Twelve enthusiastic sufganiyot eaters.
Six sufganiyot bakeries.
And so much rain.
We’ve been doing this for seven years, but we’ve never done it in a downpour before. The thing is, given my husband’s travel regimen, and the schedules of four active kids (youth groups, piano performances, mountain biking extracurriculars, play practice) often we have only one day during Chanukkah that we can block out three hours for shlepping, tasting, and lively sufganiyot debate and discussion. That day was yesterday, and it didn’t matter that the hubs was only back in the country for 12 hours and jet-lagged, and that it worked out to be the worst winter day we’ve had thus far. We are a dedicated team. I’m from Wisconsin, so we breed a hardy stock. Each of the kids (even the 2-year-old) donned rain boots and the thickest coat they owned, and we sojourned into the shuk, intending to meet our (extended, eager) family to team-taste. This year, we had a significant contingency in from New York, due to an impending family bar mitzvah, so we had our four kids, my folks, two cousins, a stray nephew, a sister, and her newborn with us. All in all, we were 12 tasters, although the youngest seemed to prefer breastmilk (her loss.)
Brooklyn Bakery, First Attempt
Our first stop, as always, was Brooklyn Bakery. They’ve triumphed in years past, so even though they’re not technically in the shuk, we are flexible enough to include those in walking distance (last year we tried Kadosh, and the year before we included Roladin, since they fall within a kilometer and were nominated by friends.) We checked ahead of time and Brooklyn Bakery was scheduled to open at 10 a.m., so we hopped in the car (we don’t live in Jerusalem!) for the long traffic-filled pilgrimage to Mea Shearim. I enter that neighborhood precisely once yearly for this purpose, so while three kids and the husband hunkered down on a sidestreet, trying to stay out of the way in the giant Mom-mobile, I strode through the neighborhood on foot with my oldest. We entered the bakery (no line! I was flabbergasted!) to nothing on the shelves. They had no sufganiyot. I mean, zero. Not sprinkled, not jelly, not the custard-filled long johns of my dreams. The lone (yet pleasant) worker there smiled and said, “Come back in an hour.” We stared at her, horrified. We had waited, planned, and checked opening times. We make the trip once a year and 12 people were waiting for this. Yet they had nothing.
Dejected, we trudged back to the car in the rain with no white box or pink sticker. Oh, Brooklyn Bakery, please wake up at dawn and bake like bakeries are supposed to.
Stay tuned — we returned three hours later (review at the conclusion of the post.)
The first stop in the shuk proper was Marzipan.
You know Marzipan of gooey, undercooked rugelach fame. In the past, their sufganiyot have proved disappointing (and we concluded that they ought to just stick to the rugelach — keep your day job, Marzipan) but this year they had a reasonable showing. They’ve upped their filling game, which we expected to taste like chocolate spread, but there were two specimens that earned respect this year. If you’re going to Marzipan, don’t expect to be completely blown away, but these are nothing to be ashamed of. Go for these two, which are the best of their respective bunch (avoid the traditional jelly version at Marzipan):
Not an embarrassment, but not a winner.
Next up was a new contender, Mr. Donuts. They’re brand new in the shuk, and potentially new in Israel altogether. I’ve seen them at malls on Fridays in the last few months, but never bothered to taste (I’m a purist and only eat doughnuts during our Chanukkah Sufganiyot Tour of the Shuk in an attempt to avoid eating doughnuts every single day. Since my roots are Wisconsin-based, and many of us Midwesterners find this to be an acceptable and normal breakfast, I have to make a conscious effort not to indulge daily, as it’s a slippery slope.) On, Wisconsin!
Oh, Mr. Donuts. They should be called Mr. Don’t-nuts.
We are open-minded people, and therefore didn’t even disqualify them based on the “vegan-friendly” sign (which clearly marks them as suspicious.) They were the most expensive sufganiyot we purchased — aizeh chutzpanim! Don’t do Mr. Donuts.
