A few years ago I started thinking about Hanukkah in May. I was at a Greek festival, and I tasted a pastry that struck me as the perfect Hanukkah treat.
At the festive outdoor celebration, I saw a long line of people. Instead of watching the lively dancers in their colorful costumes, they focused their attention on plates of sweet, hot Mediterranean pastries with honey and cinnamon.
What they were awaiting resembled small sufganiyot (Israeli Hanukkah doughnuts)–they were egg-shaped balls of fried pastry. Each portion of the Greek sufganiyot, called loukoumades, had six golden pastry balls moistened with honey-like syrup. Later I walked around the back of the booth and saw how they were made. A machine squirted the batter through many small holes at once, so that tiny bits of dough fell simultaneously into the hot oil. As they fried, a cook turned them over continuously with a slotted spoon so their color would be evenly golden. Next they were removed from the oil, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, which proved to be delicious complements for the slightly crisp-crusted pastries.
It turns out these treats are popular throughout the eastern Mediterranean. I found similar spherical sweets at a pastry shop in Jerusalem’s Old City. I came across them again on a trip to Istanbul, where they are called lokma. At a doughnut shop there I saw them being freshly made in several different shapes. In addition to balls, there were small and large rings as well as ridged sticks of various sizes. All got a brief bath of syrup as soon as they were cooked.
Obviously, at home people don’t have a machine to make tiny balls of dough. Instead cooks simply use a teaspoon and make their pastries bigger. Like sufganiyot, loukoumades batter is often made with yeast. Some cooks make their pastry balls from a quick batter that puffs from eggs, like cream puff dough. Variations on this theme abound. In Corfu, loukoumades are fritters made with mild, fresh cheese, eggs and flour that are dipped in a sugar-honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon. Some Greek cooks give their pastry puffs a double embellishment–first they dip them in honey-cinnamon-lemon syrup, then roll them in cinnamon, sugar and walnuts.
You can also dress up your Hanukkah latkes by finishing them in loukoumades fashion. Simply drizzle your latkes with honey and sprinkle them with cinnamon and if you like, with walnuts too. If you’re in a rush, you can liven up plain unfilled sufganiyot or cream puffs from a bakery by serving them the same way.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (Morrow), 1,000 Jewish Recipes (Wiley) and Jewish Cooking For Dummies (Wiley).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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