Ashley’s Ultimate Vegan Challah

Since making the decision to go vegan 7 1/2 years ago, I’ve been in search of a challah recipe that can compete with my favorite eggy versions from my childhood. The kind I liked best was extra eggy, soft and cake-like challah with an extremely rich flavor and delicate crumb.  I could eat slice after slice, coated with the unsalted, pareve margarine my mom kept on hand for meat meals.  Although water challah exists in the US, it’s not nearly as popular, and can be quite difficult to find.  In fact despite reassurances from several friends, there was only one store in all of Manhattan that I knew would reliably have an accidentally vegan challah.  Given the scarcity of options, I spent many a Friday night dinner unable to participate in the cornerstone ritual of blessing and breaking bread at the start of a meal. This is less of an issue in Israel, as it is much easier to find egg-free challah here, and at most meals there’s also a pile of soft pitas sitting next to the braided loaves.

My quest for the perfect challah recipe has been ongoing since a very young age.  Even when I knew where to buy my favorite brand, I still always had an itch to make my own, and no matter how masterful I became in pastry creation, my challah was a perpetual disappointment, eggy or vegan.  The first egg free recipe I tried called for the unholiest of sins in my book, most especially as an egg replacer: banana. There is nothing you can say or do to make me believe that “you can’t even taste the banana!” because yes, I can, even in those super chocolatey brownies.  Even the slightest hint that banana is lurking beneath the surface, and the brownie/cake/smoothie/muffin/challah is ruined.  I still wanted to try that first, sinful recipe, however, so I subbed the banana for another sweet and starchy plant, namely pumpkin.  I continued to use that recipe for several years, but nothing about it was even close to the challah I was trying to approximate.  Several years later, I adapted a recipe from a friends mother, by merely leaving the egg out.  The ratios of sweetness to breadiness was perfect, but it came out as slightly too oily.  Still, it was the best challah I’d ever made.  Because I didn’t own a blender or food processor when I lived in Manhattan, blended tofu was out as an option, but my other go to egg-replacer–non-dairy yogurt–was still on the table.  Before I happened to bring that experiment to fruition, I happened upon the brioche recipe from Bittersweet Blog, which used a chickpea flour based custard as the egg replacer. The sticky sweet brioche dough made a decent braid (and tasted delicious to boot), but it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a challah.

FullSizeRender (1)For Rosh Hashanah last year, I decided to embark on yet another challah experiment, drawing inspiration from both the brioche recipe as well as from some of the other recipes I’d liked the best.  The chickpea custard gave the dough just the right amount of enrichment, so the crumb was soft and tender, with a sweet almost cake-y, but not overpowering flavor.  For the glaze, I mixed together a bit of soymilk with a touch of silan (date syrup), which helped give the loaves a bit of sheen and that same rich color that traditional loaves have.  The recipe will either make one large round loaf, or one large braid (which I prefer to bake in a loaf pan in order to retain more height).  You can sprinkle the top with traditional toppings like poppy or sesame seeds, or you can have a bit of fun and try za’atar or paprika!

May all our meals be a little sweeter this year! שנה טובה ומתוקה! Have a happy and sweet new year!

IMG_0011Ashley’s Ultimate Vegan Challah

  • 1/4 c chickpea flour
  • 1 c non dairy milk
  •  1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1/3 c maple syrup or silan
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp black salt
  • 5-6 c all-purpose flour


  • 3 tbsp nondairy milk mixed with 1-2 tbsps of silan
  • sesame seeds, poppy seeds, zaatar

In a small saucepan, mix chickpea flour with some of the milk to form paste. Whisk in the rest of the milk, and cook on medium heat until significantly thickened and pudding-like, stirring constantly.  Let cool until just warm to touch.  In a large bowel, stir together the chickpea custard with the yeast and maple syrup or silan.  Allow the yeast mixture to rest for a bit.  The yeast may start to bubble slightly (which is a good thing).  Add in the salt and the oil, and then begin to add flour.  I usually start with about 4 cups, then knead it in to see how sticky the dough still is.  Add more flour if necessary, a little at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky.  Knead about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, and bounces back when lightly pressed.  Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl.  Cover with a bit of plastic and a towel and place in the fridge to ride overnight.  In the morning, punch down the dough, then preheat the oven to 350F (about 175C).  Shape the dough according to your preference.  For a round loaf, roll the dough into one long rope.  Tie the rope into a regular knot, tucking one end underneath the loaf, while letting the other stick out just a bit. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size.  Brush with milk and silan mixture, then sprinkle the topping over evenly.  Bake on a large cookie sheet (for the round loaf) for about 30 minutes.  If after that time the top is browning too quickly, cover with a piece of foil and bake for about another 30 minutes.  When done, a knife inserted into the center (do it between coils, not in the exact center of the rope) should come back clean, and will slide in easily.  You can alternatively check that it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  If braiding the loaf, it will probably only need to back for about 30 minutes.



