Nothing says Hanukka in Jerusalem like the smell of freshly fried sufganiyot (doughnuts) drifting across a rainy sidewalk as the sun sets in the afternoon. I could wax on, but the truth is that I was never sold on the soft doughnuts until two years ago, when I spent the holiday in the IDF, on a base charged with manning a highly trafficked checkpoint. Every evening we would be stationed in our ambulance near the checkpoint, and as Hanukka began, a steady stream of drivers would stop while crossing the checkpoint to offer boxes and boxes of sufganiyot to the soldiers. They poured in at the checkpoint and we quickly became connoisseurs, judging fresh or stale, overfried or undercooked and learning that sufganiyot did not mean that you spend the holiday trying to digest brown-skinned blobs filled with pink jelly that may have been produced near the Dimona nuclear facility. That was the year that I discovered dulce de leche filling, the creamy caramel that came squirting out as I bit through the soft dough, inevitably dusting my uniform with powdered sugar. By the second or third night, I had developed a brilliant system in collusion with my friends in the radio room. When the soldiers manning the checkpoint would receive dulce de leche sufganiyot, they would radio up to the operations center, who would then contact me on my MIRS telephone with an ominous-sounding order to scramble to the radio room or even to the ambulance to ferry the precious cargo from the checkpoint to the base. Two Hanukkas later, dulce de leche sufganiyot are almost as omnipresent as their jellied forebears, and chocolate, vanilla cream and halva are nipping on its heels to become the next "it" sufganiya. Still, despite the increasingly gourmet competition, jelly stands strong as a classic, and the pinkish-red nuclear variety is still quite common. And I am still looking for a sufganiya that tastes quite as good as those that piled up at the checkpoint in such quantities that we considered handing them out to passing motorists. Bravely tasting powdered-sugar-covered bite after bite, a team of volunteers - intrepid members of The Jerusalem Post editorial staff - screened sufganiyot in a blind taste-test from 15 of Jerusalem's top bakeries, cafes and even supermarkets. The results were occasionally surprising as traditional bakery favorites crumbled like a cake doughnut under the pressure while at least one pizzeria and one supermarket made the top 10. Now, hundreds of calories (about 450 in each sufganiya, 230 in a mini) later, the list stands at the service of our readers, presented with care, sticky fingers, and spots of powdered sugar dotting shirts. Angel With the exception of one reviewer who wrote "Not oily so all is well," all of the other six reviews of the Angel sufganiyot ranked the unfortunate pastries at or near the bottom of the rankings. Both the jelly and the dulce de leche were described as "artificial" and "chemical" and the dough was dry. How dry? One reviewer (who reviewed another 5+ doughnuts without incident) spit hers out. (Jelly NIS 3.50; dulce de leche NIS 4.50 at 11 locations throughout the city.) Duvshanit This is actually a place that I love for a number of reasons (beyond mere proximity to my house), and so I was disappointed to find their only Hanukka offering to be a lump-like, smallish jelly-filled sufganiya with a just-too brownish color that set off alarm bells. Although it was oily and with slightly crispy skin, the reviewers noted that the dough was good, while the jelly filling was "the cheap, not the good stuff." (NIS 3.50, 42 Rehov Hapalmah, Katamon.) English Cake While English Cake has one of the biggest selections of flavors (five flavors, two minis, and two baked options), and was reputed to be among the best, the power of the blind taste test was revealed when none of the tasters gave the Jerusalem classic an unconditionally positive review. While two out of five liked the outside texture, the sufganiyot were alternately cited for being too sweet (jelly), and artificial tasting. The bright side? The blueberry filling won accolades, but as with the dulce de leche, reviewers complained that the scant drop of filling was not sufficient. (Jelly NIS 4; dulce de leche NIS 4.50; blueberry, halva, chocolate NIS 5; mini jelly, dulce de leche NIS 3; chocolate, vanilla, strawberry frosted NIS 6, at several locations throughout city.) English Cake - Baked The better of the two baked options, the reviewers decided that it was dry and reminiscent of halla. As with the regular English Cake product, reviewers complained at the scarcity of filling and said that in truth, there are some things (sufganiyot, for instance) that