For many years, we have dedicated a day each Hanukkah to lighthearted, oil-soaked family bonding. Through rain, births, and COVID masks, we have carved out time for everyone to celebrate being together… over fried foods, like good Jews. It has always been logistically challenging to find room in the schedules of at least a dozen participants, and we’ve been known to pull kids out of school to make it happen.
It never occurred to me before, however, that it might be challenging to find room in my soul for joy, buoyancy, or connection. The hard part this year was neither weather nor coordination. The hard part was showing up to celebrate life.
I have witnessed voracious volunteerism in the past two months. People have shown up with everything they have to give. Admittedly, I have focused nearly exclusively on my and my children’s mental health, living a very small life, making the shnitzel and barely holding it together. I didn’t feel right gorging on doughnuts and smiling through frosting teeth. But everybody needs light right now. Everybody gives what they can. Everybody is showing up, and because they’re showing up, I can make the shnitzel and get through the days. One of the small things that has become an integral part of my war-routine is checking Bazy Rubin’s reels. It is ridiculous how much I count on someone I’ve never met in person — to show up. Within daily 30-second videos, often shot mid diaper-change, Bazy shows up in the way that she can contribute, through vulnerable humor that makes me feel less… fractured.
My native tongue is doughnuts. If Bazy can bring the light in her language, I can do it in mine. Here’s what I have to give, what I have space for, what I can handle, to create light right now:
Everybody we could manage
Over the years, we have been known to “banish” vendors for consistent poor performance. I do, after all, have a Human Resources background and therefore a habit of mentally creating performance improvement plans for sufganiya-sellers, giving second and third chances, but our family policy has been “three bad years and you’re out,” American baseball-style.
Right now, however, we are missing enough.
In the spirit of inclusion, we returned to vendors we haven’t seen in years. We’ll take all the togetherness we can get right now.
A Mea Shearim icon and Fancy Category Winner in both 2016 and 2017, we abandoned them in 2020, as the quality had gone downhill, and the shop announced its closure last April. Yes, we felt a little guilty. Lo and behold, last week, I came across a tiny little posting that they were re-opening for Hanukkah this year, but I could find no confirmation. Given the spirit of inclusion, we readied ourselves with two sufganiyot-procurers, so in case they really were open, one could keep the car circling and the other could handle the purchase, as Mea Shearim is not exactly parking-friendly. Once we got close, there was no need to wonder. We could see the line down the block, and Mea Shearim is also not exactly orderly-queue friendly. The purchase itself took nearly 40 minutes, but inclusion was clearly the way to go.
Their traditional jelly was absolutely a contender. Not a champion, but a solid candidate worth its weight in oil. They didn’t offer New York style long-johns, as they have in years past, but their Chocolate Cream sufganiya was a true American classic. We hit filling with our first bite (from both sides!), the cream to dough ratio was exceptional, and it was drenched in a thick layer of New York icing. Brooklyn Bakery, welcome back.
Since they’ve shown such a strong record, producing Fancy Category winners throughout 2020, 2021, and 2022, we ordered ahead. And ordered in bulk. When I hit a snag on the website’s order form, and FB messaged them, I heard back (in English) within two hours from someone who was happy to take my order on the spot! Ordered and collected, hassle-free, we sampled their Lemon Meringue, Traditional Jelly, Cheesecake, Chocolate Chocolate and Boston Creme. Like me, however, Pat BaMelach is not herself this year. While their customer service was absolutely tops, we were all disappointed in the dough. Perhaps, like so many of us, their hearts are with those who are missing, and heart is what makes their dough special. That’s OK, PBM, we understand and are happy to have you lend your hearts to those who need them more than we do right now. We’ll be back next year when we’re all whole again.
It’s a sufganiya revolution. It’s StartUp Nation in doughnut form. We were heading to Duvshanit, led by our 13-year-old, when my husband shouted (with a smile as not to freak me out), “C’mere, come see!” Usually, when this happens, he’s leading me to a rare beetle or an ancient rune that looks like a rock to me, but this time, he said, “LOOK — it’s SUFGANIYA with ICE CREAM,” which is just about the only good reason to shout these days.
