The miracle of oil

To dispel your doughnut dilemma this Hanukka, here are the results of a survey that sought to select the best sufganiyot in town.

Hanukka is just around the corner, and In Jerusalem's expert taste-testers have returned, napkins and blood-pressure monitors in hand, to determine which are Jerusalem's best (and worst) sufganiyot. Every winter, in the middle of the cold and the rain, these traditional fried treats materialize, assaulting passersby with tantalizing aromas and guilty consciences. On the street, in the shuk, at your favorite bakery - wherever you go, you're sure to come across more than you can eat. Let our finely honed taste buds ease your burden. Each entrant of the seven contestants in this year's competition was judged in four categories: flavor, freshness, consistency, and aesthetics. Each judge was allowed to give entrants a score from one to 10 in each category. In many cases, judges also saw fit to offer specific comments or advice on the quality of the sufganiyot before them. Their considerations are reproduced here for the benefit of the potential sufganiyot purchaser. Don't stock your Hanukka gathering without our guide - let our arteries improve your parties. 7. PE'ER BAKERY Overall score: 4.75 Flavor: 3.8; Freshness: 4.6; Consistency: 5.3; Aesthetics: 5.3 Starting our list from the bottom is Pe'er Bakery in the German Colony. While judges took a favorable view of Pe'er's bright colors and fluffy feel, there was a lot to be desired in the all-important flavor department. One judge complained of a pervading "stodginess," while another was disappointed in "cheap chocolate that reeked of oil." And be sure to avoid the frosted pink ones. Though they might look good, one judge "had to spit mine out." If you're headed to Pe'er Bakery, In Jerusalem recommends sticking with the butterscotch, a notable exception to the flavor problems plaguing so many of the other sufganiyot. Flavors: Chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch, and various frosted. Prices: NIS 3 - NIS 6. Tel: 563-2189 Rehov Hamagid 5 German Colony 6. NE'EMAN Overall score: 5.75 Flavor: 4.25; Freshness: 7; Consistency: 6.25; Aesthetics: 5.5 Scoring just a point above Pe'er, Ne'eman (not to be confused with the ubiquitous Ne'eman chain) makes its appearance at No. 6 on our list, thanks mostly to strong showings in freshness and consistency. Our testers enjoyed much of Ne'eman's selection, without finding most of it remarkable. If you're in the German Colony, Ne'eman may be a worthwhile stop. But if you have the time, there are better options elsewhere. If you do decide to head to Ne'eman, our experts recommend avoiding the butterscotch-flavored sufganiyot. "I threw [mine] away after one bite," one tester admitted. "It tasted like a cardboard box." Flavors: butterscotch, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, plain (unfilled) Prices: NIS 5 - NIS 6. Discounts start at orders of 60 or more. Tel: 566-0838 Rehov Emek Refaim 37 German Colony 5. ENGLISH CAKE Overall score: 5.87 Flavor: 4.82; Freshness: 5.73; Consistency: 5.55; Aesthetics: 7.36 English Cake provided our taste-testers with a number of their specialty miniature sufganiyot, the perfect size for sampling. The bakery did exceptionally well in the aesthetics category, and with good reason: their sufganiyot are little works of art and look great on a plate. Unfortunately, the flavor did not always measure up to the appearance. One expert complained that a number of English Cake's jelly-filled options tasted as though they had been filled with "bland supermarket jam." The strawberry jelly and blueberry jelly in particular cost English Cake a few points as did the "way too sweet" coffee flavor. In Jerusalem does highly recommend the halva flavor, a favorite among testers. And for certain palates, the pistachio is worth a try. Flavors: Vanilla, blueberry, butterscotch, strawberry, chocolate, coffee, pistachio, halva, lemon meringue Prices: NIS 3 - NIS 6 (miniatures and specialty) NIS 3.5 - NIS 5.50 (full-size) Tel: 625-6640 Rehov Agrippas 102 4. NE'EMAN BAKERY Overall score: 6.22 Flavor: 5.57; Freshness: 6.57; Consistency: 6.43; Aesthetics: 6.29 Our testers detected a