You may not have heard of sufganiyot, but you most definitely have had them: They’re simply jelly doughnuts. Hanukkah is the celebration of a miracle that occurred during the rededication of a temple after a Jewish revolt against their ancient Greek persecutors when a single night’s supply of oil lasted eight days. Thus, eight nights of celebrating by eating fried food. You can — nay, you must — eat doughnuts every day. It’s the law.
Most of us get our doughnuts from a store and have never attempted making them in our own homes. But the holidays are a special time when we are all compelled to DIY everything with varying degrees of success. Doughnuts and sufganiyot can be especially intimidating, with their hot oil and tricky timing and risk of third-degree burns. If you’re a true beginner, here are some hacks to use this year to get you through the holiday.
Cheat with refrigerated dough
Let’s get deep here — what is a doughnut, anyway? Can any of us truly qualify it? Not all doughnuts have holes. Churros are Mexican doughnuts, and they’re made in straight lines. People are making baked doughnuts, which are a hock of crap because it’s cake baked in a doughnut-shaped pan so they should call it “little circle cakes that are lying to you.”
The only thing experts can agree on (experts meaning me and all my friends in the Secret Pastry Chef Club): Doughnuts must be fried. If all that’s required is hot oil, then theoretically, you can be frying any sort of dough. That means you don’t even have to make your own and have to panic about yeast or rising or all the technical mumbo-jumbo that comes along with a sufganiyot-making session.
Grab yourself a can of buttermilk biscuits and fry those. Or cinnamon rolls. You can also make fake Cronuts by taking a bunch of those extra-flaky biscuits, stacking them on top of each other, smooshing them down, cutting a hole in the middle, and deep-frying ’til puffed and golden.
Really, really cheat by flash-frying store-bought doughnuts
Maybe you’re a beginner and don’t trust yourself to know when the sufganiyot are done. Maybe you have a phobia of raw dough. There are stranger things.
Store-bought doughnuts are fine, but perhaps you had your heart set on an entirely homemade Hanukkah — or at least creating the illusion of one. This is how you pull it off: Flash-fry already made doughnuts. Make sure the ones you buy are completely and utterly plain — no glaze, no powdered sugar coating, nothing. Toss them in a bit of flour (or potato starch if you want to make them extra-addictive), shake off the excess, then fry for about a minute until the coating has disappeared and the doughnut is crisped. Then you can proceed in topping them with glazes or flavored sugars or just serve piping hot as the best doughnuts are.
Want to get a little crazier? Once floured, dip the doughnuts in egg, then dredge in your favorite cereal that’s been pulverized into coarse crumbs. May we recommend Capt’n Crunch? It’s crazy delicious, and we’ve heard rumors that the Capt’n is, in fact, Jewish.
Experiment with new fillings
What I love about jelly doughnuts is that even though I obviously know it’s filled, when you reach the jelly, it’s a big surprise. Will it be raspberry or some other lesser flavor? Will it be gushing out like lava from a volcano or will it be a lousy half-teaspoon like a certain major doughnut chain doles out because they’re bastard people who don’t understand proportions? It gives me the same sort of excitement as opening a gift — overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement as to what’s inside. It’s the little things, people.
I’m sure you know you’re not strictly bound to jelly even though it’s traditional. Yet as crazy as it sounds, I’ve met so many people who have had kitchen disasters while attempting to fill sufganiyot with Nutella, peanut butter or anything else people like to eat shamefully from the jar after the kids go to bed.
Why? Because they’re so excited, they’re skipping over the common-sense aspect, which is noticing the fact that these things are way too dense to fill doughnuts with. Not only will they make a mess while filling, but they are also too heavy when paired with the airiness of a perfectly fried doughnut.
The solution has been staring at you the entire time at the doughnut shop, and you will probably kick yourself for not figuring it out: mix these things with pudding. That’s all. Pudding is stable enough that it will not leak out, which is what will happen if you attempt to thin these things out with milk or water.
Pudding also opens your doughnuts to a world of possibilities: Mix peanut butter with chocolate pudding, Nutella with butterscotch, cookie butter with cheesecake.
Don’t forget the outsides
Traditionally sufganiyot are rolled in sugar straight out of the fryer, but this is a missed opportunity to take them to the next level. Don’t just rely on the fillings to give them flavor — dress the sugar up with mix-ins to complement what’s inside.
Run a tablespoon your favorite tea through a coffee grinder with about half a cup of sugar — chai pairs well with a vanilla custard filling, Earl Grey with a marmalade doughnut. Try spices that aren’t cinnamon, like ginger to go with a strawberry jam or cardamom with a filling of apple butter pudding.
Want to try your hand at replicating one of those Technicolor gourmet doughnuts you’ve seen on Instagram? Swap out the milk or water in your basic powdered sugar glaze recipe with a juice concentrate or another highly flavorful liquid (yes, booze is in play here).
You’ve come this far, so let’s get fancy
If you’re having company and are the crafty type, why not make a Hanukkah-themed croquembouche? If you’ve never heard of one, they are a très étourdissant dessert-slash-centerpiece of cream puffs dipped in caramel and built into a conical tower.
Make your sufganiyot into miniatures, squirt in a bit of filling with a squeeze bottle, attach to a styrofoam base from a craft store, then decorate with berries, flowers or whatever else makes you squee.
Just a note: Though you’ll find more than a few recipes for doughnut hole croquembouche online, most don’t use filled sufganiyot, which are a bit heavier than normal doughnut holes. This means you’ll need something a bit stronger than flimsy toothpicks to hold them on — either use thick decorative toothpicks or bamboo skewers that have been cut down to double the length of your doughnuts.
Also, attach the pick to the base — not the sufganiyot — to make sure you don’t squirt jelly everywhere while arranging them. If the pick is a bit too long and ends up sticking out a bit, cover it up with some garnish, like a cranberry or sprig of mint.
And there you have it — sufganiyot as easy or as challenging as you want to make them.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.