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Photo by Barry A. Kaplan.

Sufganiyot For Chanukah

By Sybil Kaplan, former Winnipegger in Jerusalem, Special to the Winnipeg Jewish Review

Jewish law does not prescribe any special feasting or elaborate meal for Chanukah as it does for other holidays.

Maybe this is because the origin of Chanukah is not in the Bible but in the Apocrypha, the books of literature written between the second century BCE and the second century CE that were not incorporated into the Hebrew Bible.

The Books of Maccabees, of which there are actually four separate books, only say that the hero, Judah, "ordained that the days of dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days from the first and twentieth day of the month Chislev, with mirth and gladness."
So where do we get all the food we eat?  It is in the Talmud where the so-called miracle of the oil burning for eight days is written which was inserted to deemphasize the miracle of military triumph and replace it with a more palatable idea, that of the intervention of G-d, which somehow would seem more a miracle of man against man, according to the sages of the time.

By the way, it is only within the past few years that children’s books about Chanukah dare say the oil story is a legend or a myth.

Practically every ethnic group has the custom of making and eating a form of food prepared in oil as a reminder of the so-called miracle of the jar of oil.
Judy Siegel once wrote in the Jerusalem Post that people gain average of two kilos from eating sufganiyot, latkes and other fat foods during Chanukah!  

From Israel have come two popular foods for Chanukah--sufganiyot or jelly doughnuts and ponchikot, which are ball-shaped or resemble a doughnut hole.
Gil Marks, in "The World of Jewish Desserts," writes that ponchikot, doughnuts fried in oil, were adopted by Polish Jews for Chanukah. The name is taken from the Polish word, paczki [poochkey] which led to the nickname, ponchiks, the Polish name for jelly doughnuts.

I noticed in our Overland Park, Kansas newspaper one day an ad for paczi [poonchkey or poochkey] and a photograph of a plate of what looked to me to be exactly sufganiyot. The ad explained poonchkey are similar to jelly doughnuts only larger and more rich tasting and are traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. They were made to use up shortening and eggs which were prohibited during Lent.

Sufganiyot have a more interesting history. In "The Jewish Holiday Kitchen," Joan Nathan, an acquaintance of mine from our Jerusalem days and noted cookbook author and maven of American Jewish cooking, said she learned the origins of sufganiyot from Dov Noy, dean of Israel folklorists.

Noy relates a Bukhharian fable, which says the first sufganiya was a sweet given to Adam and Eve as compensation after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He says the word sufganiya comes from the Hebrew word, sof (meaning end), gan (meaning garden) and Ya (meaning G-d). Thus the word means--the end of G-d's garden.

According to Noy, this fable was created at the beginning of the 20th century, since sufganiya is a new Hebrew word coined by pioneers.

Some say sufganiyot, which means sponge like, are reminiscent of the sweet, spongy cookie popular along the Mediterranean since the time of the Maccabees. Hebrew dictionaries say the word actually comes from the Greek word, sufgan, meaning puffed and fried.

John Cooper, author of "Eat and Be Satisfied--A Social History of Jewish Food" has another theory. He says Christians in Europe ate deep-fried pastries on New Year's Eve, and Christians in Berlin ate jelly doughnuts. From them, German Jews started eating apricot-filled doughnuts.
When they immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, they encouraged the population to eat the jelly doughnuts for Chanukah.

One of my favorite pieces of research is the characteristics which sufganiyot are said to have:  1) they are round like the wheel of fortune; 2) they have to be looked at for what is inside not for their external qualities; and 3) they cannot be enjoyed the same way twice.

In Israel, sufganiyot have gone through a major revolution. For years, they were injected with strawberry jelly and dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
According to an article which appeared in the Forward in 2005, one could find fillings with these flavors: pina colada, coffee liqueur, caramel, bittersweet chocolate, flaked chocolate, white chocolate, crème café, nougat, chocolate orange, pear, crème brulee, grapefruit, vodka, crème espresso with cardamom, bittersweet chocolate and rum, passion fruit, walnut crunch, coconut milk, chocolate liqueur, coconut liqueur, vanilla cream.
A Jerusalem Post article in 2008 related a contest that was held on seven bakeries, judging sufganiyot for flavor, freshness, consistency and aesthetics.
The winning bakery was La Paneria in Katamon which offered fillings of ganache chocolate, white chocolate cream, halva and pistachio, butterscotch toffee and strawberry.
According to Judy Siegel of the Jerusalem Post, the average sufganiya contains 500-600 calories. She also suggested cutting a sufganiya in half to eat at two sittings rather than consume the minis. Those baked in the oven contain125-150 calories.    
My research on the internet shows the calories from 93 to 276, and gluten-free with rice flour is 166 calories.

Whatever their origin, sample the real thing and you won't forget it!
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, cookbook author, food writer, and Jerusalem Post columnist with a radio spot on Israel's only English-language radio station, (reached on the internet). She lives in Jerusalem.

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