significant quality improvement beginning with Ne'eman Bakery, which held on to the exact middle of our list. Ne'eman's sufganiyot, with their fluffy texture and artistic look, were also able to hold onto respectable flavor - a feat to which only a few other establishments could lay claim. Ne'eman's sufganiyot have their own distinct style, so much so that one expert was able to guess correctly where they had come from. That expert recommends picking up sufganiyot with the frosted white topping, which was "heavy, but not bad at all." Flavors: Butterscotch, strawberry, chocolate, various frosted. Prices NIS 4.50 - NIS 8. Discounts start at NIS 3 with orders of 20 or more. Tel: 679-5395 Malha Mall 3. ROLADIN Overall score: 6.54 Flavor: 6; Freshness: 7.14; Consistency: 6.86; Aesthetics: 6.17 Sneaking in just ahead of Ne'eman Bakery, Roladin's sufganiyot held onto a spot in the top three by virtue of their specialty flavors and their decision to forgo a powdered sugar topping - a sure way to win points with our experts. Roladin's flavor matched their look in all but a few cases, making them a solid choice for Hanukka. In Jerusalem recommends Roladin's halva flavor, a staff favorite. But be sure to avoid the dreaded chocolate with sprinkles. Said one merciless tester, "Sorry, but this is a stale cookie - not a sufganiya." Flavors: Strawberry, chocolate, halva, white chocolate, vanilla cream. Prices: NIS 4.50 - NIS 7.50 (specialty). Half-shekel discounts for orders of 50 or more. Tel: 623-1553 Mamilla (by Jaffa Gate) 2. MEGA BA'IR Overall score: 7.37 Flavor: 6.55; Freshness: 8.45; Consistency: 7.55; Aesthetics: 6.91 As a regular grocery store rather than a specialty bakery, Mega was the underdog in this battle. That makes its position in the No. 2 spot particularly spectacular. Our experts could not get enough of Mega's standard jam-filled sufganiyot, praising them as "surprisingly good" and "the best I've tried - classic." This Hanukka season, your best bet for sufganiyot may be a place you never expected. While In Jerusalem can heartily recommend Mega's standard jam-filled sufganiyot, we have to urge caution when it comes to other flavors. Mega's chocolate covering was universally reviled, and the butterscotch was "the worst I've ever tasted." If you're headed to Mega, best to stick to the jam. Flavors: Butterscotch, strawberry, various frosted Prices: Butterscotch and chocolate, NIS 5.99, jam, NIS 4, or six jam-filled sufganiyot for NIS 19. Tel: 679-1378 Malha Mall During the Hanukka season, professional baking becomes a blood sport, where only the strong survive. For simple consumers, trying to find the best of the best can be an intimidating and tiring task. Even In Jerusalem's finely honed palates required hours of deliberation before settling on a clear victor in our annual contest. Our experts took their time, assessed and reassessed each category, and left no greasy detail unturned to bring you this year's champion of the sufganiya: La Paneria. 1. LA PANERIA Overall score: 8.59 Flavor: 8.67; Freshness: 8.7; Consistency: 8; Aesthetics: 9 Though In Jerusalem did indeed give careful consideration to the No. 1 slot, La Paneria made extensive equivocation difficult. The little bakery in Katamon dominated every single category, assuring more than an entire point's difference between it and the nearest competition. From look to flavor, La Paneria kept all its bases covered. What's their secret? Our testers were particularly taken with the texture of La Paneria's sufganiyot. One expert, giving voice to an opinion shared by the majority, said it was a "different and interesting" approach. Classic jam-filled sufganiyot were "light and lovely," providing a completely different experience from their heavier, oil-soaked cousins at other bakeries. Although a few experts were annoyed by La Paneria's excessive reliance on powdered sugar - "I got covered with every bite!" moaned one - the "light and fluffy" appeal of La Paneria's offering was more than enough to catapult them to first place. And they cater! Flavors: Ganache chocolate, white chocolate cream, halva and pistachio, butterscotch toffee, strawberry. Prices: NIS 6 Tel: 561-0090 Rehov Halamed-Heh 22 Katamon