were never meant to be truly healthy. (Jelly NIS 4; dulce de leche NIS 4.50, at several locations throughout city.) Fialkoff's Pizza A surprise contender! After the research team encountered less-than attentive help at the NYC-style pizza joint, we were expecting to have fun writing a critical report. But we were disappointed to find that the reviews were mixed, and that the melted chocolate on top of the chocolate-frosted sufganiya was delicious. Finger-licking, actually. Drat. The jelly filling was ranked among the three best, although there were complaints that there wasn't enough of it. Final call: good doughnuts, but customer-service etiquette would add something to the experience. (Mini jelly, dulce de leche NIS 4; dulce de leche, jelly, frosted NIS 6, on King George Street.) Gagou de Paris I try not to pass this bakery during crises - otherwise I might become seduced by the beautiful napoleons and fruit tarts inevitably lined up on the sidewalk-facing displays. Among the top three for jelly filling, reviewers cited "real berry flavor" and incredulously asked "jelly seams real??" The Dulce de leche and chocolate sufganiyot also won similar accolades, and only one out of the five reviewers could find a single negative thing to say about the product, saying that it was "greasy," while still admitting that the chocolate frosting was "good." (Frosted, dulce de leche, jelly NIS 4.5; 6 for NIS 20, at King George 14.) Lechem Tushiya Another ignoble jelly-filled lump that failed to draw any enthusiasm on the basis of visual appeal. But the one reviewer who saw through the less-than-appealing exterior noted its freshness and quality, while complaining only that there was a bit too much powdered sugar. A standard sufganiya that you could pass off as being home-made should the need arise. (NIS 4, at Rehov Ben-Yehuda 21 and Rehov Azza 25.) Marzipan One by one the finest Jerusalem bakeries seems to crumble at the challenge of producing a quality sufganiya. While the workers at this Mahaneh Yehuda institution are friendly and eager to explain the elements of a quality sufganiya, the interior element seems to have eluded them. Reviewers liked the dough, citing an excellent consistency and flavor, but found the fillings underwhelming. The vanilla cream lacked flavor and the chocolate filling tasted like cheap parve chocolate spread. The other fillings were somewhat better. On the other hand, with relatively creative fillings at NIS 3, they are among the most affordable non-jelly sufganiyot around. And, as a fan of vanilla cream, I should point out that this was the least offensive of the vanilla cream offerings in Jerusalem. And besides, sufganiyot we only eat one week a year, while gooey delicious rogelach are eternal. (Jelly, chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla, chocolate, blueberry, NIS 3, at Rehov Agrippas 44.) Mister Zol The jelly-filled sufganiyot were not well-received, but the "donut" (American-style with a hole in the middle) covered in syrupy chocolate and sprinkles won very positive reviews from all three samplers, although one felt that the sprinkles took away from the flavor. If you're looking to buy a shekel-conscious, delicious doughnut with a hole, Mister Zol lives up to the name by being half the price of its nearest competition. (Jelly, chocolate frosted NIS 2.50; mini jelly NIS 1.35 at several locations throughout city.) Natural Choice Mixed reviews from the tasters on the whole-wheat organic variety, but at least one Jerusalem vegan says that it - in its non-dairy version - is the only sufganiya she has eaten in seven years. While three out of the six reviewers were extremely unimpressed, others were drawn by the whole wheat and even saw it as an improvement. I thought it was great - not necessarily what I'd expect from a sufganiya, but definitely something I'd eat again. The tehina filling was less appealing, and its stickiness combined with the slight dryness of the whole wheat entirely justified one reviewer's admonition that a "fluid accompaniment" would be necessary. (Date, tehina, carob-chocolate frosted, tehina-filled and carob-chocolate frosted NIS 4-5.5, at Rehov Agrippas 111) Natural Choice - Baked Oh, well. Of the two baked doughnuts this one received the worse reviews. Reviewers accused the baked organic doughnuts of tasting like "a diet doughnut" and resorted to elementary school-esque pronouncements like "yuck." The dough was salty, and after the tasting was completed, these were among the few sufganiyot whose outward appearance was such that the ravenous hordes avoided it. One reviewer, however described the chocolate-carob frosted, halva-filled doughnut as "pleasant and