Fried holiday fare: UMass students focus on Hanukkah foods (with video)

  • Latkes, which are simply made potato pancakes, are a traditional Hanukkah dish. Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • Isaac Simon, a junior at UMass Amherst, makes Hanukkah jelly doughnuts Dec. 14, 2016 at Chabad House at Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Yocheved Adelman, co-director of Chabad House, flips potato latkes during her demonstration at the center for Jewish community and activities. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • University of Massachusetts student Isaac Simon shows how to make jelly doughnuts, another Hanukkah favorite, at Chabad House at UMass in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adelman grates potatoes to make latkes. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Yocheved Adelman, left, explains how she makes latkes to graduate student Heather Sherman. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Gabrielle Tobin, a junior at UMass Amherst, tastes a potato latke Dec. 14, 2016 at Chabad House at Amherst. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adelman shows a tray of Isaac Simon’s jelly doughnuts, which were quickly devoured. Hope Crolius/SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/22/2016 4:58:46 PM

Isaac Simon, dotted with flour from his shoulders to his toes, hunches over a mountain of dough on a table inside the Chabad House at the University of Massachusetts and works at flattening it with a skinny rolling pin,

When it gets to be about a quarter-inch thick, Simon, a UMass junior, takes a round cookie-cutter and slices out circular pieces.

A small group has gathered in the book-lined living room to watch as he fashions the dough pieces that will be pumped full of raspberry jelly and dunked in oil to make doughnuts, a traditional Hanukkah treat.

A short distance away, another group of students is huddled around a burner as Chabad House co-director Yocheved Adelman shows them how to make latkes, fried shredded potato pancakes, another Hanukkah dish.

“These are all foods that are fried in oil and the oil reminds us of the miracle of Hanukkah,” says Yocheved Adelman, as she flips a latke on the griddle before her.

Chabad House, a center for Jewish community and activities at UMass, hosts such food demonstrations each holiday season, says Adelman. This gathering is taking place 10 days before Hanukkah which begins Saturday night.

“We try to make (the dishes) with the students each year to support customs that they may be used to from home here at school or to introduce them to these customs as a way to deepen their Jewish experience,” she says.

The importance of oil

Adelman, a petite woman in her 50s, who is wearing a long flowing skirt and a cardigan sweater, says that she learned how to make latkes when she was a child. As the students watch her work, she explains why Jewish people cook with oil on Hanukkah.

She notes that the eight-day holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a small Jewish army, over the ruling Greek empire in Judea, the liberation and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem and the discovery there of a one-day supply of pure olive oil that miraculously fueled the temple’s seven-branched lamp for eight full days.

“Since then Hanukkah has been a celebration of miracles,” she says.

A simple dish

The latkes Adelman is frying are made simply and quickly with just shredded potatoes, scallions and eggs. They also can be made with other root vegetables, she says.

A few students help as she grates potatoes into a large bowl. Bags of flour and cartons of eggs line the table.

“You can add onion or you can add scallions, which add some color.” she says. “The great thing about latkes is there are so many ways to make them. You can make them with or without eggs, so they are vegan. You can make them with beets or zucchini.”

She dices some scallions and tosses them into the bowl and then begins spooning the mixture onto the griddle. When she plops the first one spoonful onto the heat, it lets out a loud sizzle. It only takes a few moments for each pancake to be done, and a few more for them to be gobbled up by the spectators.

“These smell like real potato latkas because these are real potato latkas,” she says. “ When you add other things they become like gourmet potato latkes, but these are the good, old fashioned that smell like Russia.”

Grandma’s recipe

Meanwhile, a few feet away, Simon is telling his group that the doughnut recipe he is using is like the one he watched his mother make when he was growing up in New York City. He only recently developed an interest in making the doughnuts himself, he says, when he finally had his own kitchen in an off-campus apartment.

His mother got the recipe from her mother, a child of Russian immigrants, he says, and she had the recipe in her head.

“She was so old fashioned, she didn’t even use a timer.”

It is finals week on campus and Simon, a journalism major, says he finds that baking helps him relax.

“Whether it be jelly doughnuts or whatever you like to bake, I find it to be therapeutic,” he says. “You are having a conversation with your belly in a way.”

He steps into the kitchen and, with tongs, dips each doughnut into a pot of sizzling oil for a few seconds, and then eases them onto a paper towel to absorb the extra grease.

“There is something to be said for something that is homemade, made from scratch,” he says.

Each doughnut is fried until golden. The dough fluffs up naturally, leaving an air pocket inside.

Simon said it doesn’t matter what type of jam you decide to use, but in this case, he is using store-bought seedless raspberry jam, which is injected into the center with a pastry bag.

About a teaspoon of the jam is piped into each doughnut.

While still warm, the doughnuts are rolled in powdered sugar. Jelly oozes out the sides.

“The messier, the better,” says Adelman.

The sweet smell of fried dough hangs in the air as they sit for a moment to cool.

The handful of students that a few minutes earlier were hovering around the latke station, come to the kitchen when the doughnuts are ready. Like the latkes, the doughnuts are gone within minutes.

If you can resist finishing them off, the doughnuts stay tasty for a few days, says Simon. “They are best still warm, but they can keep for awhile.”

Jelly Doughnuts

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

2½ cups all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

3 cups vegetable oil

Powdered sugar

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

To make the dough:

Combine the yeast, water, and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Let the yeast mixture sit for 10 minutes.

Then mix in the flour, eggs, ¼ cup sugar, butter, nutmeg and salt. Stir until dough forms.

On a floured surface, knead the dough until it is smooth. Place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap and let sit for about one hour to let the dough rise.

Roll the dough to about ¼- inch thickness. Using a 2 to 3-inch-round cookie cutter, cut about 15 doughnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.

Heat oil in a large pot until the oil is sizzling. Using tongs, slip each doughnut into the oil. Fry for about 30 seconds on each side. Transfer the doughnuts to a paper towel. Roll in powdered sugar.

With a pastry bag or a baking syringe fill the doughnuts with jam.


6 potatoes, peeled

2 tablespoons of kosher salt

1 tablespoon of ground black pepper

1 tablespoon of flour

1 egg (optional)

1 small onion (optional)

Grate the potatoes into a bowl and add the salt, pepper and flour. An egg can also be added to help the latkes keep their form. One small diced up onion can be mixed in for flavor.

Heat oil in a frying pan. Drop spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the pan. Flatten with the back of a spoon. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the latkes are golden brown on both sides. 

Lisa Spear can be reached at



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