Those kinds of markets are nearly extinct, and Israel’s doughnuts have become more of a winter/seasonal treat — especially around Hanukkah, which starts at sundown Saturday. The holiday’s more of a casual, at-home affair in my homeland than here in the States: just dreidels and gelt, a quick candle lighting and a midweek dinner that features latkes.
The country’s bakery shops are filled with sensational displays, and pastry chefs try to do outdo each other with memorable doughnut flavors and fillings. The doughs themselves are generally not as sweet as those used in the States. Over the years I’ve noticed fillings of choya, an Asian plum liqueur; pineapple and passion fruit with white chocolate; halvah; Irish cream and coffee; mascarpone-thyme; pistachio cream; even some inspired by Pop Rocks and Oreos. Some doughnuts come with a plastic syringe so customers can inject their own fillings.
One of Israel’s pioneers of pastry arts is Celia Regev. The teacher, pastry consultant and founder of the innovative Reviva and Celia Pastry and coffee shop lived in Washington in 1997 when her husband was an emissary at the Israeli Embassy.
“When we opened Reviva and Celia [north of Tel Aviv] in 1988, there was nothing like it available at any other bakery,” she said. “All existing bakeries were either Eastern European or Middle Eastern in orientation, depending on what background the baker came from, and usually because [dietary] restrictions more often than not tended to be pareve, or something that contains neither meat nor dairy. We only used butter for our bases and fresh cream for our mousses, et cetera, and the freshest produce from the farmers and the best chocolate available to us.”
I found all kinds of examples of a baking renaissance going on in Israel on my recent trip home. While Reviva and Celia didn’t use to offer sufganiyot (“doughnuts” in Hebrew), Regev agreed to share her recipe for decadent mini doughnuts filled with Meyer lemon pastry cream.
“This is my favorite,” she says. “The ﬁlling I change around depending on my mood or time available. I also make a gorgeous praline version, and I prefer a ﬂavored confectioners’ sugar, say vanilla bean processed into the sugar, sifted and stored. . . . Or orange or lemon zest dried slowly and processed to a ﬁne powder,” sifted and stored the same way.
Tatti Lechem (Bread) opened its doors 10 years ago in Givatayim, a Tel Aviv suburb that has become a food lover’s destination. (It’s also the home of Oved, a shop whose eggplant and hard-cooked egg sandwich, or sabich, has become signature Tel Aviv street food.)