Sfenj (or “Sfenj”) are Moroccan yeasted donuts which my family and I eat on Hanukkah. They’re similar to beignets but better. Better because they’re fluffy and addictive like their sisters but don’t contain butter, milk and eggs. They have mercy on our figure and animals. Since it’s impossible for me to stop after two sfenj, I only make them once during the 8 days of the holiday.
Let’s talk about shaping the sfenj:
There’s no need to talk about making the dough, it’s easy. Shaping the liquid-ish dough into rings is tricky. Only in the beginning though, when you make the first and second one. It shouldn’t be difficult if your hands are drenched in oil. The dough would stretch and expand when you shape it and then would shrink and puff in the hot oil. When you get the hang of it it becomes fun and satisfying.Don’t freak out when they come out looking like Amebas or clouds, they’re supposed to look like that.
You can see how I make them in my highlights in Instagram @ShellysHumbleKitchen
I like to add vanilla extract or a hint of cardamom (like in the Scandinavian pastry, Kardemummabullar) for fun and extra flavor, and sometimes to tease my mother. It drives her nuts when I mess around with her mother’s traditional recipes.
Sfenj With Cardamom
- 7 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons dry active yeast
- 2 heaping tablespoons coconut sugar - or cane sugar
- 3⅓ cups lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – optional
- 1 cup canola oil - in a small bowl for dipping hands before shaping the dough
- Canola oil for deep frying
For dipping or coating
- maple syrup
- Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Pour in the water and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Remove the spoon and stir/knead the dough with your hand in the bowl for 5 – 10 minutes until it’s smooth. The dough is supposed to be soft and sticky, don’t be tempted to add flour! Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it somewhere fairly warm – just over room temperature – but not too warm, e.g., don’t leave it near a radiator! Wait until it doubles in size – about 1 ½ – 2 hours.
- Put enough oil for deep frying in a wide deep skillet (about 3″ deep) and turn the heat on medium high. (To check if the oil is at the right temperature, put a small piece of carrot in the pan. You should see bubbles. If there are no bubbles around the carrot, then the oil is not hot enough. If the carrot turns brown in less than 15 seconds, then the oil is too hot.) Have the dough and the bowl with oil next to the pan.
- When you’re ready to fry, dip your hands in oil, then grab a handful-size dough with one hand, pull it up, and, with the other hand, pinch off the piece. Hold the dough with two hands, and punch a hole in the middle of it with your thumbs. (It sounds complicated but it’s really easy and fun). Stretch the dough a bit to create a ring, then gently place it in the pan. Fill the pan with as many rings as you can fit but make sure you have enough space to flip them.
- Cook until the bottom of the sfenj is golden brown, then flip them with stainless steel tongs – about 2 minutes each side.
- While the sfenj are frying, place a paper towel on a large flat plate. When the sfinj are done on both sides, remove them from the pan and place on the paper towel, and start frying your second batch.
- Eat immediately with maple syrup, honey, jam or honey. They are best when fresh and warm.