Not to be rude, but there's something a little scary about jelly donuts. It's not the donut part. It's not even the jelly part, to be frank. I just don't like surprises in my sweets. Don't ever hand me a box of chocolates without a very clear map of exactly what's in there, and at which precise coordinates. Also, I call dibs on anything with pistachio, always.
But let's return to jelly donuts. As a Jew, I can assure you that Hanukkah can be a trying time for the jelly-donut-averse. Yes, the holiday is mostly about latkes, and dreidels, and menorahs, and Maccabees, and lights, and miracles, and togetherness, but a small part of it is also about jelly donuts. If you're like me, I've got an alternative: let's change the donut to a fritter-style cocoa puff and save the jelly for our morning toast.
Fritters suit the spirit of the holiday since, like donuts, they're also fried, thus commemorating the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight nights. And with these fritters, there's no hidden agenda, nothing hiding inside; what you see is what you get, and what you get is sweet, tender, cocoa-y, and miraculous, because these really aren't hard to make.
There are a few keys to a successful fritter. Use a deep pot, as oil tends to splatter. Fry a few at a time, so as not to overcrowd the cooking vessel. Use a thermometer (maintain a cooking temp of 375 degrees, or thereabouts). Drain on paper towels, to absorb excess oil. And serve immediately, dusting generously with powdered sugar and more cocoa. Fritters wait for no one, and no one should wait for fritters.
(These tips, aside from the dusting part, are applicable to most frying applications, including latkes.)
Yes, fritters are a bit nontraditional, but traditions — and desserts — are allowed to evolve over time. Even in Israel, dessert and pastry offerings are pushing boundaries. I visited earlier this fall and was surprised by what I found, sweets-wise. In addition to classic French pastries (all manner of croissants, macarons, brioche) and Middle Eastern and Arab specialties like baklava and kanafe (shredded dough with cheese and sweet syrup), I was served some unusual concoctions: pistachio ice cream with phyllo and candied eggplant, an almond milk flan with hibiscus and pomegranate, a kiwi-white chocolate truffle infused with jasmine tea. Granted this was way before Hanukkah... they'll probably be serving sufganiyot — okay, fine, that means jelly donut — this week, too, but that doesn't mean I have to follow suit.
So grab a deep pot, a bottle of vegetable oil, two bowls, a whisk, and a mesh strainer. Gather friends, light a menorah (or just some candles), and celebrate the cocoa fritter, a puffy sweet with nothing but itself lurking in the center.
Hanukkah Cocoa Fritters
Makes 25 fritters
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (unsweetened) cocoa powder
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Plenty of vegetable oil, for frying
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
In a large bowl, sift the flour, 1/4 cup of cocoa powder, sugar, espresso powder, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, whole egg, egg yolk, and both extracts. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk to combine. (Make sure to moisten any dry bits at the bottom of the bowl.) Set aside while you heat the oil.
Affix a candy thermometer to the side of a deep saucepan. Fill with 1 to 1-1/2 inches oil, set over medium high-heat, and bring the oil up to 375 degrees.
When the oil has reached 375 (you'll need to maintain this temperature throughout frying, so dial the heat up or down as needed), drop 1 heaping tablespoon of batter for each fritter into the oil. (Use a very small ice cream/dough scoop if you have one.) Work in batches, and do not crowd the pan. Fry for 1 to 3 minutes per side, flipping gently once. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with remaining batter.
Sift the powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder over the fritters. Serve immediately.
Cheryl Sternman Rule is the voice behind 5 Second Rule and the author of Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables. You can see our review of Ripe here and also get a sample recipe from the book.
(Images: Cheryl Sternman Rule)