December 26, 2019

A Meditation on Donuts

Chanukah is traditionally a time for family and friends to gather at parties, eat latkes, sing songs and play dreidel. On a deeper level, it can be a time of introspection on the miraculous lights. However esoteric it is, I cannot help but meditate on donuts (sufganiyot in Israel).

How can an oily, fried food be a source of inspiration? Just head to your nearest Roladin Bakery where they have taken the plain, jelly-filled donut and given it a total makeover. Each season, their newest, famous designer donuts parade the bakery catwalk as they lead the way in the haute couture of Chanukah cuisine. Here is their sophisticated 2019 winter line up, complete with accoutrements and appliques.

Truffe 🌰
Chocolate cream filling, glacage noir, dark chocolate shavings with a dash of cocoa and hazelnut

Fairy Burst 🧚‍♀
Blondie cream filling with a chaser of caramel hazelnut whipped cream topped with a hazelnut Breton biscuit

Blondie ganache, caramel glacage laced with bitter chocolate, profiterole served with a chaser of hazelnut chocolate

Mascarpone cream, raspberries, chaser of roses, berries and whipped cream

Cream of mascarpone, mango and passion fruit, almond macaron and whipped cream

St. Honore
Mascarpone forest berries, red fruits and profiteroles

Glimpses of Pecan
Dolce creme of banana, caramel glacage, caramelized pecan, whipped cream and toffee chaser

Variegato pistachio crunch, whipping cream, topped with a Breton biscuit

Baaba Rum
Sufganiya in sugar syrup, whipped cream, cherry amarena with a dark rum chaser

Chocolate Chic
Creamy-like chocolate with pearl icing, topped with chocolate crunch

Chocolate Party
Chocolate candy pops on top with a chocolate crunch filling

Vanilla Cookie Cream
Creme Patisserie, glace noir, cookie crumble, whipped cream and chunks of Oreo
Whipped Cream
Whipped cream with glace noir

Classic caramel cream

Classic Strawberry
Classic strawberry jam

Each year, the donut season here seems to lengthen – one barely puts away their Sukkah decorations when Chanukah donuts glisten, beckoning from bakery shelves. Our challenge is when we should give into temptation and eat a sufganiya.

It has such value, it has become a machloket in our family, my daughter holding off till Rosh Chodesh Kislev and my machmir son waiting until erev Chanukah. I am proud to say that I was able to wait until after we lit the first Chanukah candle.

Sufganiya poster at Roladin Cafe
Why such a fuss over donuts? Every Jewish holiday (except the fast days of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) has a serious gourmet food element. Here is how the sufganiya sweetly combines history and culture.

The interesting story behind the donut is that it was promoted by the Histadrut Labor Federation in the 1920s in order to create jobs for new immigrants to Israel. Chanukah latkes are easy to make at home, but donuts require technique and special equipment. Thus, the Histradrut promoted the first Israeli donut and named it sufganiya after the word ‘sfog’ which means ‘to blot’ or ‘sponge’  in Hebrew.

They were not the first to call a Chanukah delicacy by this word. The father of the Rambam, who lived in Spain in the twelfth century, chastised those who disdained eating fried dough treats on Chanukah by writing, “One must not make light of the custom of eating sofganim on Chanukah. It is a custom of the Kadmonim.” The Kadmonim he spoke of are the ancient ones, implying that this Sephardi tradition goes way back.

It was the Ashkenazi Jews who contributed the jelly filling aspect to this doughy delicacy, using the first jelly donut recipe was that was published in Germany in 1532. It quickly spread across Europe and the Polish kosher version (frying them in goose fat as opposed to pig lard) soon become known as ‘ponchiks.’

In the 20th century, when East met West right in the Middle (East), these desserts morphed with delicious results. And as new immigrants came, they brought their own versions. The Argentinians introduced the popular ‘ribat chalav’ or caramel flavor. And then innovative Roladin, thinking out of the donut box akin to any Israeli start up, took sufganiyot to the next level.

Our family's tradition is to light the Chanukah candles and stare at the flickering flames followed by a good, long, appreciative stare at our box of Roladin sufganiyot. And you know what happens next!

There is a rather unusual biblical interpretation on the word Sufganiya. If you look at the word as sof-gan, indicating the ‘end of the Garden of Eden’ followed by the Hebrew letters yud and hey (two letters of the Divine name), one may argue that after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, G-d appeased their pain with sufganiyot. (However, given the caloric content of these modern-day donuts, Adam would need true will power to say 'no'!)

Happy Chanukah!

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