They were frosting-heavy, overly sweet, with stale dough. Their sufganiyot tasted like they were taken out of the freezer last night. Here’s how my kids felt about Mr. Donuts:
In case you’re unfamiliar with kid-speak, that “L” on their foreheads are for “loser.” And my kids don’t get a lot of junk, so if THEY rejected this specimen, stay away. Stay far away.
Next up, we usually go to Oogat Chen, which has taken the trophy in years past for the traditional jelly category. To our horror, however, we discovered, when we approached, that they’re gone! Not that they don’t have sufganiyot; they’re just gone. Their spot in the shuk has been re-occupied by a display of cheap Chinese toys. Major disappointment. As Israelis, we’ve learned to be zorem with change, so we searched for a hopefully equivalent alternative, and found Duvshanit. They apparently have a branch in Old Katamon as well, so you wouldn’t necessarily need to trek into the shuk to enjoy.
Duvshanit, after much debate, is this year’s glorious winner in the traditional jelly category. Their dough is fresh beyond compare, light as air, and their jelly is nothing to sneeze at. We would have preferred a better jelly-to-dough ratio, but we’re willing to let that slide because both the dough and the jelly were high quality. And we should know, since we ate nine of them. They don’t look remarkable, but don’t let that fool you. We’re all about personality over appearance up in here.
While the youngest took a nursing break and a NY cousin raided Aroma for some espresso, the rest of us ventured back out into the torrential rain toward English Cake (bonus: English Cake has enough room for the entire group of us to devour sufganiyot with a roof over our heads.) English Cake really powered through this year — not only do they have an incredible variety available, but every single one was scrumptious. Their traditional jelly didn’t overcome Duvshanit’s (it was close), but they have something special this year: it’s called Kremshnit.
Technically, it’s called “Napoleon” but even they know it’s Kremshnit (see the alternative name in parenthesis on the sign?). I had my first taste of Kremshnit from a friend of mine, whose mother makes it from scratch. Heavenly in its original anatomy, but even better in sufganiyot form. I thought it was a Yiddish term, but apparently it’s Slovakian. Those Slovaks — they know how to dessert. English Cake offered us delectable little custard-filled miracles. They had Nutella-filled, strawberry-filled, and the famous Shoboco, which has won the Sufganiya Cup in years past.
If you are searching for the winner in the fancy category, you’ve found it! RUN to English Cake, this year’s champion of all things scrumptious. They were even a runner-up in the traditional jelly category considering their jelly was divine and their dough-to-jelly ratio unrivalled.
Although we didn’t expect much from Berman’s, they did take the proverbial cake one year, so we figured we ought to throw their hat in the ring. Sorry, Berman’s… stick with pitot.
Here is the freakdom we found at Berman’s this year:
For those of you who can’t read the sign, it may as well say “Calling All Weirdos!” These are EMPTY sufganiyot. Anybody who wishes to create and market empty sufganiyot needs some serious therapy.
It’s tears cloaked in disappointment.
It’s a recurring nightmare that haunts you from the depths of sleep.
It’s Voldemort in doughnut form.
I could do this all day.
Berman’s gets a miss this year.
Given that we had been out in the rain for two full hours and consumed 40 doughnuts collectively, we considered calling it a day. But we had initially struck out at Brooklyn Bakery at 10 a.m., and my kids are sticklers for tradition. Brooklyn Bakery had to be included. So, considering we had already parked the (several) cars that held all of us, what better way to get back to Mea Shearim but to walk in the rain? And walk we did. Soaked to the gills, we arrived back at Brooklyn Bakery three hours after we had visited initially, and I was sent in to procure their finest. Much to my dismay, however, they had zero traditional jelly sufganiyot, even though we gave them plenty of lead-time. They didn’t have the long johns we’d waited all year for. They offered us sprinkled doughnuts and Boston Creme. Both were dismal failures since they weren’t fresh. The kids were so disappointed they decided to disqualify Brooklyn Bakery on principle. Oh, Brooklyn, how the mighty have fallen.
This is simply proof, of course, that we must continue to judge every single year, since the players constantly shift and their offerings are inconsistent. We are willing to take one for the team, and be on top of yearly pronouncements.