Fast Food Catering

The Story Behind Jelly Donuts During Hanukkah

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Did you know that jelly donuts are among the symbolic foods enjoyed by Jews during Hanukkah? Known as sufganiyah (singular form) and sufganiyot (plural form), these have a long history from the Middle Ages until the present times. These are also often served as dessert along with traditional Hanukkah foods like fried cheese, fried pancakes, and schnitzel.  

Popularized During the Middle Ages

While oily foods, usually fried, have traditionally symbolized the miracle of Hanukkah, jelly donuts weren’t closely associated with it until the Middle Ages.  According to food historians, the first documented recipe for sufganiyah was discovered in 1485 in Kuchenmeisterei (Mastery of the Kitchen), a cookbook printed on the printing press created by Johannes Gutenberg.

But the original recipe didn’t call for a hole in the middle of the jelly donut, as is the case for the contemporary version. Instead, it was made of two round pieces of pill0w-s0ft dough filled with jam and fried in lard.   

The jam itself was a radical innovation because up until that point, donuts were savory dishes filled with meats, cheeses, and mushrooms.  The sweet quality made jelly donuts one of the preferred fried foods for Hanukkah, along with the likes of fried cheese curds, fried radish cakes, and fried buckwheat pancakes.  

Increase in Popularity Through the Years

But jelly donuts weren’t the preferred Hanukkah foods that they are today then because these were expensive to make.  And then two events turned things around for the sweet treats, namely: the more affordable cost of sugar due to the importation of sugar from the Caribbean, and the translation of the Mastery of the Kitchen cookbook into Polish.  

First, jelly donuts became less costly to make and so bakers started making them in greater quantities. People found that they can afford these treats thus resulting in their increased popularity.  

Second, Polish Jews started producing jelly donuts in greater amounts, too. Known as paczki, jelly donuts were popular treats during special occasions like Hanukkah and Christmas Day.  When Polish Jews immigrated to other countries, they introduced the jelly donut-Haukkah tradition to their new countries.

Today, Jews and non-Jews who celebrate Hanukkah and its holiday spirit enjoy jelly donuts, even the ones from Dunkin’ Donuts.  But don’t stop with jelly fillings either as donuts can also be enjoyed with other fillings, such as halvah, cream, and chocolate ganache.  

And here’s an interesting factoid: The Israeli Labor Federation even declared jelly donuts as the official food of Hanukkah.  

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