It's okay if you don't know what sufganiyot are. Plenty of Jewish people don't even know what sufganiyot are, even though they're a symbolic Hanukkah food (they're supposed to represent the miracle of oil burning for eight days straight).
So let's get the demystification thing out of the way right up front: Sufganiyot are doughnuts. Yep. Pretty much just doughnuts, usually filled with some kind of jelly and served during the Festival of Lights.
Alon Shaya, the Israeli-born chef and co-owner of Domenica in New Orleans, grew up making sufganiyot with his mother in Philadelphia. "Hanukkah was the only time we deep-fried anything in our house," he recalls. "We made [sufganiyot] every day for all eight days, and my favorite part was filling them. I had this little jelly gun—like a hot glue gun, but it shot Smuckers—and I loved seeing how much jelly I could cram into the doughnut before it exploded."
Although that particular memory may belong to Shaya and Shaya alone, the appeal of hot fried balls of dough is universal, and that's why he now serves sufganiyot during Domenica's annual Hanukkah menu (this year, the holiday runs December 16 to 24).
Past iterations have included satsuma jam or saffron cream-filled sufganiyot, but this year, Shaya is bucking tradition and serving a filling-free version dusted with sugar and baharat spice (a mix of cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom and more) and served alongside a rich espresso-fudge dipping sauce (see the recipe).
In the event that you don't have a trip to the Big Easy strategically planned around the holiday, you can make Shaya's sufganiyot at home with relative ease. All you need is a really big pot, a reliable thermometer and more oil than you might feel comfortable with.
"I use the tallest pot I can find, and only fill it halfway, because when you put the dough in, it will increase the volume of the hot oil," Shaya says. "And have all of your ingredients in place before you start frying, because whenever you're working with fresh dough, you don't have time to stop halfway through." Once you're in frying mode, work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot; keep fried sufganiyot warm in a 200° oven until serving.
"I enjoyed the candles and playing dreidel and all that," Shaya says, "but none of that mattered more than the doughnuts."
Hot fried dough: making holiday celebrations complete since the time of the Maccabees.
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