Hanukkah: What are the best donuts (sufganiyot) in Jerusalem? - review

Before Hanukkah, it is up to me to undertake the mission of sampling the wide variety of sufganiyot in Jerusalem to determine which is the best. Yes, journalism is a heavy burden, indeed.

 The vast array of Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at English Cake in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The vast array of Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at English Cake in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Hanukkah is the great Festival of Lights, Judaism’s fantastic wintertime holiday. It is a time of candles, of songs, of presents and dreidels and more.

That is often the most common public perception of the meaning of Hanukkah in the greater Jewish world. But in Israel, there is another element of Hanukkah that is of equal prominence: sufganiyot.

Yes, the Festival of Lights is that time of year when donuts, a quintessential treat in much of the world, makes a rare appearance in Israel, with bakeries rushing to stock their shelves with the delicious sugary treats. 

The popularity of sufganiyot cannot be understated, even if abroad they are surpassed by latkes as the most popular Hanukkah food. However, that isn’t the case in Israel. Supposedly, this is due to an effort by the Histadrut labor federation in the early 20th century to advocate for the sufganiya over the latke for economic reasons. 

If that’s true, then it clearly worked. It is absolutely undisputed that in Israel, the sufganiya is king. Traditionally taking the form of a jelly donut, sufganiyot can appear in a wide variety of forms more similar to Western donuts, with a variety of fillings and toppings.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Neeman Bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Neeman Bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

And once again, it is up to me to undertake the mission of sampling the wide variety of sufganiyot in Jerusalem to determine which is the best. Yes, journalism is a heavy burden, indeed.

Now, as many immigrants will no doubt be aware, donuts in Israel are not the same as they are abroad. The dough is different, the flavoring is different, and the sizes are different. To make a long story short, donuts in Israel just aren’t as good as what you would find abroad, especially in the US. Because of that, it was vital for me to not only sample the range of donuts in Jerusalem but also to put them in context to see how they stacked up against their American counterparts.

To do this, In Jerusalem enlisted the help of Emily Anfang and Esther Krasner, two Masa Fellows from Massachusetts, which many will argue is the home of the best donuts in the US, if not the world

Keep in mind, though, that while their reviews are from the perspective of Americans who were raised on Dunkin’ Donuts, that doesn’t mean that Israelis agree. 

Here is everything we found, organized from the worst to the best.

Marzipan: 4/10 

Located on Agrippas Street, right at the foot of the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk, Marzipan is one of the most famous bakeries in Jerusalem, especially among the Anglophone community. It has a reputation for quality that is well deserved, especially for its trademark rogelach, which are among the best in the world.

Of course, this bakery is known for so much more. Its cakes are usually a delight, as are its burekas and even regular bread.

 A man pours powdered sugar onto Hanukkah jelly donuts (sufganiyot) at the Marzipan bakery in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda shuk. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) A man pours powdered sugar onto Hanukkah jelly donuts (sufganiyot) at the Marzipan bakery in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda shuk. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

But how does its sufganiya fare? 

Despite the diverse catalog of baked goods normally available at Marzipan, only one type of sufganiya was offered: a classic jelly donut.

From the start, one thing immediately stood out: price. They were by far the least expensive donuts (NIS 3). Unfortunately, it seems that their quality was far and away the worst.

There was way too much powdered sugar, to the point where a single bite caused the sugar to get all over my clothing. There also wasn’t a lot of jelly, either; and what jelly it did have was way too sweet. And then, there was the texture of the dough. It was thick, chewy and bready. To put it simply, it felt like biting into challah.

As will become apparent throughout the rest of this article, the dough is often the single biggest problem with Israeli donuts. But even by that metric, this was still the worst.

Overall, Marzipan is a terrific bakery. But sufganiyot are clearly not its strong suit.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Neeman Bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Neeman Bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Neeman Bakery: 5/10 and 7.5/10

Neeman is one of Israel’s most iconic bakery chains. These shops can be found everywhere, from bus stations to malls to random shops on streets. The Jerusalem Central Bus Station alone has three of them. 

This chain had a whole host of different sufganiyot on display, some with filling and some glazed with icing.

Here, we reviewed three different ones (NIS 11 each). One was an icing and candy-covered donut with a cone of filling poking out the top. The other was a similar one but with an Oreo theme. The final one was a filling-less donut glazed with strawberry icing and heart-shaped sprinkles.

