I ashamed to say that despite the fact I’ve traveled in many circles, I know little or nothing about Christmas traditions.
This year, I plan to change that by attending not one but two office Christmas parties. I plan to mingle and chat and spread holiday cheer but am also intent on inspecting the food offerings.
What do you gentiles nosh on before Santa arrives?
I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to knowing a little. Some non-Jews I’ve spoken to say they have traditions with turkey, roast beef or ham on this December holy holiday for Christians.
For Jewish folks like me, December marks a bit of break in the holiest of days. In fact, for eight nights beginning at sundown on Dec. 15, we eat as much fried food as we can possible make and ingest. It’s a party.
Sure, we gather with family and light one of eight candles in the chanukiah – a candle holder similar to a menorah – and say a few prayers. Both children and adults – some for small amounts of money – will play dreidel, a gambling game involving a spinning top and wagering.
When we’re not betting and burning things, we eat. Consider these recipes as tasty items you could serve to any group of people for nearly any occasions. For example, the latke recipe can be altered to be served as an appetizer or a side dish to an entr/e, such as brisket.
The sufganiyot (pronounced “soof-ghani-oat”) are basically killer donuts that can be eaten anytime. Yes, we eat donuts and pancakes for a week. (I’m kidding, sorta. There are a couple of other things we eat, including fried chicken)
As for the tradition behind these dishes, latkes, according to a little Web research, are thought to have originated in Eastern Europe or Germany in the late 18th century. The sufganiyot are rooted in Israeli traditions.
As a child, I don’t remember always having these tasty creations during Chanukah but when they were available, they had often been purchased at a bakery. While I’ve been making the latkes for many years, this was my first attempt at sufganiyot. Both are easy recipes – just be careful with the donut yeast.
Molly Goldberg’s recipe for latkes is the one my family has used for as long as I can remember. I pull out my trusty food processor, toss in my peeled and chunked potatoes, onion, salt, pepper and baking powder and blend until it has a thick oatmeal-like consistency. Then the griddle makes an appearance. Some people deep-fry their latkes but I prefer brushing oil on my griddle and letting them cook like pancakes. Turn the potatoes when the edges start turning brown and let them sit on the other side for about two minutes. I enjoy mine with sour cream and applesauce but both are traditional on their own.
As far as the doughnuts go, my problems with yeast stand true. In this particular recipe the yeast proofs in warm milk. If you have a thermometer, the milk should be 110 degrees. If not, test the milk on your wrist – it should be just slightly warmer. My other advice is to stick the jelly in the middle rather than inserting it on the side, and you may want a buddy to help with this part seeing as holding a recently fried dough ball and warm jelly tends to add to the burn count.
Have fun making these for your friends and family, regardless of faith.
As my Cousin Loren always jokes, we’ve earned the fried food.
“They tried to kill us. They didn’t succeed,” he would say, “so let’s eat!”
Molly Goldberg’s Latkes
4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup oil
Combine potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, egg, flour and baking powder in a food processor or blender until thickly blended. Brush oil onto a 350 degrees griddle and spoon out 1/4 cup portions of the potato mixture. Let brown on both sides and enjoy with sour cream or applesauce.
6 1/2 cups plain flour
7 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 oz. Yeast
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
5 oz. Butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
Oil for deep-frying
Jam for filling
Place flour in mixing bowl, make a well in the center and add the sugar and salt.
In a separate bowl dissolve yeast in the milk, add a pinch of sugar, and set aside until mixture bubbles and rises. Add the yeast mixture to the flour, then add the eggs, yolks, vanilla and butter.
Combine for 5-7 minutes, cover and let sit for 1-1 1/2 hours.
Flour a counter and divide dough in two parts. Roll out each part until about 1/2 inch thick. Cut out circles using about a 2-inch pastry cutter (I used a custard cup). Let rise, covered, on a floured tray for about 20 minutes.
Pour about 12 cups of oil into a large pot. Heat, but make sure the oil is not boiling. Drop risen doughnuts into hot oil and let fry 1-2 minutes on each side.
Remove with a slotted spoon and let sit on paper towel. Before serving inject warmed jam into the doughnuts and sprinkle with sugar if desired.