Happy Hanukkah! We’re just about halfway through the Jewish Festival of Lights, and it’s time to celebrate with a big batch of latkes Hanukkah jelly doughnuts.
That’s right, this blog post isn’t about latkes, Hanukkah’s absolutely signature treat. I’m talking about sufganiyot – jelly doughnuts. But instead of making the strictly traditional version of these fried treats, I’m going with a cross-cultural spin that blends Mexican, French, and Jewish traditions more thoroughly than a KitchenAid mixer on high speed.
Hanukkah’s traditional food focus is fried foods, chiefly latkes: potato pancakes. Which are absolutely beyond delicious: I mean, who doesn’t love golden brown potato cakes, crisp on the outside and wonderfully soft within, liberally salted and eaten with sweet applesauce and sour cream?
But Hanukkah is a multiple-day celebration. Surely there’s time to try another traditional holiday food.
Like these sufganiyot: round doughnuts (think doughnut holes) filled with jelly and topped with a blizzard of confectioners’ sugar.
I’ve recently become aware of a Dunkin’ Donuts creation called the “French cruller” – which turns out to be a doughnut made from French pâte à choux, rather than a classic raised (yeast) or cake doughnut.
Pâte à choux is the simple flour-water-salt-butter-egg batter baked into pastry shells for cream puffs and éclairs. Baked being the key word here: pâte à choux isn’t typically fried.
Researching further, I discover that deep-fried Mexican churros – long, thin, cinnamon-sugar doughnuts – are often made from pâte à choux batter.
So – pâte à choux > French cruller doughnuts > Mexican churros > Hanukkah sufganiyot!
Let’s see how this works out.
Pâte à choux is simplicity itself to make. You’re going to need to bring 4 large eggs to room temperature, so take them out of the fridge before you start.
Combine 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a full boil.
Remove the pan from the heat, and add 1 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take considerably less than a minute.
Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes. It’ll still feel hot, but you should be able to hold a finger in it for a few seconds. If you have a digital thermometer, the temperature should be below 125°F.
While the batter is cooling, pour a generous 4 cups vegetable oil (peanut oil preferred) into a 10″ electric frying pan or heavy skillet set over a burner; the oil should be about 5/8″ deep. If you use a smaller or larger pan, add oil to a depth of between 1/2″ and 3/4″.
Start heating the oil to 375°F.
Transfer the hot dough to a mixer. Beat in the 4 eggs one at a time. The batter will look curdled at first, but when you add the last egg it should become smooth. Beat for at least 2 minutes after adding the final egg.
Scoop small (1″) balls of batter into the hot oil, filling the pan but not crowding the doughnuts. A teaspoon cookie scoop, filled level, works well here.
Fry the doughnuts for about 6 minutes. As they cook they’ll turn themselves over, usually multiple times. Use a chopstick or pair of tongs to give a nudge to any that seem to be stuck on one side.
After about 6 minutes, the doughnuts should be a deep golden brown.
Transfer them from the frying pan to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and cool.
Repeat with the remainder of the batter.
Next, we’ll add the jelly. Decide what kind you want to use, and how much: some people like their jelly doughnuts overstuffed, while some prefer just a smidgen.
While it’s tempting to use a high-quality preserve or jam, you don’t want anything too chunky; these doughnuts are small, and it’ll be difficult to get chunky jam into their centers.
A pastry bag equipped with a plain tip is the perfect tool for squeezing jelly into the doughnuts.
OK, here’s another departure from tradition: I’ve rolled the doughnuts in plain sugar, rather than confectioners’. Either’s fine, though; as is cinnamon sugar.
Look at the interior texture! Soft, moist, and tender, a nice counterpart to their crusty exterior.
Pâte à choux – who knew?!
You’ll get about 50 doughnut hole-sized doughnuts out of this recipe.
But if you don’t want to make that many; and you’re ready to break with tradition again…
Take some pâte à choux, mix it with an equal amount (by weight) cooked/riced potato, and shape flat patties.
Fry in 375°F hot oil, about 2 minutes on each side.
Salt generously. Swoon.
Admittedly, these aren’t latkes – they’re more like Tater Tots. But what if you combined shredded raw potato with pâte à choux batter, for that little bit of crunch? Hmmm…
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