Livnot U’lehibanot: To Build and Be Built (Part 3)

At long last, the conclusion:

That Thursday afternoon, we had a class with another kabbalist, with the intent of discussing Shabbat. What I remember from this class, however, was the idea that the whole world was connected, and how everyone’s actions can impact another. While I didn’t want to rile the group up by being the stereotypical vegan, I asked our instructor Alon afterwards what kabbalist thinking had to say about eating animals, if they indeed prescribe to the idea that everything in the world–including everything in nature–is interconnected. His answer was that this perspective didn’t honor human life alone, but that animal life was also something to be respected, and that there were many kabbalists who believe that as we move closer to the coming of mashiach (messiah) more and more of the world will go vegetarian. I continued this discussion with Nina, who brought up the idea that even the famous Rav’ Kook (first head Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine) had said at times that the diet proscribed to Adam and Eve in the Torah was a vegan diet, based on scavenging nuts, seeds, and fruits from Eden. While I never expressly felt that I needed Judaism to validate my dietary choices, there have been people who have insisted to me that I couldn’t possibly be fulfilling Shabbat mitzvot adequately because they involved the consumption of fish and meat. Finding answers to these questions, which were very much pertinent to my own life as a Jew was validating, and definitely strengthened my beliefs, both in terms of Judaism, and in terms of veganism.

Continuing on within the weekly Jewish cycle, Thursday night was filled with preparations for Shabbat. Once again, we had to prepare the common room to accommodate 40+ people for a meal, while the rest of us set about preparing the food. We set about making two vats of soup, one vegetarian, and one a traditional chicken based broth with matzoh balls, salads, roasted chicken, roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, as well as a vegetable stir fry. While our equipment was far from state of the art, through an intense amount of teamwork, we made quick work of the kilos of potatoes that needed peeling and chopping, and by the time we headed to bed that night, we were well on our way to an easy and restful Shabbat.

Hiking locally

Hiking locally

Friday morning saw another local hike, this one ending at a natural pool with a waterfall, but given the condition of my ankle on the last one, I sadly elected to stay behind. To my delight, another of the participants also stayed behind (unfortunately due to the severity of his allergies), and instead the two of us spent the day exploring Tzfat, and visiting an incredible local winery.

We brought in Shabbat first by lighting candles, while swaying to the sound of a nigun (a wordless melody), followed by a trip up to the balcony to reflect on the highlight of our week. We stepped out in into the fading sun, and began to sing (and dance) to several songs traditionally sung during kabbalat shabbat, or the service during which we welcome in the Shabbat spirit (and famously written in Tzfat many centuries ago). After this first celebration of song, we were encouraged to go synagogue hopping throughout the city for maariv, the evening service. In a moment of hesitation I took to sing one of my favorites, “Yedid Nefesh” (soul mate), I sort of missed the train (had I tried I could have made it), and instead sat on the balcony with another straggler, quietly singing a few of my favorite Shabbat melodies, and watching the stars begin to burn into view. Our meal was conducted with much song and revelry, so much so that Shlomo somehow broke a chair, and I regularly feared that a table was in danger of being broken in half given the exuberance of the banging that accompanied the songs. It was after dinner though that the real Shabbat magic began. We once again lowered the tables so that we were close to the ground and spread the mats around on the floor. Cups of wine were passed around, and so began the giving of l’chaims (literally, ‘to life’ but here meaning toasts). Many of us went around, toasting each other or toasting experience, until Shlomo stopped us, and asked us to take on a new task. We took the time to go around the large circle, and pay one compliment to the person sitting to our right, and then one to ourselves. The room filled with emotion and sentiment as we began telling each person, just what made them special, and then dug deep to share in honest words the things that we thought made ourselves special. It was an important reminder to verbalize to our friends and loved ones just what makes them so amazing, but also, just how powerful an effect compliments can have on strangers. Being told by someone you may have just met that night (as we were joined by a number of people for Shabbat who hadn’t been there the rest of the week), that their first impression is that you’re a warm and friendly person, or that you’re awesome because you’re vegan was incredibly moving. But as Shlomo said, we weren’t even at the first level.

