyot with jelly, then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm. Alternately, try one of the fillings below.


Marzipan filling

INGREDIENTS
6 oz. almond flour or blanched almonds
6 oz. sugar
12 tablespoons softened butter
2 teaspoons almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Lemon zest or orange zest for decoration

DIRECTIONS
1.    Put almond flour, sugar, butter, almond extract, lemon zest and juice in a blender or a food processor and mix until you have a smooth, soft marzipan texture.
2.    When soufganiyot are room temperature, use a pastry bag with a Bismarck pastry tip attachment to pipe the soft marzipan into soufganiyot. Top each soufganiya with a small dollop of marzipan and cover it with lemon zest.

Milk chocolate-espresso filling

INGREDIENTS
14 oz. (2 1/2 cups) milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup strong espresso
Pinch salt
Chocolate covered coffee beans for decoration

DIRECTIONS
1.    Put chocolate chips, cream, espresso and salt in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 20-second intervals, mixing after each one, until chocolate is just melted. Be careful not to bring cream to a boil. Cover bowl and keep in the fridge for an hour until cream cools down.
2.    When soufganiyot are room temperature, use a pastry bag with a Bismarck pastry tip attachment to pipe chocolate-espresso cream into soufganiyot. Top each soufganiya with a small dollop of chocolate-espresso cream and a coffee bean.

White chocolate-strawberry filling

INGREDIENTS
2 1/4 cups white chocolate chips
3/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Pinch salt
1 pint strawberries for decoration

DIRECTIONS
1.    Put chocolate chips, cream, zest and salt in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 20-second intervals, mixing after each one, until chocolate just melts. Be careful not to bring cream to boil. Cover bowl and keep in the fridge for an hour until cream cools down.
2.    When soufganiyot are room temperature, use a pastry bag with a Bismarck pastry tip attachment to pipe white chocolate cream into the soufganiyot. Top each soufganiya with a small dollop of white chocolate cream and a sliced strawberry.

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