by Les Saidel - December, 2012

With the Festival of Lights fast approaching, bakeries (and home bakers) are getting into gear for the week of "oil's well that ends well".

To commemorate the miracle of the jar of one-day oil that ended up burning for eight whole days in the ancient Temple, it is customary to eat "oil rich" treats on Channukah, like potato latkes and "sufganiyot" (donuts) which are traditionally fried in oil.

Isn't it amazing though how in modern times the 8-day festival has turned into a 2-month long bonanza. You would think the oil started burning immediately after Sukkot (Tabernacles) and continued non-stop until the last day of Channukah, the way the supermarkets already start selling the sufganiyot (donuts), from September all the way through December. By the time you actually get to the start of Channukah, people are so "glutted" with sufganiyot that they wish it were already Purim.

At Saidels Bakery we believe "each to his own" and that there is "a time for everything under the heavens" - we only start making Channukah donuts a week before the holiday to give everyone an opportunity to sample our new varieties and make a decision before Channukah comes around.

To be totally honest with you, I dread Channukah baking. Firstly it is inundated with the least healthy baked goods that our bakery makes. Although we make some of the best tasting donuts to be found in Israel, it goes against the grain of a born health fanatic to be plugging such a "unhealthy" product. Secondly, the prospect of frying donuts for an entire week is the subject of many a nightmare. I vision myself standing, stooped over a huge vat of boiling oil, endlessly dunking donuts, like a scene out of Dante's Inferno. I wake up in a cold sweat and thankfully realize it is only July and December is still months away.

I don't know if you home bakers out there suffer as much as I do over Channukah, but one thing is for sure. Trying to bake healthily over Channukah is extremely difficult.

In this article I am going to try minimize the damage by sharing some tips on how to increase the health components in your Channukah repertoire and reduce the unhealthy ones. You should know however, that this is pretty much a "Mission Impossible" and while the damage may be minimized it can never be eliminated (unless you decide to convert to a different religion, of course).

The first and biggest problem of course is the oil.

It is possible to make a baked donut and a baked latke, (which are not fried in oil). However, a. What is the point? If you are not commemorating the "oil" aspect of the miracle, why eat them in the first place? You are equally justified in eating a fresh vegetable salad as eating a baked latke. Neither have anything to do with Channukah. Secondly, b. Baked latkes and baked donuts don't even come close to how good fried latkes and donuts taste. You would be subjecting your family to a Spartan version of the real thing which they will probably end up hating rather than looking forward to and turning your enjoyable holiday into something to dread (culinarily speaking).

My advice is to go with the oil. It is only for one week after all, how much harm can it do? You can minimize the damage by using healthier oil. The best is obviously olive or nut seed oils, but you can lower the cost by using low cholesterol oil like canola (I am not going to get into the Canola dispute over here. That is covered in my Aug 2011 article). At least canola oil has no cholesterol!

Regardless of which oil you use, the caloric content is going to be about the same, but at least you will be minimizing the other damaging aspects of the oil such as cholesterol.

Another tip is to let your sufganiyot (donuts) rise very well and be very aerated. That way, when you fry them, most of the oil can drain off after they are removed from the pan. If the dough is denser and has not risen sufficiently, the oil gets trapped in the donut and cannot drain adequately. Also don't rush the drainage stage and lug the goodies to the table too soon after the pan. Give them time to drain properly and reduce the oil content.

One way to minimize the caloric content of the donut is to make it savory instead of sweet. The miracle is about the oil, nobody says anything about it having to be sweet. You can make great savory donuts with all kinds of flavors, onion, garlic, spices etc. It is a very different and delicious twist on the theme, one that can easily become addictive.

If you are going the "sweet" direction, use honey rather than sugar and definitely not any artificial sweeteners - they are unnatural chemicals and more harmful than the calories you will be saving on.

Another way to reduce the damage is to use healthy flour, like whole spelt or oats that are lower in gluten, rather than refined, white wheat flour.

The most important thing to remember and this is a cornerstone of every successful diet, is that allowances must be made for some extravagant indulgence. Even though such an extravagance is potentially harmful to the body, the positive effect it has on your soul far outweighs the potential harm. If someone goes on a fanatical diet and denies themselves any pleasure whatsoever, that diet is doomed to failure. Only those who make calculated allowances for extravagances, manage to keep down the weight and turn a diet into a way of life.

Make allowances for extravagances over Channukah. Don't go overboard and binge, but don't go overboard in the opposite direction and suffer from destructive abstinence.

Resolve to lose what you put on on Channukah, during or after the festival by beefing up your exercise program. Make a Channukah family walk as much part of the tradition as the Channukah donut or latkes.

Most of all, enjoy the holiday, fill your lives and the world with light.

Les Saidel


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