Many friends and neighbors see me as somewhat of an authority when it comes to sufganiyot (Hanukkah-style donuts). And I think that I have earned that distinction.
You see, over the last three Hanukkah seasons, I raised $40,000 for charities and causes around the world by eating sufganiyot – 300 sufganiyot to be exact.
The successful social media-fueled “fun-raising campaign” captured the imagination of thousands around the world…and made me really nauseous.
So, while the sight of a sufganiya makes me cower in fear like a shell-shocked veteran, I think it’s only appropriate that I share my hard-earned wisdom with you so that you can choose your sufganiyot wisely this holiday season.
(What can I say? I live to serve.)
Instead of compiling a list of bakeries (this is not a blacklist), I believe I would best serve the international donut-eating community by laying down a few basic rules for sufganiya selection. There’s one for every day of Hanukkah:
(1) Mom and Pop – The larger bakeries spend a lot of money on advertising. They pay for billboards and distribute sufganiya menus on the streets and via the interwebs. But while their exotic flavors sound heart-achingly delicious on paper, they usually end up tasting…well, like paper. This is rarely the case at smaller, privately-owned bakeries where the pastries are made on premises by sufganiya artisans (and often include magical ingredients that are brewed by leprechauns and blessed by Tibetan monks).
(2) It’s what’s inside that counts – Very often, sufganiya consumers get caught up in the mystique of toppings. This is nonsensical seeing as the sufganiya toppings don’t stick around for very long – they will undoubtedly wind up in the nosher’s crotch or on the floor immediately following the first bite. If playing Jenga with your mouth excites you, go for the toppings. Otherwise, heed the words of Ethics of our Fathers and the Rev. Martin Luther King and look inward to the gooey center. After all, sufgnaiyot are people, too.
(3) Syringes? Really?! – A few years ago, several “name brand” bakeries introduced sufganiyot with syringes containing additional flavoring sticking out of the donuts. While these specialty sufganiyot would be perfect for a Hanukkah party at Lindsay Lohan’s house (Charlie Sheen has dibs on the raspberry!), I can’t think of any other instance where they would be appropriate.
(4) Caramel – If you have never tasted a caramel-filled sufganiya, you have never really lived. (Seriously, you might be in an M. Night Shyamalan movie.) Be sure to put the “ribat chalav” experience at the top of your list. But beware: there is a limit to how many caramel sufganiyot you will be able to endure before losing your will to live. It’s a very delicate balance between ecstasy and extreme disgust.
(5) Thanksgivukkah – In honor of the historic convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, many bakeries are offering sufganiyot stuffed with Turkey Day staples like pumpkin pie filling, cranberry sauce and stuffing. While it might seem like a good idea to celebrate the calendrical anomaly with one of these bi-national delicacies, there is a good chance that the natural gas emanating from your body post-donut will keep Jerusalem well lit until next Thanksgivukkah (78,000 years from now). Hum “Tradition” when entering the bakery and avoid these like the plague.
(6) Freebies – While there are no “free lunches” in this world, there are TONS of free sufganiyot. If you live in a Jewish community, it seems like just about every purchase – from tires to dental cleanings – comes with a free sufganiya during the holiday season. Though it goes against our deal-savvy nature, I encourage you to resist the temptation – don’t take the free sufganiyot. Remember: there is a reason why they are free. Save your appetite for something with more flavor and fewer fingerprints.
(7) DIY – If you have the technology and the capability, I highly recommend building the world’s first bionic man. (He could come in very handy.) And if you have an excellent dough recipe, powdered sugar and some vanilla pudding, you should try your hand at making your own sufganiyot. Our family has been running a sufganiya assembly line at our annual Hanukkah party for several years now, and a delicious time is had by all.
(8) “Just one” – Who do you think you’re fooling? You may tell yourself (and anyone else who will listen) that you plan on eating only one sufganiya this Hanukkah season, but you know in your heart (and arteries) that there’s a better chance of lasting peace in the Middle East than you actually sticking to your guns. Limiting your sufganiya intake is a solid idea, but keep your number realistic. It’s a holiday – let yourself enjoy it! Just stop before you break my record. I simply can’t have that.
Sufganiya season is upon us! I hope these ground rules will help you pick a winner.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must curl up into the fetal position and cry.