The line up at Ancient Tzfat Winery

The line up at Ancient Tzfat Winery

For those of us who chose to stay up (as it was long past midnight), we, along with Shlomo, Rachel, and Nina (Tifferet had already fallen asleep), went around the circle, each taking a turn singing a song, entirely alone, in front of the rest of the group. What I guess is less of a secret than I sometimes make it out to be, is that I am a classically trained singer. In fact, my vocal training began at the tender age of 14, which means I’ve officially had more formal singing training than anything else (including dance, linguistics, and even baking). Even so, I remain fairly terrified of singing solo for other people, an anxiety which can be slightly relieved only by starting out in one of my completely ridiculous character voices. As I waffled between doing my one man Les Mis show (nerve wracking because what if no one else thought it was as funny as I do) or “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, Nina gently encouraged me to go with the latter. Now “Part of Your World” isn’t particularly challenging vocally, and I’ve sung it many times in the safety of my home, reveling in how comfortably it fit into my voice. Despite this, as I began the first notes, the familiar fear overtook my body, constricting my abdomen and throat, making it quite difficult to sing. Still, I pressed on, though now I had a real fear of sounding awful, but silently encouraged myself to make it a character and to be as cutesy and “talky” (this is a very esoteric bit of vocal jargon meaning to make the song as speech like as possible) as I could be. But at some point, my fear began to melt away, and I felt as I were almost in a trance, where my voice opened up, and so did my heart. I genuinely feel that singing in front of this small group of people was one of the most difficult challenges I undertook the whole week, and not because I’ve never opened my voice up to other people before, but I think it was in part because of the sheer vulnerability to which I was able to expose myself, allowing for genuine emotion to shine through.

Touring Tzfat on a lovely Friday afternoon

Touring Tzfat on a lovely Friday afternoon

The levels we went to after the song were, in order, dancing (no problem), be an animal (naturally I chose my puppy), and “go crazy” (I was in a pencil skirt and it was 4 am, I did yoga…), none of which I found to be particularly frightening. But still taking part in these exercises until a mere hour before the sun came up, fortified the bond we’d been forging throughout the week. Our Saturday schedule didn’t allow us to sleep in, rather it pushed us to go out and celebrate Shabbat with the greater Tzfat community, as we were invited to lunch with local families in groups of two or more. I had the honor of eating lunch with David Friedman, a local artist as well as his wife, and some of their friends. We were served incredibly delicious, wholesome vegan cooking, while discussing news about the neighborhood, sharing bits of our personal lives with everyone new, and even learning just a bit more about Pesach and how it should be celebrated now that we’ve made a return to the land. One of the rules they had for their table, was that only one conversation could take place at a time, thereby ensuring that everyone was engaged with the person speaking, and also helping us to focus on only one thing at a time. As was suggested when the rule was presented to us guests, it helped to calm the energy at the table, bringing everyone to a more peaceful and restful place.

With the end of Shabbat, brought the end of our time at Livnot, which ended much as it began. In song, in a circle, experiencing the togetherness of the group, only now we were no longer a group of strangers, bonded by our shared anticipation of the week to come, but a close knit family, who had traveled together from Egypt to freedom, by opening up through song and dance. We sang through the ritual of havdalah–Shabbat’s closing ceremony so to speak–then went around and shared what we would each be taking away from the Livnot experience. I was struck by how passionate every person was about their experience with Livnot, and unlike other programs I’ve participated in, each story was one of overwhelming positivity and the conviction that we all had the opportunity to take part in something that was truly special.

Saturday evening jam sesh

Saturday evening jam sesh

Livnot U’lehibanot, to build and be built, is a non-profit organization operating entirely on the generosity of others. Before each program, they attempt to find a sponsor in order to ensure that the cost for participants is no more than $150. In some cases, programs have been cancelled if there was no sponsor, in others, such as our own, the program is run despite this, and the search for a sponsor continues after the fact. If you have yet to solidify your summer plans, Livnot is running a 6-week program in conjunction with Masa Israel, with whom they hope to develop a long lasting partnership, as they are not currently recipients of government funding like other Masa programs. I would very much encourage other young, Jewish adults to consider participating in one of their programs, especially for those who are seeking a way to inject some more heart and soul into their spirituality. It’s designed to be a personal journey for people from all backgrounds and Jewish experiences, lead by three of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. For those of you who are out of Livnot’s age bracket, considering sharing this piece with your children, grandchildren, friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, etc, and for those of you with the means, please consider making a donation to help keep Livnot running.