filling, more like eating a peanut butter and chocolate sandwich roll." (Date, tehina, carob-chocolate frosted, tehina-filled and carob-chocolate frosted NIS 4-5.5 at Rehov Agrippas 111.) Ne'eman (Moshava) The reviewers were mixed on the Ne'eman product, which comes - oh, the creativity - in jelly and dulce de leche. Although not the most aesthetically pleasing of the pack, one reviewer raved that it was "a perfect donut. The dulce de leche filling is just enough so that it doesn't ooze out. A light and tasty donut." The jelly won fewer compliments, and the word "synthetic" made another appearance. (Jelly NIS 4; dulce de leche NIS 4.50, at 37 Emek Refayim and 2 Rehov Hata'asiya in Talpiot.) Ne'eman (Chain) No positive reviews for these sufganiyot, which are priced among Jerusalem's most expensive. In addition the staff was not knowledgeable about the selection. The dulce de leche filling should be avoided, and be warned - the chocolate frosted doughnut with the white swirl in the frosting has no filling! (Eleven locations throughout the city.) Pe'er A classic Jerusalem bakery. When we came to pick up the sufganiyot, we were met by owner Moshe's wife scolding him for putting out too many rogelach ("there's no room for people to put their bags on the counter") while Moshe quickly decorated an urgent office-bound cake ("Thanks Team - From Yoav") and an entire group of middle-aged female tourists walked down the stairs into the subterranean bakery and crowded around, sampling cookies and trying to get in touch with the recipes their grandmothers might have used. As for the sufganiyot? These were not ranked high for aesthetic quality, but scored near-top marks for quality, with the dulce de leche variety outperforming the top-ranked Tal Bagels version. One dulce de leche fan said that "if you like dulce de leche - this is the one!" Pe'er's sufganiyot were also the only ones in which everybody agreed that there was enough filling! The jelly variety was completely unremarkable, and the chocolate won confoundingly mixed reviews. While one reviewer complained that tasted like "chocolate spread - not the good kind," other chocolate-tasters described them as "deliciously sweet" and "perfect." (19 Rehov Ha'egoz, Mahaneh Yehuda, 5 Rehov Hamagid, German Colony and 33 Rehov Hafetz Haim.) Super Hamoshava Pillsbury sufganiyot featured at the Super Hamoshava gained mixed - but mostly mediocre - reviews. The words heavy, greasy, and oily were all used to describe both sufganiyot, but unlike other products, nobody registered any serious protest or resorted to one-liners such as "blech" or "urgh." Decent as a last-minute, everywhere-else-is-sold-out sufganiya. (Jelly NIS 3.50 ; dulce de leche NIS 4.00, at 43 Emek Refaim.) Tal Bagels I tend to favor the underdogs, and so re-crowning last year's champ was not quite what I had in mind. But the tasters had other ideas, and so I had no choice but to rank the Emek Refaim caf as the top Jerusalem sufganiyist for the second year in a row. The accolades ran amok when reviewers were asked to comment on their sufganiyot. "A 10 out of 10," said one taster. "The dulce de leche inside, chocolate frosted sufganiya would be amazing warm. Pretty darn good cold, too," said another. The dulce de leche topped with chocolate and the chocolate with white-chocolate shavings tested reviewers' abilities to come up with good adjectives. But two warnings: they are rather sweet, and tasters did not like the addition of coconut on some of the toppings. High marks on filling flavor and consistency, both for chocolate and jelly. Unquestionably the best chocolate-filled sufganiya reviewed. Also, the sufganiyot themselves are simply beautiful, displaying a sense of suf-aesthetics sadly lacking among most of the competition. (Jelly NIS 5; dulce de leche, chocolate NIS 6; frosted NIS 7; buy 10 get 1 free, at Emek Refaim 64.) Ugot Hen (Shuk) A solid middle-ground sufganiya other than the vanilla-filling which was described as "awful and sticky sweet. Creamy and custardy but tastes like cornstarch, stuck to teeth and in back of throat." But in general, tasters liked the dough, although it was a bit too oily. As for the fillings, the chocolate-frosted, chocolate-filled variety won the most positive reviews, although it was very clearly parve chocolate spread. The jelly variety was avoided by tasters, probably because it was so clearly of the artificial pink variety. (Chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla NIS 3; jelly NIS 2, at Rehov Mahaneh Yehuda 20 and Rehov Hashkama 2.) Suzanne Selengut and two dozen brave taste-testers contributed to this review.

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