This Hanukkah, free yourself from the oppressive sufganiya/latke dichotomy and try a Moroccan Sfinj instead! Vegan friendly, easy to make and absolutely delicious! For the record, “Sfinj” is singular and “Sfenj” is plural. I grew up eating these – while my ashkenazi friends were eating soggy latkes or, God help us, uninspired store bought sufganiyot, Mom would fry these up and serve them to us piping hot and oh so good. Let me tell you – there were no stupid trees or Christmas envy in our house… happy Hanukkah – but feel free to make these any time at all.
1. 3 cups flour
2. 4 tablespoons warm water
3. Half a shot of Arak
4. 1 teaspoon salt
5. 2 tablespoons of sugar
6. 1 tablespoon dried active yeast
7. 1 1/4 cup warm water
8. Vegetable oil, for frying
9. Sugar, for garnish (optional)
1. Make the yeast starter by dissolving 2 tablespoons of sugar in 4 tablespoons of warm water in a small bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of dried active yeast. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
2. Mix the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Add the remaining water, Arak and yeast mixture, and stir vigorously with your hand or a spoon until smooth for about 10-15 minutes. The dough should be too sticky to knead or shape, almost like a batter. Don’t add salt to the yeast starter – it’ll inhibit the dough from rising. The Alcohol in the Arak keeps the Sfenj from absorbing too much oil when it’s being fried. You can use any alcoholic beverage but Arak makes the Sfenj taste more like Morocco.
3. Oil a mixing bowl lightly. Oil your hands and push dough down into the center of the original bowl with oiled hands until you can easily pick it up and transfer to the oiled bowl. Wipe any dough that might stick to your hands, dip fingers in oil again, and turn dough over in bowl. Then cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise 3-4 hours.
4. When dough is risen, punch it down in bowl with your fist. In a wide pot, heat an inch or more of vegetable oil until hot. You need about an inch of oil.
5. Dip your hands in water, and pull off a piece of dough about the size of a an egg. Use your fingers to make a hole in the ball of dough, stretch the hole wide to make a ring about the size of a golf ball, and place the dough in the hot oil. The dough will puff up.
6. Repeat with the remaining dough, wetting your hands as necessary to keep the dough from sticking as you work with it.
7. Fry the sfenj until golden brown, turning once or twice. Remove the cooked sfenj with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
8. Serve the sfenj hot. If desired, dip the sfenj in sugar or drizzle honey to sweeten them.