As we sang throughout my week at Livnot (and in this case complete with hand gestures), “kol ha’olam kulo, gesher tzar me’od, ve’ha’ikar lo lefached k’lal” or “the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all.” I feel like this song, out of all the songs we sang sums up Livnot’s message, as well as encapsulates my experience with them. Reach out to others, connect with those around you, and most importantly, take that leap.

Livnot U’lehibanot: To Build and Be Built (Part 2)

And so the story continues:

The next morning saw our Pesach preparations shift into full gear.  We started the morning by burning the chametz collected the night before in a wood burning oven, discovered in one of Livnot’s many excavation sites.  In addition to pieces of bread, we each wrote out on a piece of paper a personal Egypt we were looking to escape, which we then burned alongside the bread.  Afterwards, everyone was given a task that was integral to our seder experience for later in the evening. About half of us prepared the ritual foods featured in the seder, such as chopping apples to make charoset, washing lettuce, cooking potatoes and eggs, all while having a kitchen dance party.  I somehow ended up with an entire half of the kitchen to myself, which I naturally turned into my own personal lettuce washing dance studio.  In the meantime, the other half of the group readied the living room for the seder by setting up low tables and cushions on the floor, so we could adequately recline during the meal.

It was also necessary for everyone to take an active role in the Livnot seder, meaning that at some point everyone would have to get up in front of everyone else and either perform a bit of the hagaddah, or as in the case of one group, lead us through a Pesach meditation.  Being entirely fixated on working dance into my performance, I was first on the list of participants to make a skit of the Pesach story.  Acting alongside me were four guys, putting me in the familiar position of being the only girl in the group.  Our preparations started by me matter-of-factly informing two of the guys that they could do whatever they wanted, but I wanted to dance.  Being really awesome people, they agreed that dancing would be a necessary part of our story telling.  Now, I had a lot of incredibly fun experiences during this week, but putting together this skit is definitely one of my top picks.  Somehow, we had the perfect blend of outrageous personalities, and managed to completely unselfconsciously put together a semi-improv of the Passover story, held together by a line of purposely austere narration.  Within the retelling of the story, I was somehow featured as: a kvetching slave, Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter, the Egyptian beating the slave (where I stage kicked a guy twice my size…in a skirt), Moshe’s wife, the burning bush (which is the only part everyone remembered, due to my “modern dance” interpretation) Pharoah’s thug, pretty much all of the plagues or a recipient thereof, the ballerina angel of death, and Moshe tap dancing through the red sea of two guys doing the worm.  Even better than all of that silliness, was the fact that out of our skit came the legacy of a program-wide inside joke, which I would repeat here, only the written word couldn’t possibly do the joke justice.  Other skits performed at the seder included commercials for Pesach, Maztoh, and Maror, our favorite of which featured a catchy jingle and a line of Australian slang spoken completely out of context (which we all laughed at, partially out of sheer confusion).

Seder Table (photo courtesy of Tifferet Weinberg)

Seder Table (photo courtesy of Tifferet Weinberg)

The seder itself was lead by Tifferet’s family, who introduced some of their traditions to us, such as receiving chocolate chips for asking questions, and bargaining with the afikomem thief to receive the stolen piece of middle matzah.  I, in a stoke of genius, stole my own table’s afikomen, with the intention of preventing another table from stealing it.  To my delight, I was able to negotiate a free Shabbaton at Livnot before I leave Israel in June.  Our seder was more meaningful and thought provoking than most seders I have experienced, where we rush through the ritual only to end at the meal, without finishing up the important second half.  Though I was in the throes of extreme fatigue by the time we neared the end, I was intent on staying up until we got to “L’shana Haba’a” (Next Year in Jerusalem), making this my very first experience in twenty-three years that I not only completed the seder, but completed the second half in its entirety.

