From Babka to Gelt Cookies: 5 Hanukkah Desserts To Make Your Holiday Sweet
A tasty way to celebrate.
Hanukkah is now in full swing — this year, the eight days begin on December 18 and end on December 26 — so if you celebrate, you’ve likely been lighting your menorah and eating latkes already. But besides fried potato pancakes, another important part of Hanukkah is dessert; no meal is complete without it, and this is particularly true during the The Festival of Lights. Like latkes, Hanukkah desserts are deliciously symbolic. Keep reading to learn about five Hanukkah desserts we recommend, both traditional and modern, and the reasons they’re significant this time of year.
Even if you’ve never heard of sufganiyot, it’s likely you’re familiar with them in some form: Sufganiyot is simply the Hebrew word for jelly donuts! Donuts are yummy year round, but they have a special meaning during Hanukkah; like latkes, they are fried in oil, and therefore have a symbolic connection to the holiday’s origin story, in which a menorah lit with a small amount of oil miraculously stayed aflame for eight days. This means latkes and donuts don’t just taste good — they’re also a form of paying tribute to the perseverance of the Jewish faith. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to savor fried food without guilt. Making donuts at home may sound daunting, but the blog Once Upon a Chef has a recipe that will walk you through frying up sufganiyot on the stovetop. If you have an air fryer, you could also try this recipe, described as “a lighter version of the Hanukkah staple” by The Nosher, a Jewish food publication. Of course, in a pinch, you can also pick up jelly donuts from your local donut shop.
The Nosher calls babka “part bread, part cake, and totally delicious.” Often flavored with chocolate or cinnamon (though there are also savory variations, including Pesto Babka, Caramelized Onion Babka, and Teriyaki Pulled Brisket Babka), babka is a common dessert at Jewish holidays. This is a homey, stick-to-your-ribs treat — in fact, the word babka is a diminutive of baba, which means grandmother in Polish and Yiddish. Babka originated in Eastern Europe and came to the US in the late 19th century, where it remains widely popular. Making a Chocolate Babka is undoubtedly time-consuming, but the end result makes it all worthwhile. Babkas can also be found and purchased at most Jewish bakeries.
Macaroons are small cakes or biscuits frequently eaten during the Jewish holiday of Passover, because they don’t require leavening or flour (both of which are not supposed to be consumed during that time). But these chewy creations — typically made from ground almonds, coconut, or other nuts — can also be enjoyed during other holidays too, including Hanukkah. Macaroons pack a lot of sweet flavor into a small and satisfying bite, and they’re particularly good when coated in chocolate (as an added bonus, they’re gluten-free). With an incredibly long history, they are are believed to date back to the 8th or 9th century in Italy. They’re also easier to make yourself than babka, so try this recipe for Dark Chocolate Dipped Macaroons.
4. Dessert Latkes
Dessert latkes might sound strange, but if you’ve ever eaten a chocolate-covered potato chip or dipped a french fry into your milkshake, the sweet-and-salty combo will make sense. (Plus, latkes are often topped with applesauce anyway, so the sweet pairing isn’t that far off from the traditional preparation of potato pancakes.) You can put apples directly in the latke mix, and top them with an apple caramel sauce, as in Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Apple Latkes. You might also try Crispy Sweet Potato Dessert Latkes topped with chocolate and rainbow sprinkles, Pumpkin Latkes With Apple Cranberry Sauce, or even S’mores Latkes. These recipes are a perfect blend of tradition and innovation, and the novel flavor combinations will definitely impress any guests with a sweet tooth.
5. Hanukkah Cookies
While cookies may not be specifically linked to this holiday, there are many ways to customize them for any celebratory occasion (why let Christmas cookies have all the fun?). One of the easiest methods: Simply buy a set of Hanukkah cookie cutters — this one (Buy from Amazon, $11.99) features a Star of David, a menorah, and a dreidel — and use them on the cookie dough of your choice. Here’s a recipe for Hanukkah Sugar Cookies if you need guidance. Another idea: The simplest Hanukkah dessert, gelt, is a foil-wrapped chocolate coin often given to children and used as currency in the traditional game of dreidel; and since gelt (Buy from Amazon, $11.99 for a box containing 10 bags of four coins each) is just chocolate, it can easily be incorporated into cookies. If you want to get a little fancy, the chef Molly Yeh has a recipe for Hazelnut Gelt Cookies, complete with homemade gelt. And for a super-quick take on gelt cookies, this recipe from the Food Network, adapted below, is pretty much foolproof.
A Simple Hanukkah Sweet: Gelt Cookies
With just three ingredients, these Food Network gelt cookies are one of the easiest Hanukkah desserts around. This would be a fun one to make with kids — if you can keep them from eating all the gelt before you get started!
Ingredients (Makes about 16 cookies):
- 1 package sugar cookie dough (16.5 ounces)
- Granulated sugar, for rolling
- 16 chocolate coins (gelt)
- Roll sugar cookie dough into about 16 balls. Sprinkle granulated sugar on work surface and roll balls in sugar.
- Bake cookies as directed in sugar cookie dough instructions. Transfer pan to a rack. While cookies are still warm, press a chocolate coin (gelt) into each. Let cool completely.
Whether you’re spending hours making sufganiyot or babka, picking up a treat from a donut shop or Jewish bakery, or baking a fun and modern cookie, we hope these Hanukkah desserts bring sweetness and light to your holiday.
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