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Sufganiyot redeem 2020

What our annual Hanukkah doughnut tour was missing in routine (thank you, pandemic), it made up for in taste
The mouth-watering cross-section of a Boston Creme sufganiyah. (courtesy)
The mouth-watering cross-section of a Boston Creme sufganiyah. (courtesy)

After begging my kids to wear matching custom-made sufganiyot masks (click the link and see the one at the bottom on the right? Aren’t they cute?) and failing, “because they’re pink!” and “Mom, we do not live on Pinterest” we embarked anyway, since it’s our favorite day of the year, even in non-matching masks.

Clearly, this is no ordinary year. 2020 has kicked us all in the behind, affecting our finances, our parenting, and our very freedom of movement. It has, however, proved to be one of the best years for sufganiyot… ever. Bakers seem to feel that this is their chance at redemption, and who are we to argue?

We had to juggle the lineup a bit this year, since some of the bakeries in our standard path are no longer viable options, and still more reside in neighborhoods affected significantly by COVID-19, making them inaccessible. One of the things we’ve learned this year is flexibility, so with a hat tip to those we could not include, we marched proudly forward to the 2020 contestants. (Brooklyn Bakery, you’re still in the dog house after our last attempt with you.)

Our intention, in the face of limited options, was to expand our territory. We started asking around for bonafide candidates, and we kept hearing “Herby. “Go to Herby.” I couldn’t imagine who this guy was, or where he came from, considering I can’t fathom Israelis attempting to pronounce “Herby” since I hear them trying to say “Hilary” and it comes out more like “Eelary” so I imagined I was looking for a guy called “Eerby.”

Apparently, Herby is from Memphis, and he runs a bakery in Bet El.

photo credit: Herby’s Bakeshop FB page

My sister lives in Migron, so the master plan was for her to pick up from “Eerby” in Bet El and meet us in the shuk for our entire group to evaluate his wares. Of course, since it’s 2020, she called two hours before our meetup and regretfully informed me that while Herby came through, her family just discovered that they may have been exposed and were therefore in quarantine. Not the types to be deterred, they Zoomed in:

Herby’s Bakeshop sufganiyot on Zoom, picture taken by author

After continuous haggling, we decided that since the entire panel could not vote, we could not in good conscience include Herby’s Bakeshop in the final judging. That said, we wanted to give him an honorable mention, since the part of our crowd that COULD taste them gushed about the filling to dough ratio, and insisted that the chocolate inside was leagues ahead of the standard chocolate spread. Good show, Eerby, but sorry, we will try again next year!

Dolcha Casa

Dolche Casa in Giv’at Masua, taken by author

A newcomer to us this year, suggested by a rather insistent friend of mine, Dolche Casa resides in Giv’at Masua near the Jerusalem Zoo. The proprietors of the shop were absolutely gracious and their displays were gorgeous. A distinct boutique feel.

Dolche’s dough was delectable and while their offerings were small (we’re American, we like big) their jelly was top notch, even though we would have liked to see a better dough/jelly ratio. The fancy ones (Oreo, Kremshnit, pretzels) featured the fanciness on top of the doughnut itself, rather than inside of it, so we felt that while it was a worthwhile venture, the good stuff on top of a doughnut does not a sufganiya finalist make.

Pat BaMelach

Pat BaMelach, taken by author

Nestled in Efrat, Pat BaMelach is an artisan bread bakery which has established quite a name for itself in the last few years, its breads even appearing at retail outlets in my neighborhood (and we don’t live in the Gush.) Their sufganiyot, however, do not appear near me, so before I piled the non-pink mask wearers into the car, I attempted to order ahead of time to ensure their inclusion in our tour.

“Sold out” was the copy that met me at the online checkout. I called. I Facebooked. I called again. They were so slammed it took me two days to order! Luckily, they are ON TOP of Facebook messages shouting, “SOS! I need your sufganiyot!” and hooked me right up.

Perhaps they have been locked up all summer as the Universe’s effort to perfect sufganiyot. They had not one but TWO of our finalists this year. Both their Lemon Meringue and their Boston Creme are clear winners.

Pat BaMelach, photo taken by author

They took the proverbial cake this year with these two offerings — the custard inside the Boston Cream was magnificent and the lemon… ohhh the lemon.

Let it be known that we are not lemon people. My recipe binder has 33 desserts in it, and 16 of them are chocolate cake. On Shabbat, when I attempt to serve lemon cake, or strawberry pie, or anything sans chocolate, I encounter a mutiny. And remember that with four kids, the parental units are outnumbered, so a non-chocolate winner is compelling.

I know that you may encounter a “sold out” when ordering online, but if that’s the case, GET IN THE CAR. It’s worth it.

English Cake

English Cake on Agripas, photo taken by author

English Cake has produced winners in the past, so we are always excited to visit. This year, though, the dough was simply not fresh enough to produce a finalist. All was not lost, however — they offered two varieties which we favored — the Mozart and the Mikupelet are worth trying, but they were a bit short on internal cream (the ratio of filling to doughnut was lacking!)