The next day was spent relaxing, recovering from the previous night, reflecting, and enjoying an afternoon barbecue.  As we moved from yom tov to chol ha’moed, we finally cleaned up the mountain of dishes (also complete with a dance party) and then were given a free night to enjoy Tzfat.  Our adventures resumed on Wednesday, where we completed a day long hike through one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen.  While I once again fell victim to my unfortunately and chronically weak and injured ankles, making the hike extremely difficult for me, I was determined (through the immensely kind help of my new friends, who may or may not have carried me piggy back for a good half of the hike) to make it all the way to the end.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to see the natural rock formations that served as part of an ancient monastery, nor the wild bulls lumbering through the countryside, nor would I have had the experience of swimming in a cool, dark well.  One of the things I noticed in particular, was that the epic nature of the land lent one the feeling of being in a movie, or as several of us discussed, in Game of Thrones.  Our conclusion was that if we were indeed in Westeros–one of the mythical continents on which A Song Of Ice and Fire takes place–we were most likely on the edge of Dorne and the Reach, or straddled between the desert, and the lush, green bread belt of the continent.

The Edge of Dorne and The Reach aka The Golan Heights (photo courtesy of Jacob Strain)

The Edge of Dorne and The Reach aka The Golan Heights (photo courtesy of Jacob Strain)

During one of our breaks on the hike, we set about doing some Jewish learning in “chevrutas” or learning pairs.  We were each given a set of quotations from Jewish thinkers, as well as a series of questions reflecting on these words.  The discussions we were tasked with dealt with the intersection of individual and community, as well as the juxtaposition of being at once extremely special and yet also insignificant.  Each group spent time discussing whether they thought individual or community was more important and why, which I understood as balance is the key.  The other quotation, in which was stated that everyone should carry a piece of paper with the words “I am but dust and ashes” and another with the words “The world was created for me” lead me to the realization, that in my own life, I have carried around both a symbol of all that is special in my world, as represented by a piece of crystal that someone important once gave me, as well as a reminder of the brevity of life, in the form of an Israeli dog tag with my name engraved on it.  Later in the hike, we were once again reunited with our chevrutas in order to make each other lunch, once again reinforcing the idea of giving to others, but also of receiving.  During our lunch, we were given the opportunity to ask questions of the founder of Livnot, Aaron, who first explained what he felt the organization’s mission was.

Philip (or Bill. or maybe it was Charlie) our friendly hiking companion.

Philip (or Bill. or maybe it was Charlie) our friendly hiking companion.

He explained to the group that his intent was to give the many young people traveling to Israel a place where they could have a genuine Jewish experience.  It wasn’t about becoming orthodox, or observant, but it was about connecting to Judaism in a personal, spiritual way, which many of the programs in place around the country lack.  For example, a large number of our group are participants on Masa Israel programs, where we get to experience life living, working, and studying in Israel, but not necessarily connecting specifically to Judaism.  Our programs on Masa center around Israeli history and culture, such as celebrating holidays central to the Israeli state like Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, or Independence day (both of which were special experiences in their own right, but not necessarily spiritual in nature, even if they are very much tied to the Jewish people).  The experience of Judaism on Livnot helps to provide us with a new understanding of our religion, which we can take with us wherever we go, whether it’s back to our home countries, or somewhere else in Israel. We spent one afternoon split into groups discussing our memories of the role Judaism played in our lives growing up, and how we connected to it, both as a religion, and as a culture.  Many of us did grow up in homes steeped in Jewish ritual, and noticed how connected our parents were, and some even marveled at how disconnected they felt, despite attending Jewish day school, or how they somehow remained deeply connected to Judaism, while their siblings were more apathetic.  The way I always saw Judaism, at least in terms of my life, is that we follow Jewish traditions because they are our cultural traditions, but that spirituality and belief is up to the individual.  I don’t feel it is necessary to unilaterally believe in the Torah, and even in the Rabbinic teachings that follow, but that it is necessary to develop an individual belief system that can be fit into a Jewish framework, because without that tie to our history, who are we anyway?  Additionally, I feel that in this day and age, where we have the ability to be our own people, and practice as we chose, it’s important to uphold traditions that our ancestors were persecuted for trying to fulfill, in part as a way to honor their memory.  In all of our discussions of kabbalah and Jewish connection, I felt very strongly that Livnot is striving to preserve this connection, both to our collective past, as well as to each other as a common people.

