Hanukkah doesn't officially begin until sundown on Saturday, December 8, but the celebration kicked off as soon as the first sufganiya, or jelly donut, hit the window displays of the country's bakeries. Israelis are quick to pounce on the endless racks of fried doughy goodness and return for more:
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Some of the most popular bakeries are said to sell hundreds of thousands a day during the eight-day holiday.
Where is this custom from? Well, a similar food with spongy insides was mentioned in the Talmud by the name sufganim. Contemporary sufganiyot originated in Central Europe and the word itself, which harks back to its historic past, was coined in 1897 and shares a root with the Hebrew word for sponge (sfog).
The standard sufganiya is just fried dough filled with strawberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar. Over the years, "standard" flavors have grown to include dulce de leche, or chocolate, or both. These typically cost anywhere from NIS 4 to NIS 7.
Recently, designer sufganiyot have become all the rage. Some of the more esoteric offerings that come to mind are melon with vodka, "creme brulee," pistachio cream filling, truffle filling with Belgian chocolate coating and coconut vanilla ganache filling, among others.
The hot new trend is sufganiyot that come with a small syringe poking out of the soft center from which you, the jelly donut surgeon, inject a filling of choice, such as kahlua, vodka or rum. (The red-berry liqueur syringe can be a tad disturbing, though.) For these "top shelf" desserts, the price will run you anywhere from NIS 8 to NIS 16.
Eating fried foods, including sufganiyot and potato pancakes, is an inextricable part of the Festival of Lights, which commemorates the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days.
A regular sized sufganiya with all the fixings is rumored to approach 1,000 calories (that's 1,000 – not a typo) and some bakeries have responded by introducing mini versions, or baked varieties, or those without the added sugar coatings for more health conscious consumers who have noticed that even in December, there's a chance you can find yourself at the beach.