Pictured below, the Mozart is a tasty flavor combination (bottom, right) and the Mikupelet (bottom, middle) has a worthy crunch. Their Boston Creme (top left in the image) hosted a fresh, juicy strawberry on top but was nearly empty. English Cake, you ought to be embarrassed by the lack of filling. Immediate disqualification.

English Cake, photo taken by author

Marzipan

Marzipan on Agripas, photo taken by author

Marzipan, you upped your game this year. Although we visit Marzipan annually as part of our tradition, they’ve never before produced a finalist. This year, they’re golden. Literally.

Gold from Marzipan, photo taken by author

We’ve never seen this before. It’s a sufganiya stuffed with Ferrero Rocher flavored mousse, boasting a topping that’s crunchy like Magic Shell, sprinkled with tasty golden dust. Although their traditional jelly is inadequate (cheap jam), they have established the gold standard this year. Excellent showing, Marzipan!

Berman

Berman Bakery on Agripas, photo taken by author

Oh, the dough. We are dough snobs. We don’t like too chewy, or too heavy, or too light. We want fresh and airy and sweet, and Berman’s dough is triumphant.

Their traditional jelly is a finalist, even though the displays were of the sort you’d expect from a standard bread store. Rivaling their champion traditional jelly, Berman invested extra effort this year and presented a chocolate covered custard-cream filled delicacy which my husband has branded “Israel’s Krispy Kreme.”

Berman Bakery’s chocolate covered custard filled, photo taken by author, permission granted by pictured teen.

Hitting custard on bite #2 took it over the top and positioned it as a finalist contender. Congratulations, Berman! All of your sufganiyot offer scrumptious dough, and two finalists from any vendor is a feat to be proud of indeed.

Chaba

Achim Chaba on the open road of the shuk, photo taken by author

Achim Chaba have no sign, no logo, and no website. They are shuk pita guys; hoarse by the end of the day, these are bakers who do not stand on ceremony and would laugh in your face if you asked for Oreo or double chocolate. My husband is masorti (a traditionalist) as far as sufganiyot go, and would not let the day end (even though after 35 of them — no I’m not kidding — we were kinda doughnutted-out) without including a standard shuk bakery in the running.

To be fair, he had a point. We had not run into ONE warm sufganiya all day. Since he attended Dugma as a boy (an elementary school in Nachlaot), he wandered through the shuk daily and sampled hot sufganiyot (which were a shekel a piece) for the full month proceeding Chanukah. He needed hot doughnuts.

Chaba to the rescue. Although they were rookies as far as we were concerned, they came out of the gate with a traditional jelly finalist. Between roaring about the price of pitot and growling “K’chi, mami, eser shekel,” these guys clearly know their way around a light, fluffy and properly jellied classic sufganiya. You can find them on the open road of the shuk, on the right side if you’re coming from Jaffa Road, down toward Agrippas. They’re just a few stores in, and while you can ask their name to confirm you’re in the right place, considering the lack of a sign, they’re simply likely to throw sufganiyot at you and wish you Chag Sameach.

TLDR

OK, if you were skimming because the whole blog is “too long, didn’t read,” here is the upshot:

Finalists in the fancy category:

  • Lemon Meringue — Pat BaMelach
  • Boston Creme — Pat BaMelach
  • Gold (Ferrero Rocher) — Marzipan
  • Chocolate Covered Custard Filled — Berman

Finalists in the traditional jelly category:

  • Berman
  • Achim Chaba

Redemption

Last year, we had to skip our Sufganiyot Tour of the Shuk because we ran away to India in the fall and found ourselves still there when Chanukah rolled around (much to our chagrin when we realized that we had overstayed our visas). While we were usually successful in locating Chabad for Shabbat dinner in our myriad of locations across India and Thailand, they didn’t exist in Hampi (a small but wonderful hamlet in the southwest where Israelis are known to gather), so we sought out Lev Yehudi, which we were delighted to find was kind of Chabad-ish, yet focused on preserving both Israeli and Jewish culture rather than religious observance. To us, culture meant sufganiyot.

Lev Yehudi was on an island (where all the Israelis were) and weren’t serving sufganiyot until evening, so in the name of tradition, we hired what one might call a boat (but was really a floating saucer) to take us back to the mainland post-sufganiyot, since the regular “boat” (it looked more like a boat, but was still captained by a guy with a long stick) stopped making runs at dusk. Lev Yehudi came through, complete with candlelighting, dreidels, songs, and celebration… but we felt we had to redeem last year’s lack of a Sufganiyot Tour, and we’re thrilled that the bakeries in and surrounding Jerusalem seemed to rise to the 2020 challenge.

Chanukah ends on Friday. Redemption for this sh*t show of a year awaits. If chocolate (or lemon!) sufganiyot are on offer near you, fight the urge to hermit.

It’s worth it.

2020 Sufganiyot Tour Tasters, photo 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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