I’m a dairy girl. I come by it honestly; I am from Wisconsin, after all. I spent several years as the proud owner of one of those orange foam triangle cheese hats, which, to my husband’s delight, didn’t make the cut for the contents of the lift when we moved to Israel. I have been known to back away from parve (non-dairy) desserts, since… ick. Let’s all just admit together that Rich’s Whip ain’t Cool Whip. Margarine isn’t butter and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, Fabio or not, doesn’t cut the proverbial mustard. Pareve desserts are usually sub-par, and being a baking snob, I don’t do sub-par desserts. I put in my time on the baking front, man, and I earned the Right to Snobbery.
Plus, pregnancy being the cruel joke that it can be, after the birth of my third child, I was rendered lactose intolerant for four years, until my next pregnancy reversed it, so I know what it is to be non-dairy. And it sucks. Bodies are weird.
Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Kadosh is an institution in Jerusalem. It’s a tiny little bakery/cafe downtown, where there’s no parking and the service is known to be terrible, yet it’s consistently packed, and for good reason. In a city that’s widely faithful to oily, parve burekas and yeast cakes, Kadosh and its dedication to dairy reigns supreme. So when friends of mine understood that we were gearing up for this year’s Sufganiyot Tour of the Shuk, they insisted that I include Kadosh in this year’s list of competitors. Normally, we only include bakeries we can walk to inside the shuk, but several years ago, my father-in-law, in the interest of complete sufganiya fairness, stood firm on his requirement that we include a bakery in Mea Shearim. And in 2015, friends whined that we weren’t including Roladin (it’s not my fault they don’t have a branch in the shuk!) and that wasn’t fair, since the Roladin sufganiyot are famous nationwide. So, there have been notable exceptions included in the Sufganiyot Tour of the Shuk, and this year was no different. Kadosh it was.
Ohh, Kadosh. The winner of Jerusalem Post’s sufganiya contest (so I’m told, but the JPost gates their content, so I can neither research it nor link to it — shame on you, JPost, get with the content marketing program — gating is soooo 2012.) As happens so often, I can’t go with the majority on this one. Consider the source, though. I’m not exactly run-of-the-mill around here. Or anywhere. First of all, I live in Israel (who moves to a war zone where instant hot water in the shower is not the standard, and the national food is fried chickpeas?), and second, I have four kids, two dogs and 11 ducks. ‘Nuff said. I might get tarred and feathered for saying it in public, since Kadosh has a bevy of loyal fans, but here it is: WE DIDN’T LIKE THEIR SUFGANIYOT. Even though they’re dairy. I mean, didn’t like them to the point where my children threw them out. These are kids who insist that they’re neglected because they get neither chocolate sandwiches nor Bamba. Aside from Friday night baking, there’s not a lot of junk in my house, so my children usually swarm to sugar like bees. But not this time.
With the assistance of my folks, who live in Nachlaot, we procured six Kadosh sufganiyot, which ranged in flavor from blueberry to (cringe) pineapple. While I’ll give their dough (light, airy, fresh) a solid thumbs-up, something is very very wrong with the filling. It’s the consistency of whipped yogurt. But the killer is the sugar — Kadosh doesn’t use powdered sugar like standard sufganiyot. Instead, they use granulated sugar which crunches in the mouth of the recipient. Sufganiyot aren’t supposed to crunch. Even though they were our first taste of the season (yes, I’m a purist, I don’t eat sufganiyot until we get to the official Tour) and, at 2 p.m., we weren’t sufganiyot-ed out, we still gave them the collective thumbs-down. I will now retreat to an unmarked cave in the Jerusalem forest while the angry mobs simmer down.
Onward… so, if it wasn’t Kadosh, who reigns supreme this year?
Without further ado, here is the list from the not-so-impressive-skip-this-place to run-out-today-and-get-these-before-they’re-gone:
In fifth place this year, which is disappointing because they’ve taken the cake (see what I did there?) in the traditional jelly category in years past, is Oogat Chen. A tiny bakery on the open road of the shuk, run by traditional guys who blare (in lovely baritone voices) pita prices from dawn till dusk, they were announcing hot sufganiyot when we approached. What we purchased, however, was not only decidedly not hot, they wasn’t fresh either. Sorry, Oogat Chen, 2017 was not your year.
