Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Hanukkah food traditions seems to be changing, at least from my perspective as the father of two wonderful boys who are being raised in the Jewish faith, and as a chef who has many Jewish friends, customers and colleagues. As I understand it, doughnuts, known by the Hebrew word “sufganiyot,” are beginning to stand alongside or even take the place of latkes, the potato pancakes served with sour cream and applesauce for holiday meals.

Potato pancakes and doughnuts make sense, in terms of Hanukkah symbolism. The holiday marks the rededication of the main temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC, following the defeat of the Hellenist Syrians. In that rededication, a one-day supply of oil to keep the eternal light burning in the holy place miraculously lasted for eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated for that many evenings and why candles are lit each night. The story also explains the two foods, which are cooked with oil. European Jews traditionally eat the pan-fried potato latkes, but the Israeli love of doughnuts for Hanukkah seems to be taking hold among kids in the age of Krispy Kremes.

The deep-frying required for making doughnuts, however, seems to put off a lot of people from making them at home. They don’t want to fill their kitchens with frying smells, even though many reasonably priced automatic deep-fryers now include lids that contain odors. They also don’t want the added fat and calories of treats that have literally been bathed in hot oil.

Fortunately, I have a solution: Bake the doughnuts, as Austrians do when making the traditional dessert known as “buchteln.”

Yes, I know, that eliminates the oil from the recipe. But it still adheres to the celebratory spirit of the holiday, and you could also reasonably argue that the beaten egg-and-yolk wash that is brushed over the doughnuts before baking provides the required touch of richness.

Even better, the recipe is so easy, requiring just a few minutes of mixing before you leave the simple yeast-leavened dough alone to rise; then another few minutes of rolling out and filling the doughnuts. It’s also versatile, since you can substitute other fillings for the chocolate, including spoonfuls of orange marmalade or other sweet, thick preserves.

Prepare the dough and assemble the doughnuts in the afternoon before one of Hanukkah’s weekend nights-or any time during the coming holidays, regardless of your faith-and then pop them in the oven to bake before you sit down to dinner. Just over half an hour later, they’ll be ready to take out and serve, still warm, as a rich and memorable taste of the festive season.


Makes 2 dozen, serves 6 to 12


1 package active dried yeast

1/2 cup (125 ml) lukewarm water

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 ounces (60 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature


1 egg

1 egg yolk


6 ounces (185 g) bittersweet chocolate bar, cut into 24 equal pieces

Confectioner’s sugar

First, make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or in a mixing bowl using a handheld electric mixer, beat together the yeast, water, honey and sugar. Leave at warm room temperature until the yeast begins to foam, about 10 minutes.

Add the flour and salt and, using a sturdy spoon, stir it in by hand until a wet dough forms. With the mixer, beat the mixture at medium-high speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Add the egg and continue to mix for 1 minute. Add the butter and mix for 1 minute more.

Set the bowl aside at warm room temperature and leave the dough to rest and rise for 30 minutes. Then, punch down the dough down with your hand, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn out the dough onto the work surface and, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a square 1/2-inch (12 mm) thick. With a pastry cutter or a large, sharp knife, cut the dough into 24 equal squares.

Place a piece of chocolate in the center of each square of dough. Fold the square’s edges up and pinch them together to seal in the chocolate and form a rough ball shape. Transfer the balls to a greased a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at warm room temperature until the dough has doubled in size, 45 to 55 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200 C).

Meanwhile, prepare the egg wash: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and yolk. Brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash.

Bake for 12 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees (180 C), rotate the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking until deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more. Turn out the buchteln onto a wire rack, place another rack on top of them, and carefully invert together so they are right side up. Serve them warm, carefully breaking them apart into individual servings and dusting them with confectioner’s sugar. You can also serve them with vanilla ice cream or with chocolate sauce.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Also, chef Wolfgang Puck’s latest cookbook, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, is now available in bookstores.


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