Following the Livnot trail (photo courtesy of Jacob Strain)

Following the Livnot trail (photo courtesy of Jacob Strain)

This theme of connection pervaded the experience at Livnot, in a very positive way.  I think a large part of the program’s impact was due to the fact that we were constantly encouraged to break down barriers by getting close and connecting with one another, whether it be through a hug, dancing together in a circle, or even singing together, where everyone was at once connected by touch, but also by the spirit of the songs.  After the program ended, I joked with some of the participants that I didn’t know what to do with myself now that we weren’t singing and dancing every thirty minutes or so, but while it may have seemed that we were just having fun at the time, most importantly at core of it, we were exposing ourselves to one another.  We also openly discussed the idea of connection through human touch, and how powerful of an experience it can be, especially given that our three bnot sheirut were all shomer negiah–meaning they won’t touch a member of the opposite sex who is not an immediate relative until they are married.  While the girls withheld from hugging or high-fiving the boys, they were still extremely loving and affectionate towards everyone, constantly encouraging us to go a little further, dig a little deeper, and connect a little more.

It’s only natural then that the most powerful experience I had on the trip was during our visit to the old age home, where we spent the morning singing and spreading joy to the residents.  While some of the participants were moved to sadness by the final chapter of life, I knew we were there to brighten the day for these people.  Being someone who constantly has some thought or another running through my head, no matter if the task at hand is related or not, for me to be so unilaterally focused on one task was indeed an incredibly unique experience.  As we sang and danced for these people, all of my energy was focused on sharing happiness, whether it be through the sound of my voice, the clapping of my hands, or even most simply through my smile.  The experience of bringing happiness to others was so overwhelmingly positive in a way that merely focusing on personal happiness could never be (though I strongly believe it’s up to each of us to actively seek and create personal happiness, even if it’s through the most trivial of things).  The feeling in each room as we sang was electric, filled with this tangible sense of joy that could carry you through the rest of your day, if not longer. Here we were, once again, connecting to each other, and to a previous generation through song and dance, some of which were first sung long before our time, and which we can only hope will continue to be sung long after we’re gone.

The thrilling final installment will be released shortly. 

Sweet Potato Soufganiyot with Apple Cranberry Filling

While I really wanted this post to be a Thanksgivukkuh recap of the party last Thursday, I felt like given my time constraints this week—between recovering from Thanksgiving, plus ulpan, and my internship (where we’re getting ready to put up a musical in less than a month)—I wouldn’t be able to do it justice and still get this recipe up before the end of Hanukkah. And, since the end of Hanukkah is imminent, there’s no better time to post a recipe than now (or last week).

Cathleen choosing a soufganiyah at our Thanksgivukkuh party

Cathleen choosing a soufganiyah at our Thanksgivukkuh party

Not that I ever disliked doughnuts, because let’s be honest, there were very few desserts I disliked growing up (except cheesecake. I was always picky about the whole cheese thing), but I feel like I really got into doughnuts when I had amazing, unique doughnuts readily available to me. Aka, when I started working in the city and could get doughnut plant doughnuts on the reg, or when the Cinnamon Snail started parking in my neighborhood on a weekly basis. Surprisingly, vegan doughnuts entered the New York City food scene late in the game. I’d already had the best ice cream ever (from the shop formerly known as Lula’s) and some pretty good vegan cheese, as well as a myriad of other vegan desserts. And yet, the doughnut was fairly elusive. Despite attending the Dun-Well Doughnuts launch party, they weren’t easy to come by, even after they opened their shop (because their shop is pretty much in Bushwick). But once the Cinnamon Snail was in my ‘hood, I found that there was many a Thursday morning, I only got dressed and left the house as early as I did because an artisanal vegan doughnut sounded like a good idea for breakfast. And boy oh boy how I missed doughnuts. Even at work it was a special treat when Kristin made doughnuts.

