Hooray! It’s Chanukah!
It’s that magical time of year when we engage in the custom of cooking with olive oil and deep-frying foods. I published a donut recipe last year for bimuelos, which are round, Turkish fried donut balls similar to an Italian zeppole. A filled donut, or sufganyah, takes a bit more time. I only make these once a year, so I think it’s worth the extra effort.
Many of us live in places without a good bakery to buy donuts for Chanukah. It’s very satisfying to make them for yourself — and it’s also the loveliest time to make memories with children. Children can and should be involved in the preparation and clean up. Our holidays are about family and not about perfection. The kids will be so pleased with their creations even if the jelly filling is leaking out all over the plate.
Although I mentioned jelly, you don’t have to stick to jelly to fill these donuts. You can use a chocolate or vanilla pudding mix, Nutella, or make a pastry cream if you’re feeling inspired. As for the topping, choose your favorites. I prefer plain and powdered sugar for sufganyot, but sometimes I use cinnamon sugar, or glaze the top with a chocolate ganache.
Because of the multiple steps, this is a day-ahead or a morning-of project.
Makes 12 large or 24 small donuts
2 ½ teaspoons yeast
2 cups warm milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 quarts of oil for frying; you can reuse this oil. I suggest something neutral and for high heat.
Filling of your choice
Granulated sugar or powdered sugar for finishing
Remove the eggs from the refrigerator at least an hour before it’s time to bake. I always advise baking with room-temperature eggs to get the best result.
I suggest using an electric stand mixer for this recipe because this is a stickier dough and needs a bit of kneading.
Warm the milk but keep it below a simmer. If the milk is too hot the yeast will not rise and the egg yolks will curdle.
Pour the milk into the mixer bowl and add the yeast.
Add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the butter and let rest for 2 minutes, allowing the butter to melt into the milk.
Using a paddle or a dough hook attachment, start the mixer on a low setting and add in the egg yolks and the salt.
Add the flour, half a cup at a time.
Once the ingredients look combined, let the dough knead for 5 minutes.
Add the last tablespoon of butter, cut up, and mix for one more minute.
Spray the top of the dough with cooking spray, then cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 1 hour in a warm place.
After 1 hour, punch down the dough. It should feel sticky but lighter than a bread dough.
Cut parchment or wax paper into 12 or 24 small pieces (depending on the size and number of donuts you want to make), about 6-inches square, then divide the dough into individual portions.
Dust your hands in flour — the dough is sticky and the flour will make it easier to form the balls. Place each piece of dough on its own square of paper.
Cover with plastic wrap, tucking the edges down so air can’t get in, and let rest for another 45 minutes or until doubled. (Note: I once had the experience of finding my dough still very wet and unable to hold a shape even after an hour. I don’t know if it had to do with the heat of the kitchen or the humidity, but I added about another half cup of flour and mixed it in until the consistency looked more like a soft bread dough. I covered it again and let it rise for another half hour before breaking it into portions. Things don’t always go as planned, even when we follow recipes perfectly, but you can almost always repair an issue in the kitchen by making a small adjustment.)
I cut slices of carrots when I deep-fry anything because it attracts the black oxidization away from the treats, and I add a fresh carrot slice to the oil with every new batch of donuts.
Heat the oil in a wide, deep pan to at least 340 F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil it by adding a small piece of carrot or dough and see if it immediately floats. If it sinks, then wait another 5 minutes and try again; if it floats you’re good to go.
Use the recommended amount of oil for frying — the donuts need the depth to cook well. You should be able to fry 4-5 donuts at a time but this depends on the width of your pot.
Pick up each square of paper from underneath to gently turn the donut into the pot. This will keep fingerprint indentations from forming. If it’s sticky, use a knife to help scrape the dough away from the paper.
Fry donuts until just golden, then turn them over, usually about 2-3 minutes per side.
If the oil smells really strong, turn down the flame a notch or two to prevent the oil from burning, otherwise you’ll have to dump the entire batch.
Remove the evenly-browned donuts to cool on a baking rack lined with paper towels. If you’re using granulated sugar, dip the warm donuts into the sugar after they’ve cooled for about 10 minutes. If you’re using powdered sugar, either roll them or sift sugar over them after they are completely cooled. Powdered (icing) sugar makes a pasty mess when the donut is too hot.
Allow the donuts to completely cool before filling them.
Use a pastry bag with a point or some sort of jelly injector to fill the donut with jelly or cream. You could use a cake decorating set in a pinch or a Ziploc bag with a small diagonal cut over one corner, but you will get a better result with a specialized tool. If you don’t have a special tool, I advise making a small X in the top center of the donut with a paring knife and inject the filling in from the top, leaving an extra dollop on top to cover up the knife mark.
Fill the donuts from the top center or the side and then dust with sugar.
Wishing you and your family a Chanukah sameach! We should all see the miracles in our lives. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.