Donut worry, these doughnuts will sweeten your chag

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No matter what dieting trend you follow, the fact is that even Professor Tim Noakes might agree that doughnuts are – and always will be – the exception. Few can resist the doughy goodness of this classic treat, and with Chanukah around the corner, no excuse is needed to indulge.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Dec 12, 2019

Celebrated on the 25th of Kislev, Chanukah commemorates one of the great victories of Jewish history. In the 2nd century BCE, a small group of Jews led by Judah Maccabee reconsecrated the desecrated Temple of Jerusalem after a miraculous victory against the ruling Greek powers.

Tradition has it that when they sought to relight the menorah, only one day’s worth of undefiled oil remained. It miraculously burned for eight days, allowing time to prepare more oil. This is where the doughnuts come in, as it’s also customary to eat food fried in oil.

According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopaedia of Jewish Food, sufganiyot became the Chanukah food of choice in Israel in the 1920s before the state was established. The Histadrut, the Israeli labour federation, found in the doughnut a unique job opportunity for the underemployed masses living in what was then British controlled Palestine.

The idea was to put people to work preparing, transporting, and selling these fried delicacies and a push was made to produce and sell them starting weeks before the first night of Chanukah, thus extending the holiday season and the work opportunities the doughnuts created.

Although virtually synonymous with the festival of lights, the once humble doughnut is today an unrecognisable culinary masterpiece. The traditional round, spongy doughnut, (or sufganiya, as Israelis call it) has evolved into an extravagant gourmet creation worthy of Instagram. Plain jam is no longer the order of the day, with whisky fillings, red velvet toppings, and chocolate infusions dominating the scene.

This is best exemplified in modern-day Israel, where bakeries compete for buyers’ attention with elaborate designs inspired by haute patisserie, carrying an equally elaborate price tag.

Supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries, and open-air food markets boast a dizzying doughnut array throughout the holiday period. Angel Bakeries, the largest commercial bakery in Israel, purportedly fries more than 250 000 sufganiyot each day. In total, it’s estimated that about 20 million sufganiyot will be sold in Israel during Chanukah.

Because the contemporary designer-doughnut scene is primarily the preserve of Israel, the SA Jewish Report embarked on a mission to create and sample an array of local gourmet doughnuts, establishing whether a doughnut is just a doughnut – or something more.

We invited members of our community to try their hands at creating a gourmet sufganiya of their own following a simple mandate: capture the spirit of Chanukah in doughnut form, and use as much creativity as desired.

And so, representatives from Feigels, Frangelicas, Shulas, Jozi Blue, and Esther Home Catering together with a panel of hand-picked judges, assembled at the SA Jewish Report’s offices for Johannesburg’s first sufganiyot tasting. The judges, including Israeli Deputy Ambassador Ayellet Black, cosmetics business icon Reeva Forman, and marketing guru Dina Diamond, evaluated each entry out of fifty to declare one the winner. This was done without knowing who had prepared the dish, and was based on criteria including originality, flavour, appearance, and Chanukah spirit.

“This is definitely not a pre-summer activity,” laughed Diamond as the tasting commenced. “You can’t get the beach body you want doing something like this.”

Nevertheless, the judges took to their evaluation with zest, sampling each entry in turn and discussing scores between bites. The evening began with a cheesecake cronut, crafted by Frangelicas and featuring a layer of its signature cheesecake sandwiched delicately between two layers of croissant-style pastry and topped with icing and a strawberry slice.

“There’s something about cheesecake that’s very Jewish,” said Diamond. “It adds something to the doughnut that makes it stay a doughnut, while being different. It’s really unique.”

From there, the judges embraced the “bear necessities”, tucking into Jozi Blue’s novel bear-inspired doughnuts – chocolate coated traditional doughnuts complete with adorable chocolate ears and eyes, and a piped mousse muzzle in the centre. Given the cuteness overload, they had a hard time biting into their samples. “I think this is gorgeous, and I just can’t bear to bite it,” laughed Forman.

Black commented on its appeal for children, saying her own would be unable to resist its bearish charm. “My kids wouldn’t care what it tastes like,” she said. “The look alone would have them hooked. The concept is so original, and the design so cute.”

Also taking their cue from the traditional circular doughnut, Esther Home Catering and Shulas captured the warmth of a typical Chanukah with their masterpieces. Presented as bite-size doughnuts drenched in either blueberry syrup or dulce de leche, the creations of Esther Buzaglo reminded judges of the homely Chanukah setting familiar to most of us.

“These are traditional and cute,” Forman commented. “They’re also dangerous – you could eat so many because they’re so small, but they scream Chanukah”. Diamond concurred, “They’re so warm and inviting. Although standard, you look at these and immediately think of Chanukah. It’s foolproof.”

As for Shulas, the judges admired the creativity of combining a traditional black forest cake with a doughnut, creating a sandwich style, cream-filled invention, complete with cherries and cherry syrup. Though slightly rich, the overall effect was well-received, the judges admiring its originality. “There’s a lot of taste in here,” said Black. “The filling has great flavour, and I like the concept.”

Finally, Feigels presented a figurative and literal twist on the Chanukah doughnut, serving up a plaited creation that resembled a braided challah, though this one was topped with blueberries and filled with a strawberry cream filling.

“I like the exterior, and the nod to the healthiness given by the berries,” laughed Black. The judges agreed that the invocation of challah cemented its originality, saying it seemed like something one would eat on Shabbat during Chanukah. “It’s more bready than doughnuty,” said Diamond.

After rinsing the lingering sweetness from their palates, the judges finalised their scores and agreed that the figures were neck on neck. Frangelicas’ cheesecake cronut emerged victorious, with Esther’s miniature marvels and Jozi Blue’s “bearnut” close on its heels. The judges agreed that the decision was extremely difficult to make, but that every entry paid a fitting tribute to Chanukah and doughnuts.

The Israeli doughnut scene has certainly been given a run for its money. If these masterpieces do become available to Jewish Johannesburg, you should consider staying put this December.

1 Comment

  1. 1 devora even-tov 12 Dec
    the question is....are these 3 winners going to be made available...and at what prices...

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