Latkes, like bagels and kugel, are one of those foods that we think of as being quintessentially Jewish, when in fact they’re probably best described as Jewish American - in my experience they’re rarely found outside the U.S.
In Israel, where I grew up, as well as in Europe and North Africa, the essential Hanukkah food is a variety of sweet fritters, or in Hebrew, “sufganiot”. The basic one – which I love – is sometimes referred to here as a jelly donut, but the name is a bit misleading. In its authentic incarnation it’s different from, and much better than, a jelly donut. The closest you can get to it in L.A. is at places on Pico and Fairfax like Eilat Bakery or perhaps Cantor’s. These sufganiot are made of a simple yeast dough (no extra and strange flavorings) that is rolled out in two layers, with jelly in between. As you might imagine, in Israel they’re smaller than they are here. And coming straight out of the hot oil, they’re delectable.
Some sufganiot are made with a soft, baking soda-based dough instead of yeast-based dough. They are formed by dropping spoonfuls of dough into hot oil, and spooning them out as they turn brown and rise to the top. A bit of powdered sugar sprinkled on the top finishes them off.
While the yeast-based sufganiot really need to be eaten immediately, the baking soda-based ones can, in my experience, be reheated quite successfully. Which is particularly good when you have guests and don’t want to be stuck tending to a pot of hot oil.
My two favorite recipes for sufganiot are both Italian-Jewish. The first is made with a salty yeast dough speckled with caraway and raisins that is fried and then then soaked in a honey and lemon juice sauce. The second version is made with a baking soda dough and is particularly Thankgivukkah appropriate: Pumpkin, Raisin and Pinenut Sufganiot. Here’s the recipe. Highly recommended for a sweet accompaniment to candle-lighting and dreidel playing:
Recipe for Italian Hanukkah Sufganiot with Pumpkin, Raisins, and Pinenuts
4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 lb cooked and creamed pumpkin or butternut squash (This is the cooked weight. You can use canned pumpkin, at our kitchen we cook and cream butternut squash).
1 ¾ cup lowfat milk
4 large eggs (cage free)
zest of one orange
4 oz golden raisins
4 oz pinenuts
Canola oil for deep frying
¼ cup powdered suga
Mix the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt.
Add the pumpkin (or butternut squash), milk, eggs and orange zest, and mix well.
Stir in the raisins and pinenuts, and let the dough sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a deep pot (I like to use a 5 quart, analon or calphalon pot). You’ll know the oil is hot enough if you when you drop a bit of dough into it, bubbles form around it. But be careful not to heat it too much, because these sufganiot can burn easily.
Start with a few sufganiot – drop about a tablespoon of batter into the oil for each one. Take them out when they’re a medium brown color. Break one open to make sure it’s cooked inside (if it’s not, the oil is too hot, reduce the temperature). Once you’ve got the temperature right, you can go ahead and make them in bigger batches, but make sure there’s enough room for all of them to float to the top in one layer.
Lay them out on paper towels, and sprinkle the powdered sugar over them.