Nothing heralds the coming of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah חֲנֻכָּה quite like the appearance of these Sufganiyot ~ סופגניות or jam filled doughnuts in the shops. I must admit even though I have lived in Israel for almost two years I have not yet been tempted or inclined to taste these calorie laden seasonal delicacies. I prefer to "eat" them with my eyes. Traditionally, fried foods are eaten at this time of the year "in commemoration of the miracle associated with the Temple oil."
The Hebrew word sufganiyah and the Arabic word sfenj derive from the words for sponge sfog in Hebrew ספוג and isfanj in Arabic إسْفَنْج. There is a long North African history besides the Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (the smaller deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and Eastern European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German Berliner, the Polish pączki or the Russian ponchik) became a part of this tradition.
The ponchke-style sufganiyah was originally made from two circles of dough surrounding a jelly filling. stuck together and fried in one piece. Although this method is still practiced, an easier technique commonly used today is to deep-fry whole balls of dough, similar to the preparation of sfenj, and then inject them with a filling with a baker's syringe (or a special industrial machine). This method has resulted in the modern sufganiyah being identical to the German Berliner
Bakeries and grocery stores build excitement for the approaching holiday by selling sufganiyot individually and by the box; they have become a favourite for schoold and office parties. Angel Bakeries, the largest bakery in Israel, reportedly fries up more than 250,000 sufganiyot every day during the eight-day Hanukkah festival. Each batch uses 100 kilograms of dough and makes 1,600 sufganiyot. Local newspapers add to the excitement by sending out food critics each year to rate "the best sufganiyah in town."
As a result of the national hubub, some purveyors have elevated the basic filling recipe to an art form. The least expensive version is filled with plain red jelly, while more expensive versions are piped with dulce de leche, chocolate cream, vanilla cream, cappuccino and even araq and topped with various extravagant toppings from coconut shavings to meringue and fruit pastes. In 2014, one Jerusalem bakery produced sufganiah dough saturated with Van Gogh Vodka.
In recent years, Israeli bakeries began downsizing sufganiyot to appeal to health-conscious consumers. The usual 100 grams size, packing 400 to 600 calories (1,700 to 2,500 kJ) now appears in 50 grams (1.8oz) size with different fillings and toppings, earning the name "mini".