The many-flavored miracle of Hanukkah cooking | Local News

TRAVERSE CITY — It's time to make the doughnuts.

Brett Bilak of Traverse City was heading out into the snow Thursday to get her supplies, enough to prepare a slew of sufganiyot — a staple of the Hanukkah celebration.

Bilak planned on making a ton of the fried, jelly doughnuts for the potluck-style, Community Hanukkah Party held at The Little Fleet today from 3-5 p.m.

"It's that time of year again," Bilak said.

For Bilak, making homemade sufganiyot is a family activity, complete with a recipe she learned from her mother-in-law.

“She was an amazing cook,” Bilak said. “The batter is a little more like the little Italian donuts — zeppole, I think they’re called — and then they’re filled with jelly.”

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is a tradition solidly rooted in oil, which is infused into the menu.

The oil is the miracle: Hanukkah — Dec. 12 through Dec. 20 this year — is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. It was a time of oppression. The Jews’ temple had been desecrated. They revolted and took back the temple, but there was only enough oil to provide light for one night. Still, the light burned for eight — and so came the festival to commemorate the miracle.

“In most every tradition, no matter where you are in the world, they celebrate by doing something fried in oil,” said Fred Goldenberg of Traverse City. “When we have our Hanukkah parties, you can have, oh gosh, 200 people, and everybody expects to have potato latkes or sufganiyot. Those two things seem to be the staple of today’s Hanukkah celebration.”

In Terry Tarnow’s house, it’s latkes.

“My mother wasn’t much of a cook, and my father was a merchant, so we lit candles, but we tended not to do a big Hanukkah meal or gathering because everybody was working,” said Tarnow. “It really wasn’t until I grew up and got married that we really made it more into a tradition.”

She learned a lot from other cooks along the way. For example, her Traverse City synagogue, now Congregation Beth Shalom after a merger between Congregations Beth El and Ahavat Shalom, used to have a men’s latke bakeoff.

“People did all different kinds,” she said. “The oldest woman in the congregation was the judge and she would taste them all.

“As this woman got older, her tastebuds were failing so somebody figured out she needed salty things, so one year they salted theirs like crazy so she could taste it better — and they won.”

She and husband Michael have experimented with the basic recipe, incorporating different ingredients like zucchini, salmon or carrots, for example.

“It’s still frying in oil, but adding other things to them to make things interesting,” she said. “We often serve some kind of fish as a side dish, and salads and try to get something healthy in there."

The Bilaks eat healthfully year-round, she says, so they can afford to indulge in fried foods for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

“We kind of focus on a different fried food (each night),” Bilak said. “We save up all year.”

And when the holiday is over, they don’t mind putting the frying pan away for another year, she said.

“By the eighth night,” she laughed, “we are just begging for a salad.”

Editor's note: Excerpts from this story appeared in a previous issue of GT Scene magazine. Allison Batdorff contributed to this story.

n Hanukkah sometimes referred to as “the Jewish Christmas,” though the two holidays share nothing except relative proximity on the calendar. Hanukkah also isn’t the most important Jewish holiday. Still, it’s a time of warmth, nightly lightings of the menorah candles, sharing small gifts and surprises including Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) for the kids, playing the dreidel game — a type of spinning top, and probably most important, food.

Sufganiyot (Israeli Donuts)

1 C. tepid water

2 packets dried yeast

½ C. sugar

4-6 C. flour

3 large eggs plus 1 yolk at room temperature

1 t. vanilla extract

½ t. fresh ground cardamom

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of ½ orange

8 T. butter (1 stick – use real butter)

Jelly or filling of your choice (about a half cup)

Powdered sugar

Oil for frying (approximately 8 cups)

In a large bowl, or bowl of a mixer, dissolve yeast into water with 1 tablespoon sugar. When yeast is foamy (about 10 minutes) add in all remaining ingredients except for flour and mix well. Stir in enough flour to form a smooth but sticky dough (about 5 cups). Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover to allow rising.

When dough has doubled in size (about an hour in a warm place), punch down and allow to rise for a second time (about 30 minutes). On a heavily floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch. Use cookie cutter or rim of a juice glass cut out 24 circles.

Place 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of 12 of the circles. Wet the edges around the filling and place an unfilled circle on top, sealing the edges around. Place on a lightly floured towel to rise while the oil heats up (oil should reach 350). Continue until you have 12 filled doughnuts.

Fry in hot oil, a few at a time, approximately 3-5 minutes per side (this will depend how many you put into the pan at a time, do not crowd).

Drain on a cooling rack until room temperature. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 12 jelly-filed donuts.

— Brett Bilak

Potato Latkes

6 medium potatoes

1 small onion (Terry always uses more)

2 eggs

½ C. flour (or matzo meal) approximately

1 t. salt

¼ t. pepper

½ t. baking powder

Oil for flying

Grate potatoes and onion into mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients except oil. Heat oil in heavy pan or griddle. Drop batter by spoonful and fry until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Drain on paper toweling. Serve hot with apple sauce, sour cream or cinnamon and sugar. Serves 4-6.

Five variations:

Add about 1 C. cooked shredded salmon

Add about 1 C. shredded zucchini

Add about ½ C. shredded carrot

Use same mixture, add ¼ C. oil and pour into greased 1 1/2-quart casserole or pan of any shape that holds 6 cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until golden brown. Serves 6-8.

Bake in well-greased large muffin pans for 45 minutes at 350 degrees for individual potato kugels.

— Terry Tarnow, adapted from “The Fruit of Her Hands Temple Israel Sisterhood Cookbook,” Detroit

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