Thanks to my cousin who New York-style-interrogated this guy (one can always count on a native New Yorker to get the info needed — thanks, Shaina!), we got the story. This native-Jerusalemite ran a pitzuchia (a snack and nut shop) in the shuk for 20 years, but all the while he was hawking pistachios, he was dreaming of becoming a premium ice cream artist. Earlier this year, he shut his doors, flew to Italy, enrolled in Gelato University (not kidding, it’s a real place) and returned as a Gelato Maestro (which is a real title!). In preparation for Hanukkah and his grand opening, he created the first ever “Sufganiyat Glida,” which utilizes a (warm! fresh!) sufganiya as a “bun” for his homemade premium ice cream sandwich. It’s extraordinary and it’s the only one we’ve ever seen. Our favorite pastries in the world include Beard Papa’s cream puffs in Thailand and the Birdhouse Cakery’s chocolate cake in India. Now that we’ve tasted Eldad’s sufganiyat glida, we now include Paz in that exclusive circle.
After much debate, my daughter insisted that it’s not fair to include Paz in the sufganiyot competition, since we didn’t give anyone else the chance to enter an ice cream-infused rendition. But I’m an entrepreneur and an Israeli: by my thinking, it’s allowed since it’s ingenious, and nobody told all the other vendors that they couldn’t do that. We eventually compromised and agreed to recognize Eldad and his innovation separately from the winners of the Fancy and Traditional Jelly categories. Paz is the winner of Hanukkah in general! You can find him at the intersection of Agrippas and the open road in the Jerusalem shuk, right on the corner, trying to retrain his brain not to shout “!גרעינים” (garinim, referring to seeds and nuts!), and fulfilling his dream.
Last year’s unequivocal champion in the Traditional Jelly category, Duvshanit made a strong showing this year, getting just barely beaten out of first place. Their dough is heavenly and the sufganiya — ladies and gentlemen — was warm. Crispy on the outside, light on the inside, and a comparative bargain at 7 NIS ($1.89), its only weakness is lackluster jelly. Up your jelly game, Duvshanit, and we will meet again next year.
English Cake has a checkered history with us; some years they produce winners that are ganache parties in our mouths, and some years we’re embarrassed for them. We gave English Cake the benefit of the doubt and procured their Traditional Jelly, Ferrero Roche, Migulgalot, and Milky offerings, but they were not able to bring it this year. The dough was consistently too chewy, and their gooey jelly isn’t doing them any favors. Both the Ferrero Roche and the Milky were notable as they passed the “acceptable” test (fully consumed, zero leftovers), so we don’t recommend against them, but… you can do better.
Boycotted last year due to the exorbitant pricing amid skyrocketing inflation, we revisited Roladin this time, since we are welcoming everyone back into the fold. Since it has been a while, we were re-shocked by the similarity of Roladin’s Choco Candy sufganiya to an American cupcake.
They’re so cupcake-like that each one actually comes in a cupcake liner, and they need to, since they’re bursting (and they should, since they’re 15 NIS ($4.05)!) The toppings, as always, are so plentiful they’re overwhelming, so we could hardly judge the dough with our mouths so full of filling and toppings. This year, they’ve masterminded a Merengue Yuzu (second row down, in the middle) sufganiya, which is spectacular. It’s understated (for Roladin) and two members of my family were adamant that Roladin’s Yuzu is this year’s Fancy Category winner, prompting us, of course, to find out what in the world a yuzu is. Who knew that the Japanese had the key to sufganiya success?
HaAchim Haba have a cult-like following, and if they offered KoolAid, we would drink it. Surrounded by mystique and forever closing and reopening locations with no names and no signs, we were undeterred when we arrived at last year’s shop to find it boarded up. We simply asked the neighbors if they’d gone, and as expected, the neighbors started laughing, told us that the Achim Haba were never gone, and pointed us up the street to an equally nondescript counter surrounded by a crowd who all apparently knew where to find them. True to form, Haba produced this year’s winner in the Traditional Jelly category. We purchased them as they were set on the counter, and hot, fresh deliciousness welcomed us. The dough is crispy and even borders on a little bit salty, which gives it an oddly provocative depth for 6 NIS ($1.62) on a Formica counter.
Fancy Category: Roladin Merengue Yuzu
Traditional Jelly Category: Haba
(You can find them on open road in the shuk, ⅓ of the way up when walking from Agrippas toward Yafo, on the right, it says Haba on their Teudat Kashrut (kosher certification) if you have your glasses on. I did not.)
Winner of Hanukkah: Eldad Paz, proprietor of Paz Sufganiyot Glida
Here’s hoping you get some time with your family this Hanukkah. We may not be ourselves, but there is light to be had. I have sought and received advice from wise people (both professional and non) these last few months. The two gems I’m keeping daily are:
- You are alive. Act like it.
- Destroying yourself helps no one.
Live. Have a sufganiya. Or 30. Like we did.