Pictures: Andrew Scrivani/Sabra Krock /Matt/Roth/The New York Times
Hanukkah is a perfect time for consuming guilt-free doughnuts and fried chicken.

Why fry?

Oil is central to the Jewish holiday, which commemorates the victory of rebellious Maccabees over Syrian Greeks in 165 BC.

When the Jews went to clean up and rededicate the ransacked temple, they needed eight days to prepare sacred oil for the temple lamps and candelabras.

Although they found just a single small vial of purified oil, enough for one day, that little bit of oil lasted eight days until more could be made.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jews across the world observe Hanukkah, by lighting a nine-branched menorah and eating foods fried in oil.

Many people know of and make latkes - pancakes made of potatoes, vegetables and/or cheese.

But the fried treats, first recorded as ricotta cheese pancakes in 14th century Italy, came late to the party.

Precursors to the modern doughnut, fried yeasted doughs sweetened with honey and syrups, have been around since ancient Rome and Greece.

Fillings, often savoury, were added in 16th century central Europe, and the by-product doughnut hole in the mid-1800s as a way to make sure the middle of the dough would cook.


French Potato Cakes

Makes 2 pancakes

Serves 6

1 medium Spanish onion

2 large russet potatoes, peeled

4 tbs unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp fine salt, plus more to taste

Grapeseed oil, for frying

Apple compote, for serving

½ cup crème fraîche, for serving

Working quickly to avoid discolouration, cut onion and potatoes in large chunks and then shred them, either by hand or by using the grating blade of a food processor.

One handful at a time and working over the sink, squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the potato and onion mixture and transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix gently with your fingers.

Pour the melted butter over the mixture, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and lightly work in with your fingers.

Heat an 20cm nonstick frying pan and pour in enough grapeseed oil to lightly coat the bottom. When oil is almost smoking, spoon half the potato mixture into the pan, spreading it over the bottom of the pan and patting it down gently with a spatula so it is about an inch thick. Use the spatula to push in stray pieces to make a clean edge.

Fry for about 4 minutes on one side or until golden brown around the edges, then slide onto a plate. Invert the pan over the plate and flip, transferring pancake back into the pan on its other side.

Cook for another 4 minutes or until crispy on the outside.

Slide pancake onto a paper-towel-covered plate and blot with additional paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Remove top paper towels and flip pancake onto a clean plate using the same method as above.

Keep in a warm oven as you repeat the process with the remaining potato mixture.

Season with more salt if desired. Using a sharp knife, cut like a pie into 6 pieces and serve each with a little apple compote and a dollop of crème fraîche.

Apple Compote

Makes 2 cups

1 tbs unsalted butter

4 to 6 Granny Smith or Honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm pieces (6 cups, from about 900g apples)

¼ cup sugar

1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise and seeds scraped

2 tbs brandy

In a 1.8l saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.

Add apples, sugar and vanilla seeds and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until apples start to soften and liquid starts to cook away.

Add brandy, raise the heat and cook 2 more minutes to deglaze the pan, until much of the liquid is evaporated.

Cover pan and cook over a very low heat, about 5 minutes, until apples are soft.

Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature.


Sephardic Challah with Whole Spices

Makes 2 round loaves

75g raisins, dark or golden or a combination (optional)

10g plus 30g sesame seeds

10g caraway or coriander seeds

10g anise, cumin or poppy seeds

7g active dry yeast

600g bread flour, more for dusting work surface

30g extra-virgin olive oil, more for oiling bowl and pans

30 to 60g honey (depending on how sweet you like your challah)

2 eggs, at room temperature (optional)

16g kosher salt

Cornmeal, for dusting

2 egg yolks

If using, cover raisins in 2 cups warm water and let plump for 30 minutes.

Drain well and set aside.

In a pan, toast 1 tablespoon sesame, the caraway and the anise or other seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine yeast with 2 tablespoons warm water. Let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour with olive oil, honey, eggs (if using) and warm water (3/4 cup if using eggs; 1½ cups if not).

Mix at low speed until a soft dough forms.

If it is stiff, add warm water, a tablespoon at a time.

Add salt, yeast mixture and toasted seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is supple and smooth, 10 minutes.

Mix in raisins.

Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot until the dough is doubled, 1½ to 2 hours.

Lightly oil two small cookie sheets and dust them with cornmeal.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate.

Cut the dough in half and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll each piece into an 45cm-long rope and let rest for 5 minutes longer, then roll each rope into a 81cm rope.

Take a rope and, starting from one end, form the dough into a coil; tuck the ends under the completed coil.

Repeat with the remaining rope.

Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover each loaf with a large inverted bowl.

Let stand for 1 hour, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.

(The risen loaves can be frozen, wrapped, for up to 2 weeks; top and bake just before serving.)

Heat oven to 200°C.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks with 1 tablespoon water.

Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes.

Brush with the egg wash once more and sprinkle with the reserved sesame seeds.

Bake the loaves side-by-side in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes, until they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool before serving or slicing.


Washington Post & The New York Times