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Preparing for Hanukkah 2021: Our annual sufganiya taste-test comparison

In the 'fancy' category, one doughnut was so good that we had give it a new name, in honor of its magnificent flavor
It's our favorite day of the year, clearly. Photo taken by author.
It's our favorite day of the year, clearly. (courtesy)

We are traditionalists, so we’ve always had a family rule of not eating sufganiyot before “Hanukkah proper.” Our kids hide jelly-smeared faces from each other after inhaling them in secret at class parties. We all wink/wink/nudge/nudge each other, but the real start of Hanukkah for us is marked by the sufganiyot tour. 

We found out this year that Marzipan apparently maintains the same dogma, since we had to break our rules and go early, and found Marzipan’s shelves full of their standard (yet delish) rugelach, with no powdered sugar in sight. 

While it’s a massive bummer to miss them in our review this year, we award major respect to Marzipan for refusing to bend to the “sufganiyot right after Sukkot” trend, which smacks of Santa splashed all over the mall the morning after Halloween.

I figured, years ago, that as my kids got older, our family schedule would settle down. Well, yes and no. Although my bigs are old enough to get to activities on their bikes, my husband and I are now freer to travel independently, so we have to cater to each other. Since Hanukkah week was slammed for all of us, and we do have a habit of cultivating flexibility (we move birthdays, and have even been known to move Thanksgiving, to ensure all interested parties can attend and enjoy), we figured — better to have sufganiyot early than no sufganiyot at all. 

As sufganiya snobs, we rarely give vendors a second chance. If our introduction to them is a big fat fail (remember Mr. Donut?) then we promptly fill their spot the following year. If a vendor consistently produces impressive offerings, even without taking home a “winner” title, we’ll return unless they offer us disappointing doughnuts two years in a row (Hello, Brooklyn Bakery.) 

Then they get cut. We have to maintain standards, man. 

That said, our post-coronavirus (are we post yet?) world has fostered second careers, adaptability, and a worldwide rearrangement of priorities. So, in an unprecedented move, we gave two previous contestants — Herby’s and Roladin — a second look. 

To avoid the risk of being like one of those recipes that starts with:

GIF courtesy of Tenor.com

I’ll go ahead and give you the goods:

Roladin

Roladin bakery box, photo taken by author

We tried Roladin back in 2015, and aizeh busha (what an embarrassment!) on them. Our demanding schedule dictates that every trip into Jerusalem accomplishes a number of tasks, so we had to stop in Talpiyot (an industrial and commerce-based district) to do mundane things before our tour. It just so happened that we passed by Roladin, and since we were pre-Hanukkah and the kids hadn’t even had clandestine doughnuts in school yet, they begged. Thus, Roladin should thank the fates, since they got a second chance.

Roladin sufganiyot poster, photo taken by author

While we were eager to sink our chaste tastebuds into their Royal Truffe as a celebratory start, they didn’t have it, even though it was on their poster, which outraged my justice-obsessed 11-year-old.

Roladin’s Royal Truffe, photo taken by author

Instead, we sampled their Strawberry Classic, the Vanilla Cookie Cream, the Biskutella Carmel, and their Shoco Chic.

Roladin, the offerings we tasted; photo taken by author

We assumed the Biskutella was based on fusion of what Israelis call biskvitim + Nutella, yet Roladin coupled with Google Translate says: Vanilla Biscottle Ganache, Caramel Toffees, Caramelized Pecans, Butter Cookie Chips, Caramel Glaze and Crunch Pearls. It was unique and notable, but not exceptional enough to place as a winner. 

Roladin Biskutella, courtesy of Roladin’s website promotion.

All of their offerings featured fresh dough, quality jelly, and the dough/filling ratio was impressive. The Vanilla Cookie Cream, however, had to be immediately disqualified because all the fancy is on the top, and the sufganiya itself is empty. 

We don’t rank empty.

Roladin’s Vanilla Cookie Cream, photo taken by author, permission given by teenager

Although initially we assumed Roladin was the lucky one for making it back into the running, we quickly realized that we, in fact, got the golden end of this deal. We tasted their Shoco Chic (the onomatopoeia works better in Hebrew: שוקו שיק) and were immediately impressed. We were hesitant to pronounce it a winner so early in the game, but even 30 sufganiyot later, it was still a front-runner, tied for first place in the fancy category! 

Roladin’s Shoco Chic, courtesy of the Roladin website

Roladin: You’ve ratcheted it up over the years and we never would have known it. My children insist that the lesson of this story is to give them stuff when they beg for it.

Herby’s Bakery

No logo for Herby’s, since we weren’t at their store nor did we have a branded box.

We tried so hard last year to taste Herby’s sufganiyot, but alas (through no fault of theirs), we failed, due to our partner-in-delivery’s sudden quarantine. At this point, we’ve all become accustomed to sudden quarantine, so we had both a Plan A and Plan B to get ourselves some Herby’s. 

Plan A involved a Facebook message to Herby’s, to which they promptly replied (in English!) with a “We’re in!” followed up by a phone call. We made plans for someone from their staff to meet us in the shuk (personal delivery!), and we were both excited and grateful that it was going to work this year. 

Alas, we got a phone call that morning letting us know that they could not, unfortunately, deliver, but offered solutions: Plan B: Herby’s resellers! We were still in Talpiyot when the call came in, so they directed us to Burekas Ima (but they don’t sell Herby’s sufganiyot, rather just the doughnuts and long johns that are available year-round) and to Super Moshava, which apparently stocked both. Off to Super Moshava we sped — and I’m generally only in that ridiculously overpriced supermarket to buy jarred béarnaise sauce since, YES, that’s a thing!

