Today is the first night of Chanukah. When I was growing up, Chanukah meant potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce. My mother would make them and then complain for days about the smell of oil from frying which lingered in the house for days.
My mother has an incredible sense of smell. In our family, we joke that she can smell foul odours a day before they actually occur. My childhood memories are filled with her going from room to room, sniffing and muttering, “What’s that smell?” One of her least favorite smells was that of food cooked in oil. She claimed that she could smell the oil for weeks afterwards. Now I must be honest here and admit that I inherited my father’s sense of smell – that is to say, his lack of sense of smell. He had sinus problems and his nose malfunctioned often.
That said, once a year, on Chanukah, we had latkes. My mom’s latkes are fantastic. They are lacy shreds of potatoes, fried until crisp. The lingering smell of frying oil was quickly chased away by my mother’s secret blend of cleaning agents, a potent, lethal combination of Joy and Ajax. Do not try this at home unless you are wearing a gas mask. I do recall one year, she set up the electric frying pan on the ironing board in the garage, plugged it in with 5 extension cords snaking all the way from the front hall, all so so she could keep the smell out of the house.
When my husband and I first began dating, he took me home to celebrate Chanukah with his family. His family did not shred their potatoes for latkes. They pulverized them in the Cuisinart so the resulting latkes were thick and creamy, not the thin lacy crispy shredded latkes that I grew up with. And, if you can actually imagine this, they served them with ketchup!! I almost broke up with him. After we were married we had our families over for a Chanukah party. Of course, we could not agree on which kind of latkes to make, so we ended up making both. The guests were starving by the time the latkes actually appeared at the table so both kinds were gobbled up very quickly. We have since agreed on a “Compromise Latkes Recipe” that makes us both happy.
On my last trip to Israel, I discovered that Chanukah there is celebrated with jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot). The word, sufganiyot, comes from the Greek word sufgan, meaning “puffed and fried.” In Israel doughnuts, fried in oil, commemorate the miracle of the oil that burned in the temple in Jerusalem for eight days, although the supply appeared to be enough only for a single day. Most people shy away from making their own doughnuts. It is usually a fear of frying (too dangerous or too fattening) or a fear of working with yeast, as most traditional doughnut recipes call for yeast.
I have never made doughnuts but not because I fear frying or yeast. I own a deep fryer, which gets used once or twice a year for French fries. And I am not afraid of yeast, especially after baking my way through 43 bread recipes in the book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” No, I shy away from doughnuts because when I was pregnant with my daughter, I ate too many of them. I would go for my doctor’s appointment, and then, only after I was weighed, I would stop at Lady Jane Doughnuts for a chocolate doughnut topped with coconut. Sadly, Lady Jane, is gone, replaced by a Pizza Pizza franchise. And curiously, to this day, my daughter, who is now 19 years old, does not like doughnuts.
But, a lot of years have passed since I overindulged on doughnuts and with Chanukah coming up; I decided it was the perfect time to enjoy them again. And, I was fairly certain that my husband would not top his doughnut with ketchup.
As doughnuts are best served fresh from the fryer, I wanted an easy recipe for entertaining which did not require too much fussing or time. While doughnuts are traditionally made with yeast, I have uncovered a wonderful recipe which relies solely on baking powder and baking soda for leavening. No rising necessary. The dough mixes up quickly and the donuts can be formed and set aside for frying up to 2 hours in advance. Then all you have to do when guests arrive is fry the doughnuts and serve them fresh and hot! These are old-fashioned doughnuts; crunchy on the outside and tender yet sturdy on the inside. The addition of buttermilk to the batter helps to create this wonderful texture.
When I started researching doughnut making, every recipe I read, used oil for frying the doughnuts in. However, Cook’s Illustrated, did a head to head taste off between Crisco and peanut oil and found that the doughnuts fried in Crisco absorbed much less fat than the ones cooked in oil. The Crisco fried ones also held up better, staying fresh longer than the ones fried in oil. So although Crisco was not used at the time of the rededication of the second temple, I am recommending it anyways, for superior doughnuts.
Just a little aside here. If you are planning to use a countertop deep fryer, melt the shortening first in a pot on the stove or in the microwave. Do not put the entire block of shortening right into the deep fryer. You will damage the heating coils, short out your fryer and lots of smoke will fill your kitchen. Not that I know anything about that. You will notice in the video below, I just used my Le Creuset porcelain enameled cast iron pot on the stove. My countertop deep fryer was
Yo print the recipe for these doughnuts, click here.
The batter comes together very quickly. Buttermilk, melted butter, eggs, flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt.
It makes a very sticky batter. Flour the counter and your rolling-pin well.
There are special doughnut cutters but I just improvised with a glass and piping tip. It worked quite well.
A candy thermometer is essential if you plan to deep fry on the stove. They are readily available, and, if you are going to invest in one, I recommend this one, by Wilton. It has a foot at the bottom to prevent the thermometer bulb from touching the bottom of the pot. You want to avoid this as you will get a false reading.
Since I am not a jelly doughnut kind of girl, I just gave my doughnuts a quick bath of sugar and cinnamon. My husband devoured several (without ketchup, for the record).