Frying high

On the festival, what could be better than taking a trip to Jerusalem – and indulging in some of the capital’s best sufganiot?

Sufganiot (Hanukka donuts) (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Sufganiot (Hanukka donuts)
For the crucial endeavor of tasting and ranking of Hanukka doughnuts, I recruited a quality team of Jerusalem Post employees to assist – both to protect my a r t e r i e s and to m a k e things a bit more scientific.
For your pleasure, here are the top balls of fried dough to sample in the Holy City.
I like to think of Berman as a classic underdog – not thought of much when it comes to the doughnut front-runners, but a solid contender with tasty offerings and great prices.
The dough was considered light, fluffy, not too oily, and well-balanced in sweetness by most test-tasters. One deemed it “very soft – I’m a fan,” but another said it was “ordinary.”
Many thought the jam was too sweet, but the Oreo cheesecake filling was a particular favorite for its rich taste and light texture. The mocha filling was also praised for its flavor and nice balance of sweetness, and custard was considered a success for being both sweet and tangy.
Berman’s varieties include jam, mocha, custard, crème brûlée, vanilla, halva, cheesecake, Oreo cheesecake, dulce de leche and chocolate – something for everyone in the family.
NIS 4.80 to NIS 6.80 each 26 Beit Hadfus, 42 Agrippas and 17 Malchei Yisrael streets
Coney Island Knish Bakery
Opened in January, just after last Hanukka, Coney Island is one of the few places where you can fulfill your doughnut craving all year round, proving that American consumer demands do make a difference in Jerusalem.
This storefront offers varieties that will be familiar to most US immigrants – one taste-tester even wrote that it tasted “just like Dunkin’ Donuts.”
From Boston cream to jam, dulce de leche, and iced “American- style” doughnuts, Coney Island’s offerings were a serious hit with the team. Most reviewers deemed them “really amazing,” with a dough that is “dense but tasty and soft” and had “tasty dough and good jelly.” The jam, dulce de leche and vanilla fillings were praised, though a couple of people did think the icings were a bit tooth-achingly sweet.
Coney Island also sells gluten- free doughnuts, though they were not part of the taste-testing process.
NIS 5 to NIS 7 each 42 Emek Refaim Street
Brooklyn Bakery
Brooklyn Bakery is a little stop on my doughnut tour that I keep coming back to year after year – in part because it offers a slightly different style than many Israeli bakeries.
The offerings at this Mea She’arim storefront are mostly large, American-style doughnuts with thick, sweet icings and a hole in the center. In fact, the notes from one taste-tester read “a proper doughnut, not so much a sufgania.” Another praised the “amazing Boston cream greatness.”
Most thought the dough was tasty, chewy and a bit tougher than your average sufgania.
While one said it was too dry, others said it was “melt in your mouth” and “fresh”; my dining companion somehow suggested the doughnuts might actually be too big. The fillings were also praised as being tasty and not too sweet, though many felt the icings were a bit too overpowering in their intensity.
Varieties sold by Brooklyn include Boston cream, chocolate, vanilla, jam and many different types of unfilled but iced doughnuts.
NIS 6 to NIS 8 each 15 Mea She’arim Street
As I carted over a box of doughnuts from Nechama to the office, I noticed that they were among the heaviest I’d bought that day. Indeed, the varieties from this bakery chain are enormous and stuffed full of fillings.
Most of the taste-testers enjoyed Nechama’s offerings, calling the dough “fluffy, with the perfect texture,” “tasty and not too sweet” and “good consistency.” Some did criticize them as “nothing special” and “mediocre.”
A few of the fillings were praised – the dulce de leche was “sweet, but not overly so” – but the chocolate one tasted like it came right out of a jar of store-bought chocolate spread, and that isn’t a compliment.
If you steer clear of that variety, Nechama is a solid contender – and the price is definitely right.
NIS 3 each 31 Kanfei Nesharim, 3 Sonnenfeld, 5 Yehezkel and 15 Tzeret streets
The most memorable thing for me about Cafe Kadosh’s doughnut offerings was, sadly, the price. While the cafe’s sufganiot were, for the most part, tasty, the sheer gall of charging NIS 16 for an average-sized pastry rubs me the wrong way.
On to the offerings themselves: Kadosh’s big gimmick this year appears to be turning the doughnuts on their side so they stand upright, with a bit of filling peeking out the top. They certainhave a visual appeal and an upscale look to them perfect for a Hanukka cocktail party with no budget limitations.
Varieties include raspberry cream, pistachio cream, chocolate, dulce de leche and coconut, and “chunky monkey” – banana cream with cookie chunks.
The dough itself had a nice texture and was well fried – not too heavy or oily. The banana filling had a s t r o n g banana taste and the raspberry cream was particularly pleasant.