We were so disappointed. And not in the béarnaise sauce. We don’t know if it’s because we didn’t have the joy of a branded box, because the display itself was lackluster, or because we procured them in a supermarket so it wasn’t a “bakery atmosphere.” Here’s our conclusion after two years of failed attempts at Herbys: maybe it’s worth the trip out to Beit El, but we’ll likely never know.

Pat BaMelach

Pat BaMelach bakery box, photo taken by author

Since we were so impressed with their offerings last year, we made sure to order ahead. When we arrived, however, the young lady at the counter couldn’t find our order. When I explained that I had four eager children waiting in the car, and we were at risk of them storming the shop, she put on her cape and whipped together a box of everything we had ordered in two minutes flat.

Pat BaMelach at 8 a.m., photo taken by author

Relieved, my children descended upon the sufganiyot. We tried their Lemon Meringue (one of last year’s winners) and something new: Salted Caramel. While we are chocolate people by and large, we tried to open our minds to new concoctions, since we were so pleased with their previous selections. Confirmed: we are not Salted Caramel people. My 16-year-old said, “It feels like it just doesn’t just belong on a sufganiya.” 

But then, they hit us with their Chocolate Chocolate:

Pat BaMelach’s Chocolate Chocolate, aka Marir Magnificence, photo taken by author

Now, anything called “Chocolate Chocolate” is attractive to my family, but what a misnomer. The name of this sufganiya does not do it justice. We dub it “Marir Magnificence.” Consistent with all of PBM’s offerings, the dough/filling ratio is perfect — these sufganiyot are full. 

Pat BaMelach’s sufganiyot/filling ratio, photo taken by author

But Marir Magnificence is exceptional because it’s sophisticated. As my 11-year-old insists, “This is no juvenile doughnut.” The filling is comparable to the chocolate soup I indulged in once, at a sweet little boutique chocolateria in Rosh Pina, but adapted to sufganiya filling consistency. Tied for first place in the fancy category this year, we appeal to the Baking Forces of Pat BaMelach to respect this masterpiece with a more fitting name!

Berman’s

Berman’s logo, photo taken by author last year since their sign this year had a big crack in it

Berman’s is napping this year. They apparently have not yet emerged from corona-hibernation. They only had two offerings — traditional jelly and chocolate filling.

The dough was impressive — light and fluffy, but both of their options were too sweet (even for my 5-year-old who eats frosting with a spoon), and the dough/jelly ratio was shameful. Berman’s — You’ve been warned. We’ll try again next year, but you’re on probation.

English Cake

English Cake logo, photo taken by author

English Cake confused us this year. From experience, we know it’s hit-and-miss with them, but usually, it’s “all of them are great’ or “all of them are an abomination.” We’ve never had a split year, until now. 

English Cake sufganiya poster, photo taken by author

We tried their Napoleon, Milky, Vanilia, custard-filled, Ferrero Rocher, and their traditional jelly. Every single fancy one was so stale they were nearly offensive. It was 12:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.

This will not stand. 

The “custard” in the custard-filled tasted like those industrial, pop-top cans of pudding you get in a hospital, complete with chemical aftertaste. 

English Cake – pretty, but horribly stale, except Mr. Jelly over there in the corner; photo taken by author

On the edge of a mutiny, we tried their traditional jelly. It was crispy. We have never, ever come across a traditional version with high quality jelly, a crispy outside (yet not dripping oil) and a light, delightful dough. It was perfection and instantly awarded winner status in the traditional jelly category. 

English Cake doesn’t make it easy — you can’t order online, and we’re not sure if we just got lucky or if all of their traditional jelly this year are transcendent, but take the chance — it’s a clear winner!

Place with no sign

The only sign we could find, photo taken by author

On Agrippas Street, near Marzipan, with no sign, no name, and almost no people, except for the proprietor’s “achim,” which could either have been family or shuk regulars. There was no one there under 70. 

Since my husband more or less grew up in the shuk (he attended Dugma Elementary School, and commuted independently from age 9 from the absorption center in Mevasseret), he is dedicated to street-style, traditional sufganiyot. Every year, he insists we try at least one “old school” candidate. So we ambled up, waited for the affable, I-can’t-believe-he’s-not-retired sufganiya executive to finish his banter, and bought two. 

Achim Chaba: understated and so worthwhile; photo taken by author

During the transaction, not only were we properly introduced to Tzion, the proprietor, but when asked, “Why no sign?” he answered, “המבין יבין,” which loosely translates to “if you are one of us, you’ll understand,” and projects an air of mystery and elitism, which we love. 

Apparently, those in the know realize that this “random pastry maker” is one of the Achim Chaba, a famous Israeli baking family, which has founded and run several upscale restaurants. As it turns out, they were a winner in the traditional jelly category last year, and we didn’t even realize we had patronized the same place. 

What dough! Sweet, but not too sweet; light, but not too light; chewy, but not too chewy. While it wasn’t crispy like English Cake’s, so we can’t make it a finalist, it was 6 NIS and the cheapest entry of the day. If you’re looking to get more jelly for your dough, go see Tzion.

The traditional one from Achim Chaba, photo taken by author

TLDR

If you need it short and sweet, here you go!

Winners in the fancy category:

  • Chocolate Chocolate — Pat BaMelach
  • Shoco Chic — Roladin

Winner in the traditional jelly category:

  • English Cake

And a bonus, we discovered that the advantage to going on our sufganiya tour early is that we have plenty of time left to revisit the winners. Hanukkah sameach!

This year’s participants, photo taken by author
About the Author
Hilary believes in the power and purpose of passionate, clear, invigorating content. It is her conviction that properly fostered online relationships can be genuine, valid and worthwhile both in personal and professional realms. Hilary embraces these values and directs them into producing successful content marketing and social media campaigns for her clients.
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