The first two were, in all honesty, disappointing. 

Both of these donuts had a little waffle cone poking out of the top with cream inside. This gives the illusion that there may be such cream inside the donut as well. However, this was not the case. There was little to zero filling inside. In addition, both were very dry, and their dough was far too chewy and bread-like. 

Both donuts averaged a 5/10 and were very unsatisfying.

The third one, however, was far better. Special praise went to the sweetness and consistency of icing, which was on par with Dunkin’. The dough was still less airy than what one would find abroad, but it was still good, easily receiving a 7.5/10.

Ma’afia: 5.5/10

Hidden at the food court at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station lies a lesser-known bakery. It is simply called Ma’afia, which means “bakery.”

Not a very original name, admittedly. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying what this bakery has to offer.

On a normal day, this bakery has a whole host of goodies, ranging from burekas and knafeh and cookies to sandwiches and salads. 

And, of course, for Hanukkah, Ma’afia had been getting out donuts.

What this bakery had going for it right from the start was size, with its donuts being significantly larger than the others.

Here, we sampled a traditional jelly donut with powdered sugar. And right from the start, it became apparent that the jelly was very good, and the sugar ratio was just right.

Unfortunately, it seems size isn’t everything – or if it is, then it refers to the amount of jelly, since there wasn’t nearly enough. Not to mention the criticism pointed at its chewiness, as was the case with all donuts in Israel.

Another donut the bakery had was the filling-less plain donut with a light glazing of sugar. These stood out for their large size and for a balanced sweetness, but the texture was too bready; it felt more like sweet bread than like a donut.

Overall, our reviewers gave it a 5.5/10.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Burekas Ima bakery in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Burekas Ima bakery in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Burekas Ima: 5/10, 6/10, 8/10

Nestled in Talpiot lies Burekas Ima, a bakery whose name implies that you are about to experience the warmth, love and nostalgia of a mother’s baking.

But how does it stack up? We sampled three – two parve and one dairy.

Starting with the dairy, we had a classic dulce de leche-filled sufganiya (NIS 8), though it eschewed any powdered sugar. 

Here, the cream was seen as being too thick, sticking to the roof of the mouth; and the exterior was very oily. The dough wasn’t too bready, but it had a strange salty taste. Overall, 5/10.

Next was a dark chocolate spread-filled donut, topped by a sugary decoration (NIS 8). Here, the dough was overpowered by too much filling, and the flavor was not to our liking, though both reviewers conceded that Israelis would likely be far more appreciative of it, as non-dairy chocolate spread is far more common here. Overall, 6/10.

Last was a larger filling-less chocolate-glazed donut (NIS 7). The aroma coming off the baked delight certainly smelled like a donut, and its glazing had great consistency and stability.

Anfang praised it for being very good dough and having a very good glaze, while Krasner commented that it “smells like home” and “tastes like an American donut.” Overall, both gave it a solid 8/10.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Yehuda/Gagou de Paris bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) on display at Yehuda/Gagou de Paris bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Yehuda (Gagou de Paris): 7/10

Yehuda/Gagou de Paris is a fantastic French-themed bakery on King George Avenue.

The bakery is known for being a bit on the pricey side, but that comes with a reputation for high-quality goods. And this reputation is something it is well aware of.

Back ahead of Shavuot, when IJ did its cheesecake review, Yehuda was fully confident in its sufganiya quality. 

“Every year, when The Jerusalem Post comes for Hanukkah, they always say we have some of the best sufganiyot in the city!”

Yehuda/Gagou de Paris bakery worker David

Every year, when The Jerusalem Post comes for Hanukkah, they always say we have some of the best sufganiyot in the city!” one of the bakery workers, David, said proudly at the time.

Now it came time to test if it could live up to its hype.

We sampled two different donuts here. First was a classic powdered sugar-topped donut filled with dulce de leche (NIS 7). Second was a fancier one with pistachio and white chocolate (NIS 10).

The pistachio one was praised by our Massachusetts-based reviewers for its interesting flavor, well-baked dough, and pistachios on top, which gave it a satisfying crunch. However, it wasn’t without its issues. The icing on top didn’t stay together and was detrimental, and the dough was a bit too tough. Overall, both reviewers rated it a 7/10.

The dulce de leche one was less positively received, with both pointing to the blandness of the dulce de leche filling.

