If you look veeerrryy carefully in the center of this present-packed picture, you can just make out our lovely Hanukkah menorah surrounded, nay, overshadowed by the gifts for those boys. David and I usually get each other a token gift, like nice gloves or a great book — but it's really a holiday for our kids. Hanukkah tends to get plumped up by its proximity to Christmas, when in fact it's a very minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the evil King Antioches of Syria. The eternal light in the temple had been destroyed by the opposing forces, and there was only enough oil to light the sacred lamp for one night; by a miracle the lamp stayed lit for eight nights, long enough to prepare oil to keep its light shining and to rededicate the temple to the Hebrew people. However, there are many more sacred observances in the Jewish year, such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover.
In the small amount of research I've done, I have discovered that most cultures have a ritual observance around the winter solstice that usually involves light and fire — the fire lights up the long season of darkness descending on the world and brings our community closer together. The lighting of the candles on our menorah (brought back from a holiday in Israel by my grandmother and passed on to me when she died) is a lovely observance in our house, where everyone gets a turn at lighting the shamash ("helper" candle that lights the rest of the candles) and saying the blessing over the flame. Hanukkah foods often involve things that are fried in oil, to remember the oil that lit that long-ago lamp. Most people know that latkes, or potato pancakes, are made at this time and served with sour cream or applesauce, as well as little doughnuts called sufganyiot, which are usually filled with jelly. The oil also reminds us that the dark of winter can be a lean time and that we need fat to keep us and our animals hardy through the fallow season.
My personal favorite doughnut recipe is in Storey's The Donut Book: The Whole Story in Words, Pictures, and Outrageous Tales by Sally Steinberg. The book is hilarious and so fun to read, with lots of trivia, factoids, and great recipes like this one for Cinnamon Sugar Donuts. Make them on a weekend afternoon and light a little fire to get you through the season after the presents have been opened.
Cinnamon Sugar Donuts Craft is one of New York’s favorite temples of gastronomy. It is based on the concept of the highest-quality ingredients perfectly cooked and then “crafted” into a meal by the diner. This is one of pastry chef Karen Demasco’s favorite recipes. Makes about 15 donuts
3 1⁄2 cups bread flour
1⁄2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons fresh yeast
1 tablespoon plus 1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound unsalted butter, cold, plus more for greasing
Vegetable oil for frying
- Combine the flour and sugar in an electric mixer with a dough hook. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time. Mix until combined. Add the yeast. Next add the salt. When this comes together in a smooth ball around the hook, start adding the butter, piece by piece.
- When the butter is fully incorporated, remove the dough from the mixer and place
- in a buttered bowl that is big enough for the dough to double. Cover and let proof.
- When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, when the dough is thoroughly chilled, roll it out to about 1⁄4 inch thick.
- Cut into desired-size donuts, removing and reserving the holes (making donut holes is a must). Let them proof for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how warm the room is. At this point, if they are too hard to handle, they can be rechilled for a short time.
- Heat the oil to 390°F and fry the donuts, flipping them when they are golden. This should take about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the oil, drain on paper towels, and toss in Cinnamon Sugar.
1 pound superfine sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄4 teaspoon salt Combine all ingredients.
— Amy Greeman, Director of Publicity