Most taste-testers enjoyed the dough, though some said it was average or a bit bland. The majority thought the fillings were high quality, though two of the samplers disapproved of the combination of dulce de leche and coconut, even calling the idea “hare-brained.”
NIS 8 to NIS 16 each 6 Shlomzion Hamalka Street
Yehuda Bakery (Gagou de Paris)
This French bakery in the heart of downtown Jerusalem doesn’t like to buy into the Hanukka craze of wild and wacky flavors and varieties. Instead, it offers the classics – jam, dulce de leche, custard and sugar-coated.
The offerings got somewhat mixed reviews, but most were positive, praising the doughnut’s “good texture – airy and not overly sweet . ” Others said it was “tasty, light and fresh,” “chewy and yummy” and “classic.”
Some thought it was a bit too chewy, however, while another felt it was a bit “bready.”
The fillings got more mixed reviews. The custard was deemed overly sweet, but the dulce de leche was “lavish.” The jam was even called “gross” by one, but “very good” and “sweet-tart” by others.
NIS 6 to NIS 8 each 14 King George Avenue
English Cake
Every year English Cake offers more and more varieties, positioning itself as a challenger to the popular and memorable Roladin. This year they’re selling everything from strawberries and cream to cheesecake, mekupelet (chocolate flake) and Napoleon, as well as strawberry jam and dulce de leche.
The taste-testers were split on the dough itself, with some saying it was “fresh and light” or “cakey with notes of citrus,” while others called it “too hard” and “chewy.”
The fillings for the most part got better reviews, with one calling it “rich,” the custard delicious and sweet and the dulce de leche “delightful.” One taster thought the halva and chocolate combination was unsuccessful and unnecessary, and overall disappointing.
NIS 4.50 to NIS 7 each Eight locations in Jerusalem
Bagel Cafe
This leisurely eatery on Emek Refaim Street offers a surprisingly wide variety of sufganiot, from the classic jam to Boston cream, marshmallow, alfajores (dulce de leche) and chocolate.
The doughnuts are quite small – but when you’re sampling as many as I did, that is a welcome sight.
Most of my testing team felt the dough was fairly average and standard, and that the fillings were a bit skimpy but decent. I felt the custard had a slightly floury texture. The alfajores doughnut got high praise from one taster, who said the dough was not too heavy and not too light, and the filling was sweet “but not at the level that will send you into a diabetic coma.”
NIS 8 each, or NIS 40 for six 46 Emek Refaim Street
Sure, you know Marzipan best for its famous gooey chocolate rogelach, but it’s no slouch in the doughnut department either. From jam to chocolate, dulce de leche, custard, mocha and more, this little shop is pulling out the stops for Hanukka. It even has a couple of varieties that are doughnuts sliced open with cream piped inside.
Despite the efforts, these sufganiot didn’t go over all that well with my taste-testers. A couple said the dough was too dry and that the crust of the doughnut was quite hard. One called the chocolate filling “too fluffy,” which is a difficult concept for me to grasp, but another said the filling was too heavy and overly sweet.
NIS 5 each or NIS 20 for 6 44 Agrippas and 5 Rahel Imenu streets
New York Bake Shop
A relative newcomer to the Jerusalem bakery field, New York Bake Shop aims to bring “American taste to Israel,” selling things like cupcakes, muffins, black-and-white cookies and cinnamon buns.
Of course it’s also in the doughnut game, selling large, American-style doughnuts with thick frostings, as well as classic strawberry jam and Boston cream varieties.
Its offerings left taste-testers divided.
One called the doughnut “special,” but others said it was “cakey and greasy,” “kind of stale” and “average.”
Personally, I took a bite of a section COVER that had raw dough in it, which somehow managed to also taste quite stale within a few hours of purchase.
The fillings and toppings all tasted like they had high-quality ingredients, but the presentation was sloppy and the dough itself was just not up to par.
NIS 7 each 2 Beit Yisrael Street, 3 Plugat Hakotel Street and 9 Diskin Street (Wolfson Towers)
One of the benefits of outsourcing the taste-testing is that I can make my eager eaters taste everything blind – without all the biases I have built in after years of sampling doughnuts.
But just about every year, the most ubiquitous bakery chain in Jerusalem disappoints yet again, with a wide variety of offerings but little attention to quality.
Participants said the doughnuts themselves were “a little chewy,” “a bit bland,” “dense,” “bready and doughy,” “ordinary” and “not great.”
Several thought the fillings were skimpy, and one taste-tester summed it up: “It just doesn’t have a doughnutty magic.”
Many of the “fancier” varieties pile all the intrigue on top of the doughnut, skipping the filling entirely.
This year, Ne’eman is offering jam, chocolate, halva, Bavarian cream, Oreo, pistachio, hazelnut and nougat biscotti.
NIS 4.50 to NIS 8 each 14 locations across Jerusalem