In the Israeli National Library’s press and periodicals collection we found what appears to be the first version of eshel donuts. The recipe was hidden in the daily Ma’ariv newspaper from December 1, 1961, in a section by Dafna Mor entitled “Why eat donuts on Hanukkah”. The section included letters from readers and it seems that they responded to the editor’s request to share their Hanukkah traditions with her.
The section opens with a letter from Mina Hanis of Jerusalem, who talks about her attempts to find the origin of the custom of eating donuts on Hanukkah with the help of (among other things) a scholarly neighbor who looked at the “Sefer Diyonim Eb Kers” and searched and searched – but did not really find anything- and so came up with the following excellent explanation:
“It’s a marvel! I didn’t find any particular reason to make donuts on Hanukkah. The Jews are simply ravenous and for every holiday they push special kinds of delicacies. Their main concern is in the biting and the chewing.”
Following Hanis’ letter, the section goes onto present reader recipes and, without apology, the editors profess their disgust for “the corny yeast dough donuts of which we have received dozens” – and then, in any case, provide such a recipe – followed by the short and wonderful recipe of Ester Maor from Holon for “Flash Donuts” which includes a cup and a half of leben (which is what they called eshel in Israel in the sixties), vanilla, a pinch of salt, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of sugar and a bag of self-rising flour.
By 1965, this donut recipe already regularly appeared in the cooking section of Israeli newspapers – and this time courtesy of Osem, a large local food manufacturer – known as quick donuts, leben donuts, and then finally Eshel donuts. In the 1970s, the recipe also appeared in Nira Sheuer’s wonderful book (edited by Ruth Sirkis) “Cakes for All Seasons” and so became a household name for many.
Maor ends her section with the following reading: “Let us have more stories and excuses why it is good to love latkes and to gobble up donuts, the gratification will be instantaneous – and be cause for joy.”
We call for your joy too and challenge you to take up the call: click here, upload all your family Hanukkah stories and recipes to the website so they will be preserved for future generations.
Ingredients for Eshel Donuts
- 2 ½ cups (350 grams) self-raising flour (or regular flour + 2 tsp (10 grams) baking powder)
- 2½ tablespoons (25 grams) Sugar
- 2 eggs beaten
- 14.5 oz (410 grams) eshel (also known as leben) can substitute high fat greek yogurt
- oil for deep frying
- confectioners' sugar for dusting
1. Heat oil for deep frying in a large, wide pot. If you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350F (180C) degrees. If not, to test the oils temperature, put a small piece of dough in - the oil should gently bubble around it.
2. While the oil is heating, whisk all the donut ingredients into a thick liquid batter that slowly drips from the spoon. If necessary, add a little flour or eshel.
3. Slide the batter into the hot oil using two spoons: scoop the batter with one spoon, bring closer to the oil and slide the batter in using the other spoon.
4. Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, until the donuts are golden-brown and have a crispy shell. Remove with a slotted spoon on a plate lined with paper towels.
5. Dust the top of the donuts with confectioners' sugar and serve hot.