“If I was blindfolded and you had me taste this cream, I couldn’t tell you what flavor it was.”

Esther Krasner

“If I was blindfolded and you had me taste this cream, I couldn’t tell you what flavor it was,” Krasner said after taking a bite.

Anfang, however, praised the texture of the cream for staying together, saying that it was actually superior even to that of Dunkin’ Donuts in the US. But that was just for the cream.

“Everything, both the dough and cream, was denser.”

Emily Anfang

“Everything, both the dough and cream, was denser,” Anfang explained, adding that while this was a positive for the cream, it was a bad thing for the dough. 

Nevertheless, both sufganiyot received a solid 7/10 score. They may not be the absolute best, but if you want a reliable, high-quality donut – especially the pistachio-filled one – then you really can’t go wrong with Yehuda.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at Roladin in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at Roladin in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Roladin: 8.5/10

No brand name conjures up as much fame in Israel for sufganiyot as Roladin, the preeminent purveyor of fancy and artsy-looking donuts. 

Naturally, Roladin comes with a lot of hype. However, with that hype also comes skepticism. Is Roladin as good as it looks? Do its donuts’ taste match up to their pretty appearance?

The hype itself is further reinforced by just how dominant Roladin is in Israel, boasting just under 100 locations throughout the country. 

Not only that, but Roladin doesn’t treat donuts as just a seasonal trend to be forgotten about the second Hanukkah is over. Rather, Roladin has refined donuts into an art form. Its workers are trained every year in the company’s “Sufganiyot Academy” to understand the secrets of how to create each year’s collection and keep the donuts fresh.

But these donuts can also be expensive, so we only sampled one. We chose a vanilla and forest fruit donut, with a creamy interior and glazed with a sugary exterior (NIS 12).

Overall, the experience of taking a bite into the vanilla and berry-filled donut was absolutely satisfying. The texture was far better and less bready than nearly all of its competition nationwide, being lighter and airier than most Israeli donuts.

The sugar on the outside had a great consistency, and while we initially feared it would fall off, it didn’t, staying on the dough and not falling apart on top of our clothes. 

As for the filling, it was a bit overly sweet, but that’s a nitpick. That aside, the texture of the cream was great, and the flavors blended together excellently. 

Overall, it was a donut of stellar quality, befitting of Roladin’s equally stellar reputation. 

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at English Cake bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at English Cake bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

English Cake: 7/10, 9/10

Rounding off our list is another of Israel’s most iconic bakery chains, English Cake. This bakery also offers a wide range of interesting donuts (NIS 10 each), but we were able to select only a couple.

We chose a red velvet donut with cream filling and the Mozart donut.

The red velvet one was okay, but it had its issues. For one thing, it didn’t taste like traditional red velvet cake because it lacked cheesecake frosting. Having said that, it was still delicious enough and earned a solid 7/10.

But the Mozart was on another level entirely.

This donut came equipped with a mouth-watering lineup of ingredients that lured me to it instantly. The inside of the donut was filled with nougat-flavored cream. A coating of white chocolate was on top, with curled chocolate ganache adorning the coating, and then a Mozart cream crown to finish it off. Trust me when I say that sinking a bite into this donut was so good, it made me wish I could re-experience it. 

The flavor was absolutely terrific, the cream and toppings magnificent. The dough was very slightly bready, but I barely noticed – Anfang and Krasner were better at catching that particular part. But even they agreed that it was nothing short of incredible and satisfying. It earned a definitive 9/10 and is this year’s winner.

 Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at English Cake bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Hanukkah donuts (sufganiyot) up for sale at English Cake bakery in Jerusalem. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Results may vary: Israelis and their donut tastes

While these scores may seem low or occasionally too high, keep in mind that there is another factor to consider: local taste.

As previously mentioned, Israelis have their own tastes and preferences for donuts that might not be as agreeable with Americans raised on Dunkin’ Donuts. After all, donuts have never really caught on in Israel beyond the Hanukkah season. And if you’re wondering why the best donut was still just a 9/10, that’s because, if I’m being honest, I will still gladly wolf down a good old-fashioned Dunkin’ Boston cream donut any day over anything.

While the donuts here might not be the same as at Dunkin’, that doesn’t discourage Israelis from enjoying them, and it shouldn’t discourage you, either. Go visit these bakeries and decide for yourself what you think. Aside from a possible weight gain, you won’t regret it! ❖