In fourth place is the famous Marzipan Bakery. World-renowned for its underbaked rugelach which smear chocolate all over your fingers and are packed up and scurried back to New Jersey with many a sem-girl, Marizipan is always on our roster. But they ought to stick to the rugelach. In the traditional jelly category, the failure was two-fold: their jelly was cheap and sticky, and the dough wasn’t fresh. They fared better in the fancy, category, however, with their “chocolate fondue” sufganiya. If you’re going to head to Marzipan for loyalty’s sake, skip the jelly and stick with the chocolate.
Third place goes to last year’s winner, Berman Bakery. I know — what? Berman? Berman is the bakery that makes sliced bread. You can buy it at the supermarket; what is it doing in a sufganiyot contest? Now, bear with me here. Last year, I had a screamy screamy 6-month-old at Hanukkah time. I hadn’t slept, and while we didn’t break from tradition (yes, we feel like this about our Sufganiyot Tour), I didn’t blog about it. But last year, Berman’s was uber-impressive. The dough, the selection, the filling. They won the fancy category fair and square, beating out well-known competitors from far and wide. We were shocked. But this year, oh, Berman, you tried, and your traditional jelly was an absolutely solid entry. Kudos to you, A for effort, but no dice.
In second place this year (and they’ve had an inconsistent showing in years past, once a winner, but in the last several years falling short) is English Cake. The dough of every single sufganiya (both in the jelly category and in the fancy category) was fresh. Their traditional jelly entry was a real contender; on par with Berman’s, but just shy of the winning level. If you’re a fan of the fancy category, go with the chocolate mousse-filled Shocobo. It’s worth a visit, but wasn’t on par with this year’s clear winner.
This is the Shocobo:
An established victor, Brooklyn Bakery went for the win again this year.
And they have to be better than anybody else to justify the precarious trip into Mea Shearim. Just try to take the MomMobile (picture a giant, black, scratched and dented 2006 seven-seater) into that neighborhood. But, oh, was it worth the trip. The place is mobbed, obviously, and I had to remind prospective customers in line (have you ever seen a line in Israel? It’s not a British queue; think more along the lines of a sugar-hungry mob jockying for position and sacrificing the weakest links) that indeed I was waiting. I’m no friar; I know how to shoot the evil eye, spread my elbows and stand my ground.
This place is really something else. First of all, the staff was smiling. And helpful. I’m sorry, what? Where are we again? Israel? You sure?
Well, kind of. Everybody in the place was speaking either English or Yiddish. There was no Hebrew to be found. And the doughnuts. OMG, the doughnuts. And I say doughnuts as a general category, not sufganiyot specifically, because they have all kinds. Sprinkle. Custard-filled. Boston creme-types. Long johns. When’s the last time you had a long john? But in the name of fairness (my husband is a yekke, he insists on a fair playing field), we procured not only the fancy kind, but also the traditional jelly, so we could compare apples-to-apples, so to speak. But they’re so much better than apples.
The dough is light as air, hiding the caloric content beautifully. Every single filling was perfect from the custard to the pudding to the traditional jelly. The dough-to-filling ratio was ideal. They weren’t cheap on jelly, neither the consistency nor the amount.
When the proprietor of the store inquired as to why I needed such a variety (apparently most people don’t purchase 10 different doughnuts?) I explained that we were on our yearly Sufganiyot Tour. He asked after his competitors, and when he heard Kadosh was on the list, a shadow crossed his face. “But they’re chalavi,” he said. “It’s very difficult to put forth a pareve sufganiya that can compete against a dairy sufganiya.” Brooklyn Bakery, you’ve done it. You beat the proverbial pants off the dairy entry. No contest. Your products are superb and I will continue to drag four kids and a reticent husband into your neighborhood for years to come. As L’Oréal has been saying in 100 different language for 30 years, you’re worth it.
Brooklyn Bakery, I promise to stop sticking my nose in the air at pareve desserts as a matter of course. You have altered my perspective and both butter and I are humbled.
There are two days left of Hanukkah. RUN to Brooklyn Bakery, stand in line like a mensch, and get your winner today.