Peppermint patty and smore's doughnuts from the Cinnamon Snail.  NYC, June 2012

Peppermint patty and smore’s doughnuts from the Cinnamon Snail. NYC, June 2012

Here in Israel, especially at this time of year, soufganiyot proliferate, but there is nary a vegan one to be found. While doughnut making isn’t exactly my favorite thing to do, as a once a year Hanukkah treat, it’s really not so bad. I was in finals during Hanukkah last year, so I didn’t get a chance to experiment, and oddly enough, though I know I made some the year before, I can’t at all remember what kind they were, or even which recipe I used. Regardless, (as I say every year) this year’s batch was the best to date. Of course, as I’ve written about for the last month or so, I had to up the ante and not only make doughnuts, but make something special to celebrate the convergence of two major holidays. And thus, the sweet potato soufganiyot (aka doughnut) was born. I actually wanted to have two Thanksgiving inspired fillings: cranberry sauce and macadamia nut creme (paying homage to my family’s tradition of macadamia nut pie). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find fresh or frozen cranberries here, so I settled for making one big batch of cranberry apple sauce for both soufganiyot and latkes, made with a mix of fresh apples, dried cranberries, and a hint of cinnamon. The macadamia nut pudding, I did manage to execute to an extent. It turned out to be an utterly delicious creme with a little brown sugar and some crunchy macadamia nuts; however, for fear of ending up with macadamia nut concrete, I under thickened, and my pudding was a little too runny for filling (especially with my make-shift equipment). In the end, I did what any good housewife would do, and turned it into soufganiyot trifle. It was a hit, and in good form, I finished it for breakfast this morning.

Young doughnuts, getting ready for their hot oil bath

Young doughnuts, getting ready for their hot oil bath

Now onto the recipe! I combined two recipes I found, one for vegan doughnuts, and one for non-vegan sweet potato doughnuts, originally found here and here. The result was a divinely soft and fluffy doughnut, with the faintest hint of nutmeg, and a little bit of natural sweetness from the sweet potato. It was the perfect compliment to both the creamy pudding and the sweet and tangy apple sauce.

Sweet Potato Soufganiyot:

  • 1 package yeast
  • 1 c lukewarm non dairy milk
  • 1/2 c non dairy milk plus 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 6 tbsp margarine
  • 1/2 c +2 tbsp brown sugar
  • sweet potato puree (from about 1 medium sweet potato)
  • 4 c flour+ extra for flouring the board
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • a least 1 quart of oil for frying

Combine half the warm non dairy milk with the yeast in a small bowl or measuring cup and let sit. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the starch with the 1/2 c milk and cook until thick like pudding, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add the margarine and stir to melt. Then incorporate the sugar, and the remaining almond milk. Combine with the yeast mixture, stirring gently.

Add half the flour, salt, and nutmeg and mix in with a wooden spoon (or dough hook if you have one of those fancy contraptions). Add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is no longer wet and sticky. You may have to add a little extra because of the sweet potato. Knead the dough until it’s just smooth. You don’t want to over knead, or else you will have bready doughnuts.

Place in a greased bowl and cover. Let rise about an hour, until doubled in size. I actually made the dough the night before and let it rise fully, then punched it down and let it rise halfway again and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, let the dough come to room temperature. Don’t punch it down, but flour your work space and lightly pat the dough with flour. Roll out until it is 1/2 in to 3/4 in thick. Using a cookie cutter or glass that measures about 3 in in diameter, cut out the doughnuts, then set aside to rise. When you finish cutting out the doughnuts, begin heating the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat until the oil reaches 365 degrees. You can test this by pinching off a little piece of dough and dropping it in the oil (if you don’t have a candy thermometer). If the oil bubbles around the dough, and the dough floats to the top, the oil is ready.

Fry the doughnuts 3-4 at a time (you don’t want to crowd the pan) several minutes on each side, til both are a beautiful golden brown. Drain on a tray lined with paper towels or brown paper bag and let cool.

Hot tub shot

Hot tub shot with latkes frying in the background

Cranberry Apple Sauce

  • 2 (or more) tart apples (depending on how much you wanna make), peeled and chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 dried cranberries
  • 1 c hot water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until everything is evenly mixed. Bring to a bowl, then lower to a simmer. Cook until the apples are completely soft, and pretty much turn to mush just by stirring. The cranberries will have plumped up, and then hopefully broken down a little more. Using a spoon, mash the apple mixture around the pot. Remove from heat when thick and saucy. This apple sauce is on the tart side, but feel free to add some sweetener if you’d like. Let cool.

Pile of freshly fried soufganiyot

Pile of freshly fried soufganiyot

To assemble:

  • small paring knife
  • piping bag
  • powdered sugar

Take doughnuts and use the knife to cut a small opening in the side, making sure you push the knife all the way through, but not breaking out of the other side. Fill the piping bag with the apple sauce, and squeeze into the hole you made in the doughnut, until the doughnut feels significantly heavier. Repeat with the rest of the doughnuts. To serve: dust with powdered sugar.