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Sfenj (Moroccan Beignets)

<em>Sfenj</em> (Moroccan Beignets) Related:   Africa, bread & savory pastries, breakfast & brunch, Chanukah, desserts & sweets, kid-friendly, pareve, SHin-DC, vegan, vegetarian

Prep time: 20–30 minutes + at least 3 hours rising

Cook time: 15–20 minutes

Yield: About 15 pieces

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I was born and raised in Fez, Morocco. It was in Morocco that I received all my Chanukah gifts. I have fond memories of my two generous grandfathers, Yaacov and Yair, who contributed to making the Festival of Lights a magical one for all the children in our family. It is also in Morocco that I tasted and prepared my first beignets, which we call sfenj. Chanukah or not, one cannot talk about Morocco without mentioning its quintessential sfenj. Sfenj is an Arabic word that means sponge. It certainly corresponds with the pastries’ inner spongy, soft and airy texture even though they are crisp on the outside. Sfenj are basically made with salty beignet (or donut) dough. They can then be sprinkled with sugar or drizzled with warm honey. Long and energetic kneading is crucial for good sfenj (you can also use a stand mixer or a bread machine), as is proper rising.

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1¾ cups water, divided
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoon salt
  • Oil, for frying
  • Sugar or honey, warmed, for serving

Preparation

  • Dissolve the yeast and sugar in ½ cup water. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and yeast-water mixture. At low speed, gradually add remaining 1¼ cup water until reaching the consistency of a sticky dough. Stir in salt and mix at higher speed. Knead for 10 minutes. The dough should be very sticky. Let the dough rest, covered and at room temperature, for at least 3 hours.
  • Fill a pot with oil, so it’s about 1½- to 2-inches deep, and heat. Have a large bowl of cold water handy to shape donuts. Wet your hands to form each donut. Take balls of dough the size of an egg. Make a hole in the center and lower carefully into the hot oil. Fry about 2 to 3 minutes, then turn over and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side, until puffy and golden. Serve warm with sugar or warm honey.

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