I don’t have an emotional attachment to sufganiyot, the Israeli jelly doughnuts that are traditionally served on Hanukkah. Maybe that’s why I’ve never attempted to make jelly doughnuts myself—or maybe it’s more that I’ve always had a fear of frying. Remember, the miracle of Hanukkah is all about burning-hot fuel—and I’m accident-prone enough even when there’s no 370-degree oil in the vicinity.
Nonnie, of course, doesn’t have a recipe for sufganiyot anyway; I have a feeling that she probably would have seen homemade doughnuts as a bridge too far, even for someone who always made fish stock from scratch for her gefilte fish. Her cookbook does, however, contain a recipe for banana fritters—small pieces of banana marinated in rum or brandy, then battered and fried to a beautiful golden brown. (I can’t be sure exactly where she got her fritters, though this 1958 Gourmet recipe might have served some sort of inspiration—except that in a truly 1958 move, it recommends you cover the bananas not in homemade batter, but pulverized cornflakes.)
They seemed as good a Hanukkah dessert as anything, and a relatively simple way for me to try to conquer my fry-phobia. Well, at least until I slipped the first fritter into my screaming-hot oil, only to watch in horror as it quickly turned into… this.
However! With a little temperature adjustment, I was soon frying—well, if not exactly comfortably, at least competently. And I’m glad I made the effort, because these warm little nuggets (crispy on the outside, soft and yielding within. . . almost like a jelly doughnut!) ended up making for a delectable conclusion to Hanukkah dinner—especially when paired with a custardy vanilla sauce that also appears in Nonnie’s cookbook, though she doesn’t specify exactly how she thinks you should use it.
Turns out that it’s pretty good on banana not-doughnuts. Sufganiyot better take note.
4-6 firm bananas [It’s important that they aren’t too ripe; mushy bananas will fall apart when you try to batter them. I bought my bananas on a Thursday and fried them on a Saturday, which seemed to give them enough time to reach the appropriate level of ripeness without getting too soft]
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
4 tablespoons rum or brandy [I chose brandy; it was a good choice]
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon melted butter
2/3 cups milk [I used a combination of skim and whole, because I had both on hand—but honestly, I have a feeling any fat level would probably work]
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
Mix sugar, rum or brandy, and lemon peel together until sugar is dissolved. Peel bananas and cut into quarters, first lengthwise, then crosswise. Pour rum mixture over fruit, turning gently to coat well and allow to marinate for 1/2 hour. [The bananas will get a little brown, but don’t worry about it too much—they’ll be covered by dough before long.]
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat egg yolk, milk, and melted butter together lightly. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in one tablespoon of the marinade from the bananas. [This will be difficult to do, because there won’t be a ton of marinade on the bananas to begin with; do your best, and if my recipe’s any indication, nothing bad will happen if you add a little more marinade than is strictly called for.] Beat egg white until stiff and fold into the batter.
Drain the bananas and dip each piece, separately, into the batter. Fry a few pieces at a time in deep fat, heated to 370°, until golden brown. [It helps to coat individual banana pieces using tongs, and to fish them out of the oil using a slotted spoon, so you don’t accidentally pierce the just-fried dough.] If batter should slip off fruit, add a tablespoon or two of flour to batter, but keep batter as light as possible.
[I didn’t have a problem with batter slipping off fruit—but I did have a big issue with oil temp, as mentioned earlier. Maybe my thermometer was faulty or something, but 370° was scorching; it reduced my first fritter to a charred mess in a matter of seconds. I had much better luck when I reduced the heat to something more like 300°; the fritters still cooked quickly enough that I only fried one at a time.]
[I ended up having enough extra batter that I threw an extra banana into the mix—and even then I had a decent amount left over, so I decided to try to fry what was left to make some kind of funnel cake-like creation. Results were… mixed. But it tasted pretty good all the same!]
Drain fritters on paper towels and serve warm with whipped cream. [You could do that! Or you could turn that cream into something a little more interesting:]
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine cream and milk in top of double boiler and heat, over boiling water, until scalded. [Or just do it in one pot, if you don’t have a double boiler; I won’t tell.] Beat egg yolks until light and lemon-colored; add sugar and beat until well-blended.
Add a little of the milk mixture to yolk mixture and blend well. Pour yolk mixture into milk mixture and cook and stir, over boiling water, until mixture is of custard consistency. [Try to avoid the dreadful “scrambled eggs” consistency Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry so love to point out.] Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, and cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 2 cups. [Which is too much for these purposes, really, but I’m not complaining.]
The verdict: I tried to fry the fritters lightly, because I had no interest in slaving over a hot stove covered in spitting oil while my guests were waiting; instead, I figured it’d be easier to cook them in the afternoon, then warm them up in a low oven (around 300°) when dessert time arrived.
This method worked out pretty well, though it did result in fritters that were much darker in color by the time I got around to actually serving them. Thankfully, nobody really minded; the fritters were still surprisingly light despite all that oil, with still-crisp exteriors that gave way to soft, almost custardy insides. They even tasted fine at room temp—though their greatest calling, clearly, is to be served warm, with a fine drizzle of rich, custardy vanilla sauce. Hello; I think we may have a new tradition on our hands.