Traditionally, Americans fry latkes, while Israelis indulge in the sweetness of sufganiyot, a fried hole-less donut, with custard or jam inside.

I don’t have plans to return to Israel, but the next time I go, it will be during Chanukah.

For Jews around the world, the eight-day Festival of Lights begins on the Hebrew calendar of 25 Kislev. For us this year, that is the evening of Dec. 18, running through Dec. 26. Chanukah is not technically a national holiday in Israel, but the schools and businesses close so the community can celebrate.

Israel’s party starts with a popular 20-mile runner’s relay in Modi’in, that ends at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The last torchbearer sprints the flame up to the Chief Rabbi, who uses it to light the first candle of a giant menorah. Cheers erupt as the flame officially kicks off the holiday.

At sunset, families light their menorahs outdoors, creating a warm glow that brightens the streets in the neighborhood after dark. There are plays, games, sing-alongs and traditional holiday foods. Chanukah in Israel is a true celebration of hope and freedom, and an obviously festive time to visit.

This merrymaking alone should be enough for me to book my ticket with El Al, but as a chef, my real interest for switching continents during Chanukah revolves around food. We play games, sing songs, have parties and light menorahs here too, so that’s not it. The primary reason for a visit is the difference between what we use to commemorate the oil’s miracle of burning for eight days.

Traditionally, Americans fry latkes, while Israelis indulge in the sweetness of sufganiyot, a fried hole-less donut, with custard or jam inside.

During Chanukah, Israeli bakeries display trays of sufganiyot in endless flavor combinations. They are truly pastry masterpieces and become available in bakeries all around the country over the holiday.

Sufganiyot are the country’s most popular holiday food, with more than 80% of Israelis eating at least one of them a day during Chanukah, according to They state that the IDF alone buys close to a half a million doughnuts, which they distribute to soldiers all over the country. In 2021, news station i24 broadcast a segment about one popular bakery frying over 25,000 sufganiyot on each day of Chanukah. Now that’s a lot of dough!

Today, an annual fierce, but friendly, creative rivalry sparks between bakeries to create the most interesting Chanukah sufganiyot. Take the Roladin bakery for example, an operation with 94 outlets all around the country, who carries them in vanilla ganache, toffee crumbleand and violet cheesecake flavors. The Shang bakery in Haifa sells a lemon pie version, and in Tel Aviv, Metuka bakery features a banana cream with a chocolate ganache glaze.

Other flavors include strawberry margarita, halva praline, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate caramel smores, peppermint mocha and pumpkin pie streusel. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem fair.

The sufganiyot recipe originates in the 14th century in Europe, at a time where foods for Chanukah emerge as either as dairy or fried.

According to food historian Rabbi Gil Marks, Sephardic Jews fried a range of sweets for the holiday, while the Jews in northern and Eastern Europe fried cheese blintzes and donuts. Award-winning food writer and cookbook author Davit Leite explains that the first record of a jelly donut, or gefullte krapen, was found in 1532 after the German cookbook Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen) was translated into Polish.  While the original recipe suggests frying them in lard, Polish Jews switch to chicken schmaltz for dietary reasons, calling them ponchik.

Polish immigrants brought their ponchiks and recipes to Israel, where they receive the new name, sufganiyot, or spongy dough. In the late 1920s, the Israeli Federation designated sufganiyot as Israel’s official Chanukah food, knowing donuts are more difficult to make at home. In the spirit of job creation, they built an entire industry around sufganiyot production, transportation and sales, which explains why they are now the Chanukah darling of Israel.

Latkes are delicious in their own right, and before I knew of sufganiyot, they always made me a happy girl during Chanukah. But now that I’m aware of the annual pastry bake-off going on in the Middle East, I’m proposing a change to this year’s menu. For centuries, people around the world use fried dough for celebrations, so why aren’t we?

This year, I want the gourmet donuts that the Israelis use to celebrate. At least this once, I’m considering taking a break from dipping those delicious skillet-fried potatoes into sour cream and applesauce.

If you have donut envy now, and without a ticket to Israel, don’t worry, there’s hope. Sufganiyot are finally gaining ground here, too. You will likely find them in the Jewish bakeries around Metro Detroit like Star, Diamond, Golds International and Zeman’s. Additionally, The Dunkin’ website lists sufganiyot as available during Chanukah at their kosher-certified outlets, like the one on Greenfield in Oak Park. Wow, go Dunkin’!

Should you prefer to fry and want to bypass your potato grater for rolling out some dough, sufganiyot are relatively easy to make. They require few ingredients, most likely already in your cupboard, like flour, sugar, yeast, eggs and a neutral oil such as vegetable or grapeseed. You fry them, roll them in sugar, then set them aside to let them cool. The only thing left to do is fill them with your favorite flavor. So, what will it be?

Are you a jam, custard or Nutella person? Will you create a new invention to share with fellow bakers in Israel? You may not have these answers yet, but it’s certainly going to be delicious to figure them out! Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah Sufganiyot
(Jelly Doughnuts)

(Recipe adapted from
Yield: Makes 20
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for rolling
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 cup jam, Nutella, prepared custard or pudding

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the eggs, yeast mixture, ¼ cup of sugar, butter, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms.

On a well-floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if dough gets too sticky.) Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Lightly flour the work surface and roll dough to ¼ inch thickness. Using a 2½ inch cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 15 minutes.
In a medium sauce pan, heat oil to medium heat, 370 degrees. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 rounds into the oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over and fry another 40 seconds or until golden. Remove from oil to a paper towel lined baking sheet. Fry all the dough and roll in sugar while still warm.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a tip with jam. Using a toothpick or skewer, make a small hole in the side of each donut. Fit the pastry tip in the hole, and pipe about 2 teaspoons of filling into the donut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.

Previous articleFaces & Places: Jewish Senior Life Residents Model in Fundraiser Fashion Show
Next article2022 Chanukah Art Contest Winners